Consequences must be consistent. Consequences should be applied not based on your moods, biorhythms, or whether the Sox won the game. Consistency means sameness—the same rules and consequences over time.
Limits are behavior boundaries. Some are set by nature (humans can’t fly), some by the law (you can’t drive the wrong way down a one-way street), and some are set by you. It’s up to you to define and make explicit each child’s limits.
Punishment tells a child what not to do, but it doesn’t tell him what to do instead. Let’s be honest. You’ve tried every form of punishment you can think of to get things to change and, so far, how well has it worked?
The following are five strategies which, when used appropriately, will help parents create and maintain a happy, supportive home environment.
Take it from the experts, there’s a reason for every misbehavior, and when you figure out the reason, you’re more than halfway home to stopping it. Fine. So why is your child misbehaving?
If you tell a child he’s a pathetic, sniveling worm, he’ll either go to the garden and start eating dirt, or he’ll rebel, move to the other coast, and never speak to you again (and good for him!).
From “Good Kids, Bad Behavior” by Jonathan Brush, PhD, MD
While playing together, your baby suddenly bites your arm. What do you do?
Don’t bite back. Many parents think this will teach the baby not to bite, but babies don’t understand that their biting causes you pain and vice-versa. The only result is that you both hurt, and your relationship will suffer.
- Pull the baby away and firmly say, “No biting. Biting hurts.”
- Show alternative behavior such as hugging.
- Give babies who are teething something soft to bite.
Babies babble, scream, hit, cry, and bite to communicate their needs. They touch and explore to learn about their bodies and the environment, not to hurt or willfully disobey. We need to limit behavior which is dangerous or hurts others, but not in a way which frightens or harms the baby. Our goal is to help our babies show their feelings without hurting themselves or others.
- Watch for signals and learn to tell when your baby is overexcited or upset.
- Show babies how to express their needs in different ways, such as clapping or laughing.
- Be consistent in your responses.
Parenting Tips: 2-3 Years
Kicking and screaming, your child throws a tantrum on the floor of the toy store because you won’t buy the toy she wants. What do you do?
- Don’t try to reason with your toddler. Children cannot listen during a tantrum.
- Don’t lose your temper, because this will frighten your child and set a bad example.
- Don’t give in to your child, because this rewards bad behavior and encourages tantrums.
- Don’t bribe your child with a candy or other treats. He may start demanding such bribes to behave.
- Stay calm and don’t worry about what others think.
- Ignore the fuss. Give your child as little attention as possible.
- Hold your child, if necessary, to prevent injury or damage to property.
- Leave the store if the tantrum continues.
- When your child is calm, explain that you will leave the store whenever she throws a tantrum.
- Reward good behavior by spending some special time together as soon afterwards as possible.
We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos” as a time when children become defiant and unmanageable. This may be how it seems at times, but children need to go through this stage. They need to discover their own strengths, to separate themselves from their parents, and to learn self-control. We can teach our children to behave properly by rewarding good behavior, ignoring provocative behavior, and preventing them from injuring themselves or others.
- Before entering the store, describe the behavior you expect and the consequences of misbehavior.
- Feel secure in your overall strategy, so that you don’t feel the urge to negotiate or give in.
Parenting Tips: 3-4 Years
Your child pushes or pinches a playmate, or uses inappropriate language. What do you do?
- Don’t spank your child. This teaches that hitting is okay if you’re bigger.
- Don’t criticize or lose your temper. This lowers your child’s self-esteem and sets a bad example.
- Don’t isolate your child from peers.
- Listen to your child’s reason for getting angry and support his right to his feelings, expressed appropriately.
- Tell your child the appropriate words to communicate the feelings.
- Give your child a “time out” using the following rules:
Rules for “Time Out”
- Tell your child in a firm, controlled voice that he’s going to have a time-out. Place your child near, but separate from, the desired activity.
- Tell your child that he will have to sit quietly for as many minutes as his age. For example, a three-year-old sits for three minutes.
- Time out is not over until the child sits quietly for the set amount of time.
Children at this age are beginning to learn the rules and limits, but they make mistakes. They need reminders and immediate consequences that respect their growing self-esteem and help them learn without embarrassment or an angry confrontation with their parent.
- Observe how your child plays and compliment good behavior. For example: “I really liked how you asked for your turn on the swing.”
- Be sure you and other adults in your child’s life are good role models in expressing feelings.
Parenting Tips: 5-7 Years
You tell your child to clean up the Legos®. She refuses. After repeating yourself, it’s still not done. What next?
- Don’t nag. Your child will tune out and you’ll become more frustrated.
- Don’t label your child “lazy” or “bad.” This may lead to low self-esteem.
- Don’t do the chore yourself. This rewards the misbehavior.
- Don’t overreact and threaten severe consequences, then fail to follow through.
- Calmly and clearly specify what the task is. For example: “You need to pick up all the Legos and put them in their box.”
- Set a time limit for doing the task and state the consequences of not doing it. For example: “This needs to be done by lunchtime, or we won’t be able to have your friends over to play.”
- Ensure that the consequence is fair and that the child cares about it. After one warning, but no repeated threats, follow through with the consequences if the child hasn’t completed the task to your satisfaction.
At this age, children are aware of the rules of good behavior, but they still have trouble consistently following through with their responsibilities. They’re concerned with “fairness” and they’ll let you know when they think the rules of games, chores, or rewards and punishments aren’t fair. It’s important that you give kids this age lots of praise, while still being firm with your expectations.
- Divide chores fairly among family members, according to their ages.
- Be clear about what the task is and what the consequences are.
- Praise and reward the child for doing his or her chores. For example: “Because you’ve done such a good job clearing the table, we’ll have time for a special story or game together!”