Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Setting Limits and Using Consequences by Joe Sky-Tucker

I am not a parent yet. My experience comes from the nine years and counting that I have worked with children, from after school daycare to a locked residential unit for “at-risk” youth and everything in-between. This article comes from my personal experience working with children and my great respect and love for them.

Disciplining your child has a negative connotation. There are books about positive discipline and different philosophies from using “time-out” to spanking. Whichever method is used there are some important things to know:
1. Every child needs to be loved unconditionally.
2. Every child needs limits. I cannot emphasize this enough.
3. Every child needs consistent limits and boundaries.

There is a rule when working with children called the ‘20 to 1 Rule’. That means 20 positive interactions with a child for every 1 negative one. Positive interactions can include compliments, physical affection, spending quality time with him. With parents that number is even higher: some say 50 to 1 and others say even 100 to 1.

Too much of discipline is punishment and negative consequences. Another method of discipline is reinforcing positive behaviors. Catch them being good and make a big deal out of it. If you are teaching table manners say, “I like how you are using your napkin to wipe your face. Good job!” This will work much better than yelling, “Stop wiping your mouth on your sleeve!”

When a child is chastised and put in “time-out” constantly, it can become the only form of attention she gets, thus creating a cycle in which she will act out just to get attention. That is why after every major consequence like a “time-out” it is important to repair the relationship. Your child feels like she has failed you. So talk about what happened, making sure to let her give you her side of the story without interruption. Then correct anything that didn’t happen or was untrue and come up with a more accurate version. And make sure she knows you still love her.

Ask her what she was feeling and if she doesn’t know you can suggest the feelings for her, “Were you feeling sad, mad, frustrated…?”. Validate her feelings, then talk about positive ways she could have expressed those feelings, “When you were mad, instead of throwing your shoe, what could you have done?” Then make a plan for the future when she gets mad again, “Next time you can stomp your feet and say ‘I’m mad’, then we can figure out what to do about it.” By doing this after major conflicts you are providing a structure in which your child’s voice is heard, and you are teaching her about expressing her feelings and the proper ways to behave.

Here is a little parental cheat sheet:
1. Love your child and let him know it often.
2. Have consistent well-known rules and consequences for breaking the rules.
3. Always repair the relationship and let the child know that you still love him.
4. Provide him with the correct words to get his needs met in positive ways.
5. Validate her feelings; she may be experiencing these feelings for the first time.
6. Use ‘do’ instead of ‘don’t’. ‘Use your fork to eat.’ instead of, ‘Don’t eat with your fingers.’
7. Rules, boundaries and limits are positive things, and they help your child to become secure, self-sufficient adults.

Joe Sky-Tucker is Saralee Sky's 29 year old son. Browse for natural products for mother and baby on Saralee's web site, Babynut. Read more articles on Babynut's free online newsletter, Nutsense.