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Parenting

The Good Parent's Toolbox

Parents need a tool box full of options for raising healthy kids.

Key points

  • Parents who practice parenting skills improve and increase their effectiveness.
  • It helps when parents understand normal child development and how to redirect their children, ignore bad behavior, and reinforce good behavior.
  • Parents can develop emotional control by enacting the "Stop, Think, Act" method for children and teens

Parenting might be the toughest job you will ever have. This is even more true coming out of a pandemic, something that parents haven't had to deal with in one hundred years.

One discipline tool that many of our parents relied on and taught us to use by example is spanking. Research has shown us that it doesn't work and is bad for children and parents.

Sometimes we run out of gas as we journey down this parenting highway. Sometimes we slide into a ditch. Sometimes parenting breaks down. When this happens, parents need a parenting toolbox. One that is full of options for raising healthy kids.

Put These in Your Parenting Toolbox

Here are a number of tools that I encourage parents to put into their parenting toolbox. Some of these tools are useful for all ages and stages, while others are more useful for specific ages of children.

Bredehoft
Source: Bredehoft

Understand normal child development. Knowing what is "normal child development" becomes the foundation for effective parenting. Growth and development from birth to young adulthood include; physical changes, changes in the brain, emotions, personality, behavior, thinking, and the way children interpret and interact with the world around them. To learn more about normal child development, click here.

Redirect the child. Redirection is a technique parents use to teach children appropriate behavior. Parents can use this technique to prevent personal injury, encourage desirable behavior, reduce punishing interactions, and encourage learning and exploration. Redirection includes both verbal and physical redirection.

Verbal redirection is a way of managing your child’s behavior by verbally expressing a command or request. It is a way of redirecting the behavior of your child by talking to him. A parent tells a child that the behavior that is occurring, or is about to occur, is not acceptable. A statement telling the child what is acceptable follows.

Physical redirection is similar to verbal redirection with one added feature. As you are verbally redirecting a child, you are physically redirecting him as well. In the correct use of physical redirection, parents are using nurturing touch to redirect the child to perform more appropriate behavior.5

To learn more about how and when to redirect your child, click here.

Ignore inappropriate behavior. Parental attention to behavior is a very powerful thing. Sometimes parents get caught up in a negative loop by only responding to their children when they are misbehaving. This actually backfires by giving attention to the very behavior you are trying to stop. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but if parents ignore the inappropriate behavior, it will begin to fade away. Children love attention. Ignore misbehavior. Catch them being good. In other words, reward the behaviors you want to see with your attention. To learn more about how to use ignoring, click here.

Catch your children being good–reinforce appropriate behavior. This is probably the most important tool in your parent toolbox. Get into the habit of giving positive reinforcement for the behavior you want to see in your children. Reinforce immediately. Reward improvement. Rewards come in many forms: attention, activities, tokens, toys, or a pat on the back. Each child responds differently. Find out which type of reinforcement works best for your child. To learn more about giving positive reinforcement, click here.

Anna Shvets/Pexels
Source: Anna Shvets/Pexels

Give a time-out. A time-out is a useful tool to help your child learn self-calming behaviors. First, give your child a warning. "If you don't stop, I will have to give you a time-out." Second, name the behavior. Third, put your child in a quiet place. Fourth, start a timer–one a minute for each year of age. To learn more about time-outs, click here.

Control the environment. It's normal for small children to get into everything. Exploration is a normal part of child development. For example, one family anticipated that Christmas decorations would be an enticement for their young child, so they decorated the tree from the midpoint to the top out of reach.

They didn't have to constantly say "No" because the bright shiny things were out of her reach. Put dangerous things like tide pods and medication out of reach or behind locked cabinets. Put pretty things like glass vases high out of reach. Put electrical outlet covers on every outlet. Childproof your home or apartment. You can't protect your child from everything, but this is a good start.

Play with your child. Play is how your child explores the world. Allow plenty of time for play. Encourage your children to explore. Play can be directed or self-directed.

They learn how to feel comfortable being with other children, and how to be a good friend.

Play gets children ready for learning—paying attention to adults, playing nicely with others, and feeling comfortable being away from their parents.

Pretend play is one way children learn about difficult feelings like anger and fear.6

To learn more about children and play, click here.

"Stop, Think, Act" for children and teens. Developing emotional control takes practice. It is an important skill set to have if your child is going to be happy and successful in life. Emotional control describes how we respond and react to stressful experiences in our environment. Research shows that teaching your child the Stop, Think, Act method teaches them how to manage their emotions, avoid conflict, and avoid impulsive behavior.

  • Stop. Pause. Take a breath. Avoid acting on impulse.
  • Think. What is the problem? What are the options? What is the best path forward?
  • Act. Proceed with the best option. Act carefully and revise if needed.

"Stop, Wait, Consult Others, Respond" for parents. When your child misbehaves and pushes your hot button, your first reaction might be to "blow up" and blurt out a consequence without thinking it through and then regretting it later. I have found that the following works better:

  • Stop. Pause. Take a breath. Avoid acting on impulse.
  • Wait. Put some time and distance between your decision on the consequence (one-24 hours). This gives you time to cool down and think about the situation rationally.
  • Consult others. Asking others for input from people you trust is helpful. Often friends, family, or professionals have dealt with similar situations with success, and you can learn from them.
  • Respond. Share the consequence with your child in a calm manner.

Listen, hear them out. We are all very busy and guilty of getting distracted. Sometimes when children act out and cause problems, it is because they own a problem and need your attention. This is the time to become a better listener to your child.

Get down on their level. Close your laptop or put away your phone. Be attentive and empathetic. This tells your child that you have time for him. She is important to you. If you truly listen to your child, you will avert many problems now and in the future. To learn more about becoming a better listener to your child, click here. A good example of parental listening is Atticus Finch in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout, his daughter, was in a fistfight at school.

Set limits. Limits convey expectations on how to behave appropriately. "Limits help show children that they are loved, cared for, and safe."8 Be clear and consistent with your expectations. Limits act like guardrails that protect your child.

Give consequences and follow through. Behaviorists tell us that the closer the consequence is to the inappropriate behavior, the more likely it will stop. Also, being consistent with consequences is key. There are five steps for using consequences to shape your child's behavior9:

  • Step 1: Identify the misbehavior
  • Step 2: Give a warning
  • Step 3: Give a consequence
  • Step 4: Tell them why
  • Step 5: Go back to positive communication

To learn more about using consequences with your children, click here.

Build schedules and routines in your children's day. It is important for both you and your child to have daily schedules and routines. It provides comfort. It helps children feel confident and secure because they know what's coming next. Life is predictable. Schedules and routines help children learn the rules, and it reduces conflict. To learn more about schedules and routines, click here.

Be calm and consistent when disciplining. Staying calm and consistent is one of the most difficult things for a parent to master, especially when you are stressed because your child is breaking the rules and acting out. Take a deep breath. Try to calm down. Stop and think. Figure it out.

Practice parenting skills. Practice, practice, practice. It is essential that parents practice when learning new skills. Like anything else, parents who practice parenting skills improve and increase their effectiveness. To learn more about practicing parenting skills, click here.

The next time you are traveling down the parenting highway and have a "parenting fender-bender," reach for your good parent toolbox and grab the right tool for the job!

Practice Aloha. Do all things with love, grace, and gratitude.

© 2022 David J. Bredehoft.

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive parenting tips. Available at: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/index.html. Accessed November 16, 2022

2. CHOC. Child development guide: Ages and stages. Available at: https://www.choc.org/primary-care/ages-stages/. Accessed November 16, 2022.

3. Erickson, C. L. (2022). Spanked: How hitting our children is harming ourselves. New York: NY. Oxford University Press.

4. Smith, J. (N.D.). Redirecting children and teens negative behavior. Retrieved 11.21.22 from https://familyvio.csw.fsu.edu/sites/g/files/upcbnu1886/files/2018-11/March-2018-E-Press-Final-Part-2-1.pdf

5. Family Development Resources, Inc. (2009). Chapter 28: Verbal and physical redirection. Retrieved 11.28.22 from https://www.nurturingparenting.com/files/birth_5_phb_sample.pdf

6. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). Playing is how toddlers learn. Retrieved 11.29.22 from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/fitness/Pages/Playing-is-How-Toddlers-Learn.aspx

7. Sippl, A. (2022). Stop, think, act: How to practice emotional control skills with your teen. Retrieved 11.29.22 from https://lifeskillsadvocate.com/blog/stop-think-act/

8. Meers, Z. (2022). How to set limits for children. Pathways Psychology Services. Retrieved 12.01.22 from https://pathways-psychology.com/how-to-set-limits-for-children/

9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Steps for using consequences. Retrieved 12.01.22 from https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/consequences/steps.html

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