Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or caregiver for young children, you have experienced a child who acts out or engages in a negative behavior. Anything from taking another child’s toy to hitting, biting, or even throwing items can cause an air of frustration for the adult in charge. How you handle the situation can set the tone for future interactions with the child in question.
Here are positive guidelines for setting limits for your child, from the Children’s Home Society of California (©2007).
“Every parent and caregiver struggles at one time or another with how to set limits on children’s behavior. The goal of positive discipline is to teach children to develop safe, socially responsible behavior that promotes self-respect and respect for the feelings and property of others.”
Remember that discipline and punishment are not the same. Discipline is guidance and teaching that promotes positive behavior. Punishment is a penalty imposed in reaction to unacceptable behavior. Positive discipline is more effective than punishment because desirable behaviors that last a lifetime must come from within the child rather than be imposed by external force.
- When you discipline children, always make sure they understand that they are accepted and loved, but their behavior is not. Humiliating children, scolding them in front of others, or telling them that they are “bad” will only cause them to feel badly about themselves and do little to promote good behavior. Focus on the unacceptable behavior, teaching the child to correct the mistake. For example, “Hitting me is not ok, use your words instead,” rather than, “You are a bad girl for hitting me.”
- Keep rules simple and specific. When a rule is broken, state the rule and direct the child toward correcting the mistake. For example, “Sand is not for throwing; keep it in the sandbox, please.”
- Avoid a power struggle, especially with two- to four-year-olds.
- Don’t confuse children by offering choices when the choices should be yours. For example, “it’s nap time,” instead of, “Do you want to take a nap?” which offers the child the chance to refuse.
- Avoid overusing “no.” Instead, save it for when you really need it. For example, if a child asks for a cookie too close to lunch time, say, “Yes, you may have a cookie right after we finish lunch.”
- Use a warning first, and then follow through. “The next time you throw the sand, you will have to leave the sandbox.” Redirect the child toward acceptable activities.
Problem-Solving: State the problem and ask the child to brainstorm some solutions. Point out the effects of the different solutions, and help the child decide on a course of action. With older children, problem-solving can also be used to set family or group rules. When children help to make the rules, they are more likely to follow them.”
At Kids’ Care Club, it is our goal to provide a caring, respectful and safe environment for all children. Our philosophy on discipline includes using positive reinforcement and redirection of negative behaviors – if a child engages in a negative behavior, such as taking a toy from another child, the teacher will encourage the child to give the toy back, then redirect them to participate in an alternate activity. The teachers make it a point to give each individual child positive reinforcement throughout the day (i.e.-using verbal cues, such as “Gabby, I love the way you put away your jacket, washed your hands and sat down for circle without any reminders” or giving stickers or stamps for a job well done).
We also believe in teaching strategies to young children on how to handle a situation that may make them feel frustrated or upset. It is so important for children to learn about and understand not only their own emotions, but how others may feel. In our PreK classrooms, we use a program called Second Step that teaches children social-emotional skills “to manage their feelings, make friends, and solve problems” (Committee for Children, ©2013).
Here is a great article about positive discipline for more information, Seven Tips for Practicing Positive Discipline. Looking for information about strategies to discipline siblings? NAEYC provides a great discussion here.