We are always telling our wily and curious 3-year-old son “No.” He hears “Don’t do that” far more often than he hears anything positive. And I’ve noticed that it starts to show. All that ordering around doesn’t create an obedient little boy, but a defiant and angry son. It takes a pointed effort for me to discipline him in positive ways, but here’s what I’ve found actually helps achieve good behavior without feeling like you’re pulling teeth.
1. Phrase commands in a positive way. Instead of “Don’t throw the dog in the pool,” try “Make sure Buster stays behind the fence.” This doesn’t give your child any more ideas for bad behavior, and kids respond better when you give them something to do rather than not do.
2. Distract. This one is simple, but effective. For younger children, it might be as simple as introducing a different toy. For older kids, you might need to get out of the house. A different setting can restart the conversation.
3. Sometimes a hug works better. When my son, age 3, is in a rut of bad behavior, he often needs some extra love to remind him he’s okay. A little cuddle time usually sets us right back to normal. With your child, it might not be a hug, but a compliment, intently listening to them for a minute, or even a special treat. Show them love in a way that feels individual to them.
4. Make it a game instead of an order. I recently read about a mother who returned left-out-items to her children by making them do whatever was on a slip of paper they drew from a jar. It might be 5 jumping jacks, cleaning the bathroom, or a freebie. But the use of a game can make obedience seem natural instead of unpleasant. Race your child to their pajamas instead of sending them off by themselves. It’s extra effort, but it keeps everyone happier.
5. Reward charts work better than threats. Reward charts help your child see that they are accomplishing something good. And the reward doesn’t have to be anything big, just something to remind them that you are both working towards the same goal.
6. Lather on the praise when they do something right. Encouraging good behavior is often the fastest way to get good behavior a second time.