Article written by Lorena Elguera Pajares. Published in Educared Perú
How do we educate and above all, implement norms and rules? In the face of bad behaviour, shouting, insults and physical violence are options which harm relationships and also wear everyone down equally.
As your children grow, these strategies stop working. On the contrary, in adolescence, children grow more independent and as such, more rebellious. They construct their identity out of opposition to authority figures.
What is the best way to impose rules at home without damaging the relationship? The answer is “Positive Discipline”. It involves a manner of educating that does not resort to shouting, hitting or punishments and is a decision-making process for parents and children.
Here are a few basic concepts before focussing on the technique.
When a child’s entire intelligence and energy is directed towards manipulating others, they cannot be perceived as a capable person. In that sense, there are seven self-perceptions which contribute towards a emotionally positive education
• Positive perception of personal capacities: “I am capable”
• Perception of importance in relationships with people close to you: “I am genuinely needed”.
• Perception of personal power: “I influence what happens to me
• Ability to understand emotions and use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control.
• Ability to work with others and develop friendships through communication, cooperation, negotiation, empathy and listening skills.
• Ability to respond to the limits and consequences of day-to-day life with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility and integrity.
• Ability to use knowledge and evaluate situations in harmony with acquired values.
To achieve the above, it is necessary to bear in mind our attitude as parents, tutors or teachers. We have to pay attention to our behaviour and the way we educate. Studies have demonstrated that there are three styles used by adults in their approach to children:
a. Excessive control
b. Order without freedom
c. No options given
d. This statement prevails: “You do this because I say so”.
a. No limits
b. Freedom without order
c. Limited possibilities for choice
d. This statement prevails: You can do what you want”.
3. Positive Discipline
a. Firmness with dignity and respect
b. Freedom with order
c. Limited capacity for choice
d. This statement prevails: “You can choose and do what you like within the framework of respect for others”.
The attitude of the adult who uses Positive Discipline (PD) is favourable for the child’s development as it teaches self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving. Furthermore, it does not seek to humiliate nor embarrass, shame or punish. Neither does it humiliate the adult with an excessively permissive attitude towards the child. Positive Discipline seeks mutual respect an cooperation.
In contrast, an attitude governed by excessive control expects the parents to assume responsibility and be in charge of everything. This does not help the child to be responsible for his/her actions, rather to the the “good” or “baddy”. Permissiveness, on the other hand, generates a situation where both adult and child escape responsibility for their actions.
Punishment. Help or Hindrance?
Many people feel that punishment works. This isn’t true. It works only in the sense that it halts the problematic conduct immediately. What happens in the long run? What are the thoughts and feelings which emerge as a consequence of punishment?
Resistance: “This is unfair. I cannot trust adults”.
Revenge: “They win this time but I’ll get what I want sooner or later”.
Rebellion: “I’m going to do the opposite to show that I don’t have to do it their way”.
Reserve: I won’t be surprised the next time” or “I’m a bad person for having done that”.
Basic Rules of Positive Discipline
We need to avoid giving the child encouragement so that he/she assumes the consequences of his/her actions; that is, making him or her responsible for what he/she does or doesn’t do. On the other hand, it is important to emphasize the use of firmness with dignity and respect. The child soon learns that his/her behaviour will not obtain the expected results and will thus feel more motivated to change conduct.
We must understand that children are more willing to conform to a rule if they themselves have helped to establish it. They become effective in decision-making and have a healthy self-image when they learn to contribute to members of the family and of society.
Do not add humiliation to education.
Present attitudes of motivation, understanding and respect.
Make sure that the message has reached the child with love and respect.
Never do something for the child if they can do it for themselves.
The four mistaken goals of bad behaviour
Children adopt four inappropriate and mistaken goals for their behaviour:
Attention: “I feel valued when I have your attention”.
Power: “I am of value when I am the winner or at least, when I don’t let you win”.
Revenge: “It’s painful not to feel valued but at least I can hurt you if I want”.
Assume Inadequacy: “I give up. It’s impossible to be valued by everyone else”.
The real goal of any human behaviour is to find a sense of belonging and meaning, in other words, we need to feel important, necessary for others and valued. On the whole, children (and many adults) adopt mistaken goals because they believe:
Attention or power will help them to reach a feeling of importance and personal worth.
Revenge will provide them with some satisfaction against the pain experienced when they don’t feel valued or important.
Assuming inadequacy will help them to avoid the pain of not reaching something they mistakenly believe they are incapable of it.
It is important to identify the mistaken goal as we need to know what the child is looking to achieve so we can help them. For each mistaken goal, the child also has a mistaken belief which changes according to each goal:
Attention: “I only feel valued and important if I receive constant attention and I keep you occupied all the time”.
Power: “I only feel valued and important if I am the boss and do what I want”.
Revenge: I feel upset because I don’t feel vlued and important; therefore, I have the right to harm others just as they have harmed me”.
Assumed inadequacy: I cannot be valued, so I will surrender and hope that people leave me alone”.
Children are not aware of their mistaken beliefs. If you ask them why they are behaving badly they will say they don’t know o give some kind of excuse. We have to be aware of the keys which can help us to identify their mistaken goal. These keys are the following:
Be aware of the adult’s reaction to the child’s bad behaviour.
Be aware of the child’s response when they are asked to cease behaving badly.
We know it is of no use working on superficial solutions as they do not guarantee prolonged and profound changes. However, there are some points which may be of great help when applying Positive Discipline depending on the mistaken goal.
a. Ignore the bad behaviour but give attention during pleasurable moments.
b. Redirect the child towards constructive behaviour.
c. Impose a logical consequence.
d. Give an opportunity.
e. Do something unexpected.
f. Establish a regular time when you spend special time with the child.
a. Remove yourself from the fight to allow for a cooling down period.
b. Gain cooperation.
c. Redirect the child towards using their power constructively.
d. Be friendly but firm.
e. Decide what the father or mother will do, no what they will try to get the child to do.
a. Establish a time-out and avoid challenges.
b. Remain friendly whilst you wait for a cooling down period.
c. Achieve cooperation.
d. Use motivation.
e. Establish a regular time when you spend special time with the child.
4. Assumed inadequacy.
a. Give time to training (education)
b. Prepare small successes.
c. Use motivation
d. Do not give in.
e. Establish a regular time when you spend special time with the child.
Adults should take the lead by using techniques which inspire a positive atmosphere of winning children, not children who have been defeated. For this, it is vital to substitute punishment with consequences, not only in our everyday vocabulary but also at an attitudinal level. What we are trying to achieve is that the child does not receive punishment for his/her behaviour, but a consequence as a result of his/her action(s). It is important to establish the term(s) which will replace the word ‘punishment’.
Natural consequences and logical consequences
a. Natural consequences
These are all consequences occurring naturally. When we don’t eat, we get hungry, if we don’t wear warm clothes in winter, we catch a cold, etc.
b. Logical consequences
These require the intervention of another adult or child in a family meeting or at school. Before applying a logical consequence, you have to discuss with the child what is going to be done. The fact that you consider that he/she can take responsibility for the subject should be highlighted. For example, he/she can be responsible for remembering to take a lunchbox to school. It is crucial to point out to the child that you will no longer do what you used to do: bring the lunchbox to school if the child forgets. It is not what you say, it is how you say it.
The distinction between logical consequences and punishment needs to be made, as they bring out benefits for the development of the child.
Logical consequences are connected to bad behaviour; that is, if my behaviour is mistaken, the consequence will be negative. As adults, we know that this principle is not always true. Many times, we can “get away with it” having acted in an inappropriate way. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize this concept to the child so that he/she captures it early.
Logical consequence implies respect for the child. Values such as consideration for the person, the unconditional acceptance of another human being (but not necessarily his/her conduct) and tolerance are central to Positive Discipline.
A reasonable negative consequence is in line with the situation: it is not out of proportion to the action and was carefully though through beforehand.
If one of the above points is lacking, we are not in the presence of logical consequences.
Teaching Logical Consequences
It is highly effective to teach children the use if logical consequences before solving any problem. You can begin by making the children themselves write down ideas about what will happen in the following circumstances if nobody interferes:
If you stay out in the rain (you get wet).
If you play in the road (you may get run over)
If you don’t sleep (you get tired)
If you don’t eat (you get hungry)
If you don’t drink (you get thirsty)
Afterwards, you need to explain that logical consequences are what can be used to help others to understand the responsibility they have for their actions. It is extremely useful for children to learn to make a distinction between logical consequences and punishment. One good idea is to make a large poster showing the differences and explaining the differences to clarify any doubts. Finally, carry out a brainstorming session about hypothetical situations to encourage discussion of logical consequences:
Someone who writes on the table.
Someone who doesn’t do their work during class time.
Someone who arrives late at school.
Someone who doesn’t do the household tasks which correspond to them.
Someone who doesn’t fulfil their school and study obligations.
It is much easier to get children to practise Positive Discipline through hypothetical situations as they are less emotionally involved and consequently, the feeling of guilt is less. After receiving the greatest possible quantity of suggestions it is constructive to observe which each child how well they understand the difference between logical consequences and punishment. On the other hand it is also useful to encourage them to discuss how each suggestion helps or may be harmful. The ideal situation is that it is the children themselves who decide which suggestion could be discarded because it does not satisfactorily differentiate or because it is essentially negative.
Improvement doesn’t not necessarily mean perfection
The idea of Positive Discipline is to work towards improving our skills and behaviours, not to come first in the race or be the eternal winner. Positive Discipline does not seek perfection, which is an unrealistic expectation and involves a level of challenge which is too high for those who feel they have to devote their lives entirely to its achievement.
Methods for helping children to learn and improve
1. Take time to train the child
This is not as obvious as it sounds. Parents expect their children to tidy up their rooms, do their tasks and be obedient but they have never shown them how to do it.
Frequently, they communicate the expectations they have directly and clearly but do not specify how their children are supposed to act to achieve them. As a consequence, for the children it is often a stony path which they have to negotiate in the dark and this may ease the appearance of dysfunctional emotions and thoughts. For example, when a mother asks her child to tidy their room, the two of them may have different ideas about what that involves. In the end, if things have not been done as the mother wishes, arguments and bad feelings emerge. To eliminate misunderstandings, parents should take whatever time necessary to ‘train’ their child.
Taking time to teach something means being highly specific about what is expected of the child. When they are asked to clean the kitchen, the mother or father should firstly ensure that the child knows what is meant by that instruction. Taking time for training also involves informing when the method of work at home is going to change; that is, not changing the rules without telling him/her. Before implementing changes involving the children, it is a good idea to have a dialogue with them, be it a family meeting or an informal conversation.
2. Asking for self-evaluation
At the moment when the parents consider the training is sufficient, the child should be allowed to work on their own but not without having checked beforehand with the child that all the instructions and logical consequences are clear and understood. In this case, parents need to ask for self-evaluation; that is, that the child him/herself evaluates progress and performance at home, examining how he/she has done things, taken decisions and dealt with errors and solutions, as the case may be. If the child is asked what areas require more attention to improve them they are generally able to articulate these without having heard them before from an adult.
3. Build on strengths, not weaknesses
When there is a clear indication that something has been done well, children will generally want to carry on doing it well or even better. For this situation to work, parents need to build on the qualities of the child, differentiating between behaviour and person and working on the unconditional acceptance of our quality for being fallible human beings.
4. Asking questions
You will achieve the participation and understanding of the child if he is asked about issues instead of being told set sentences. When the child answers questions, he or she is actively involved. When he or she responds to statements, the involvement is passive. When the child answers questions, the adults will have the opportunity to see whether what the child understands is the same as what they understand. For example, instead of saying to the child “clean the kitchen”, ask them “What needs to be done to clean the kitchen properly?” The child may respond “do the washing up”. The adult would then ask “And what about all the stuff left on the table?” The child would then admit, “Yes, I need to take that stuff off there.” The adult replies “Correct! And what about the other things in the kitchen? What do you need to do with the table and shelves after you’ve washed up?” Using this technique, parents are also giving themselves time to train the child.
5. The courage of imperfection
We need to start with the following sentence: “We are all imperfect”. Adults and children, parents and sons and daughters, everyone. Imperfection is our innate condition as human beings. Therefore, our conclusion is that we need sufficient courage to accept that imperfection. Although it may be difficult to believe, it is one of the most encouraging concepts nowadays, despite being one of the most difficult to achieve. We have been taught to be ashamed of our mistakes and to feel guilty for making them. In fact, we could learn from them and teach children to feel happy about their errors as they are really opportunities for personal growth and for the development of our own learning process. Actually, wouldn’t it be marvellous to hear an adult saying “You made a mistake. Great! What can we learn from it?” And I affirm we really can, together. Without realizing it, we collaborate in many of our children’s mistakes. Teaching the courage to accept a mistake means firstly being a model, so that children can learn from us. Only then will they genuinely learn that it is a real opportunity to learn.
KOENIG, Larry. Intelligent Discipline. Editorial Normal. Bogotá – Colombia. 2003. pp.245
NELSEN, Jane. Positive Discipline. Translation into Spanish by María Pia Arlotti. Ex-student at ITRE pp.112
Source: Educared Peru
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