Practical tips for parents and caregivers

Think prevention. Although no one can predict every possible opportunity for disaster, many problems can be avoided by taking the time to anticipate what you and your children will need, considering any possibility for misunderstandings or difficulties, and setting very specific limits ahead of time.

• When something comes up, try to isolate what’s bothering you. Are you reacting to a personality trait or value conflict, or is your child’s behavior actually creating a problem for you or others?

Attack the problem, not the person. Mentally separate your children from their behavior. It’s the interruption that’s annoying, for example, not your child.

• Minimize your reaction. Count to ten, or at least to five. Use this time to remind yourself that you don’t have to get angry, lecture, criticize, interrogate, or punish. (Often, you don’t even have to get involved!) Staying calm can help you avoid compounding the problem at hand. A brief pause can also allow your child to resolve or correct the problem behavior on his or her own.

• Deal specifically with the behavior—not the morality of the behavior, previous incidents, or the personality behind the misconduct.

• If your reaction starts to create a win-lose (or no-win) situation, stop and back off: “Wait. This isn’t the way I want to handle this.” If necessary (and possible) withdraw for a few seconds to regain your perspective.

• At all times, stay responsible for your actions and words. We are most vulnerable to negative adult behavior patterns in the presence of a child’s negative or disrespectful behaviors. Regardless of our commitment to maintaining a positive, win-win environment, there will be times we will most likely slip up and say or do something hurtful or destructive. At those times, be careful to model responsible language and not blame the child. For example, avoid statements like, “You make me so angry,” or “If you hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have said that to you.” If you act or speak in a hurtful way, apologize and switch to more a constructive approach—just like you would want your children to do!

• Look for ways to offer many choices and positive outcomes for cooperation, building in incentives and motivators. This is a proactive and positive approach that will eliminate many of the incidents that arise when children are competing for power.

• Withdraw the privilege or positive consequence as soon as a misconduct occurs. Keep your tone and body language as neutral as possible. A statement like “This isn’t working” can help you intervene decisively without attacking or criticizing.

• Whenever possible, invite your kids to reclaim their privileges or possessions as soon as the misbehavior ceases: “We can continue this discussion whenever you’re willing to stop yelling,” “You can go outside and play as soon as you finish cleaning up your dishes (your room, your toys, etc.).”

• If correcting their behavior will not give your kids immediate access to the privilege or possession, let them know when it will be available again.

• Give two positives for one negative: “Wait! We don’t drink grape juice in the living room. You can drink grape juice in the kitchen, or drink water in the living room.”

• Provide support, feedback, guidelines and limits to help, but leave the responsibility for the child’s behavior with the child.

• If instruction and activities would help in areas such as problem solving, social interaction, or handling anger and frustration, for example, save them for a non-crisis setting. Likewise, if you feel that you and your children could benefit from some outside support, consider counseling or family mediation. These individuals may also be available to explore specific problems and help you brainstorm possible win-win solutions, and they will be especially helpful when you can provide documentation and don’t attempt to dump the responsibility for the problem on them (or focus on blaming the kids).

• It is not necessary to hurt your children or make them wrong, even when they really mess up. This goes agains our cultural “revenge” instinct, and the inclination to blame. Consider an intention of teaching rather than punishing.

• Likewise, resist the temptation to label the misbehavior. Telling your children “That’s unacceptable” or “You’re being rude” does not give them the information they need to change their behavior. Be specific about what you want and use your time and energy to instruct instead of label or shame.

• Think of misbehaviors, especially when caused by inexperience, poor judgment, or poor planning, as opportunities to teach or refine skills.

• In problem-solving activities and discussions, keep coming back to win-win: “How can we both get what we want?”

These strategies were adapted from material in The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (2021, Father Sky Publishing, Albuquerque, NM) and The Win-Win Classroom, by Dr. Jane Bluestein (2008, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishing, CA).

© 1997, 2008, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related links:

The Challenge of Setting Boundaries
Ways to build Irresponsibility in Children
Guidelines for Reinforcing Cooperation
Motivating Cooperative Behavior
Guidelines for Offering Choices to your Children

Podcast: The Choice is Yours: Connecting the Dots with Dr. Lynn Collins. This podcast is oriented to classroom teachers, however it contains examples and ideas that are applicable to parents.

Book: The Book of Article Reprints
Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting
Book: Parents, Teens and Boundaries: How to Draw the Line

Audio: Parent Tapes (CDs or mp3 download)

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