Teaching Through Love Instead of Fear – Emotional Needs

One of the big issues in schools today is “bullying.” Parents and teachers struggle daily with how to stop this behavior. Without realizing it, adults teach bullying behavior to children by modeling it when they use the threat of their physical size or power to make children do things.

order-number-scheduleWhen I hear a parent counting “One… two” at a young child, I always wonder what the child has been told will happen if the parent gets to three. Is it the threat of a spanking, being yelled at, time out, abandonment (I’m going without you) or the withdrawal of love and approval? Whatever the threat may be, I rarely hear “three.” As intended, the threat of what will happen if the parent gets to three usually compels the child to do whatever it is the parent is telling the child to do. Parents use threats to get children to cooperate because that was what adults so often modeled when we were growing up. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “or else.” We did what we were told out of fear even if we didn’t know what the “or else” would be.

While counting may appear to be a magic form of discipline, there is no magic in threats. Children know that adults are bigger and more powerful than they are. They comply in self-defense. If the only way we can get children to do what we ask is by intimidating them with our greater physical size and power, how will we get them to do as we ask when we are no longer bigger and stronger? ” Ask the parents of any teenager if counting still works. Not only do threats no longer work, they’ve learned to use the same means to make others do what they want.

Many parents see a child’s uncooperative behavior as a challenge to their authority. Once we understand that uncooperative behavior is usually caused by a child’s unmet need or an adult’s unrealistic expectation, we don’t have to take the behavior so personally. Parents and children often have different needs. Sometimes our needs or schedules conflict with our children’s needs.

Children who are deeply absorbed in play will not want to interrupt their play to go with us to the bank or the store before it closes. When a parent needs to do one thing and a child needs to do something else there is a conflict of needs. This conflict of needs turns into a power struggle when parents use the power of fear instead of the power of love.

The bond or connection parents have with their children is their most powerful parenting “tool.” A strong bond is created over time when parents lovingly and consistently meet a child’s early needs. Threats communicate, “What you think, feel, want or need is not important.” Threats undermine the parent-child bond. When we learn to resolve our “conflicts of needs” in ways that show children that their needs and feelings matter, we strengthen the bond and avoid many power struggles.

happymotherdaughterThe most common reason for conflict of needs between parents and children is lack of resources. If parents had more resources we wouldn’t have to bring the child to the bank or the store because there would be someone else to stay with the child. As long as there is lack of resources there will be conflicts of needs. Until we figure out how to bring more resources into our lives we have to find other ways to resolve our conflicts if we are to stop teaching children to be bullies. If we want to teach children to love instead of hate, we must learn to use conflict resolution skills in our daily interactions with children. Just as children learn bullying from what adults model, they can learn conflict resolution and problem solving skills from what we model. When children learn the skills from how we treat them at home they will bring those skills to their relationships at school.

Very young children can learn conflict resolution if we model it. An older sibling can be taught to find another toy to exchange with their younger sibling instead of just snatching their toy back. When two children want the same toy at the same time we can help them “problem solve” a solution. When there is a conflict of needs because the parent wants to do an errand and the child just wants to stay home and play we can say “let’s problem solve to see if we can find a way for us both to get what we need.” Maybe the child could take the toy in the car or perhaps the errand could wait until tomorrow. When the parent is ready to leave the playground and the child wants to stay longer we can suggest a compromise of five more minutes and doing something fun when we get home. Often it’s not that the child doesn’t want to leave as much as it is that she doesn’t want the fun to end. When we teach children that everyone’s needs are important by honoring their needs they learn to honor the needs of others.

There will be times that we won’t have the time or the resources to meet a child’s need. There will be times that even after honoring the child’s need, the child is still unable to cooperate. At those times it is important to communicate that parents have needs too and even though it makes the child unhappy we do have to go now and then allow the child to have his feeling about having to leave. It is never OK to tell a young child that you will leave without them. Threatening a child with abandonment terrifies a child. When a child has a tantrum about leaving it may not be about leaving the playground at all. Leaving may just be the last straw that unleashes the day’s accumulation of little frustrations. The child may just need to cry to empty out the stresses of the day. A child will be able to move forward much more readily when we can say “I know you’re sad and it’s OK to cry” than if we say “Stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” When the crying is done the child will usually feel better and be more able to cooperate.

FamilyWhen children’s needs are met and nothing is hurting them they are usually delightful to be with. Whenever a child responds negatively to a reasonable request we need to look for the conflicting need. Once we know how our needs are in conflict we can try to problem solve. I have learned to say, “When you behave that way I know something is wrong, because we love each other and people who love each other don’t treat each other this way. Can you tell me what you need or what’s hurting you?” If I can remember to stop and ask that one simple question it changes the whole context of the conflict. That question communicates, ” I love you and what you feel and need matters to me.”

Sometimes there isn’t a way for both people to get what they need. But not getting what we need is much easier to bear if we are treated in a way that allows us to keep our dignity. Counting at a child communicates, “I am bigger and more powerful than you and you’d better do as I say or I’m going to (in some way) hurt you.” When a big kid says to a smaller one, “Do what I say or I’m going to hurt you,” we call it bullying. When an adult communicates the same thing to a child by counting, we call it discipline.

When we treat children in ways that takes away their dignity we teach them how to take away another person’s dignity. If we want kids to stop bullying, we have to stop bullying kids. The power of fear is easy and quick but short-lived. The power of love requires more work and takes longer but children never outgrow its influence.

by: Pam Leo, at Connection Parenting

Resources:

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Connection Parenting[/one-half-first]
[one-half]Connection Parenting by Pam Leo is a gem of a book, and one of my newest favorites. It is an easy read with clear and compelling instructions, research, and advice. You’ll save a bundle on future therapy costs by purchasing this treasure now:)[/one-half]

Comments

  1. Seriously, I was just wondering, “Why is my daughter DOING this to me???”

    Now I’m realizing that she has unmet needs, and she is certainly not attempting to challenge me. I just ordered Pam’s book, thank you!

    Lexi

  2. What a paradigm shift, thanks for this post, Ellen. I have to look at my kids’ behavior as an expression of need rather than their desire to drive me up the wall!

  3. Ellen, I love the article. But do question whether counting really only communicates “I’m bigger than you…” as a threat. I think of it as giving the child an opportunity to consider their next moves and then dealing with the consequences. There are just times when allowing them the space to cry and get it out doesn’t really work. Either because there’s no time for it (must get to the appointment) OR I’ve had situations where my daughter cries and let’s out her frustration, but then tends to want to dote on that feeling (sadness, self-pity, etc). And we can end up staying there for a long time! So I have to move to distraction and or re-focusing. In the end, while I’d love to be able to understand her side and what’s going on with her any time she’s troubled, it’s not feasible to do this throughout the day as many times as it may crop up and I also don’t think the world responds that way – ie: is patient and wants to understand WHY you’re doing something. I feel like a blend of what you’re recommending and counting can be healthy.

    • I agree about blending ideas.

      If my child is resisting sitting down in the car, and he must be buckled into his car-seat now, or we’ll miss our flight, then counting and high-pressure is certainly appropriate.

      On the other hand, the basis of this article is that on a day-to-day basis, it is wise to look beyond our kids’ actions and seek to understand their motives in order to foster greater connection.

      Sometimes a child is hungry, tired, overstimulated. Sometimes she is lonely, missing someone, or mourning something like a lost toy. The key is to realize that children’s behavior is never about “challenging authority” just for the sake of being challenging. There is always a deeper reason. As long as circumstances allow, delving to find the reason will make for a stronger parent-child bond and emotionally healthier kids.

      However, as I mentioned regarding being late for something important, or when safety issues are involved (don’t ride your bike in middle of a busy street!), then communication in a more forceful manner IS appropriate. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we will find that 95% of the time that we think in the moment that yelling and/or counting is called for, connection and understanding are truly healthier ways to deal with the situation. And, as parents, (and I struggle with this), it is our responsibility to leave extra time for important appointments so that our lives with our kids does not pass in a mad rush, and there is that extra leeway and time to connect and understand rather than be forceful.

  4. Wow, this piece was really powerful and has shown me a side of myself that I don’t like! My kids are 6 and 8–I hope it’s not too late to show them the right way to settle conflict. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Most likely, everyone who reads articles on RaisingSmallSouls.com wants to be a better parent and learns new parenting skills and techniques.

      Thus, it is natural to feel badly about past mistakes.

      However, we cannot be full of regret for the things we did not know in the past. We did our best with the knowledge and skills that we had, just as our parents did their best with the tools they had.

      Guilt will only slow us down. Let us commit (and I’m talking to myself here!) to focusing on today and the future, not beating ourselves up about the past. “Today is the beginning of the rest of our lives!”

  5. Thank you. I have been saying this for years. Sadly, few agree with me. My kids are 14 and 17 now, and while all is not perfect, I think they’re pretty awesome people. I love that you call discipline “bullying.” So glad I am not all alone, thanks 🙂

  6. Thank u ellen for (as usual) ur variety of insightful articles on bettering our childrens education and parenting skills. I did however find it hard to fully agree w the article above because I don’t believe that the 1,2,3 theory(btw there is a bestseller ‘magic 123’) has to invove threat. But rather consequence. Eg if u are not here by 3 I will not be able to shower u anymore tonighjt because I still have to prepare supper and be out the house by 8!to me that does not involve bullying but rather giving the child a warning (which

    is only fair to give kids warning followed by the consequence. I would be very interested to hear your comments thank you, dina, israel

  7. I sure wish I had read this about 10 years ago! I used the 1-2-3 method and it did work wonderful. I never thought I was bullying my child though. Now I understand that I really was and it breaks my heart. She is 14 now, not too late to try to reverse some of those feelings. Thanks for the insight.

  8. Jasmine Cataldo says:

    I love the concept. And this hits home. So often I find myself facing tatrums when it’s time for homework, bedtime, chores,or getting up for the day. I don’t wish to be a dictator or a bully. Yet when she’s out of control, hardly seems the time for a discussion. We must accept & cooperate with the time constraints of a school day. I prefer the “help your feelings,” handle business, then let’s talk about our feelings. I’m a single parent, so resources are scarse all the way around. It’s maddening when the few hours we have together after work are full of strife because my seven year old prefers to negotiate, complain & rebel, rather than buckling down & getting things done. We’d have more down time to have fun & enjoy each other if she’d help by cooperating. The dynamics of Task Master role vs. the non compliant child are poisoning our relationship. Neither of us are getting what we need. Her needs are very important to me. They are valid, but often unreasonable & poorly timed. How does a parent balance those needs with the time constraints of a school day? If I gave in to what she feels she needs, she’d be going to bed at ten & to school three hours late. If there was such a thing as a second shift school, we’ be enrolled in a HEARTBEAT!

    • Oh, I love the idea of second-shift-school! I’d like to wake up at 10:00am every day and run a second-shift-family, LOL! Naturally, I develop energy several hours AFTER the sun rises, so I completely understand.

      The concepts of this article strengthen the connection between parent and child. Obviously, it’s necessary on most days to get our children to bed and to school at reasonable times. Planning extra time into rituals like going to bed and waking up will go a long way to easing the stress. If you have planned on 15 minutes for brushing teeth, getting into pajamas, and tucking your daughter into bed, and then she stretches that time into 30 minutes- that can be maddening. However, if you plan on 60 minutes for all these activities, and throw in some stories or other “treats”, then when she dawdles, you are better able to take it in stride. The same concept goes for the morning, and it requires waking up 30 or 60 minutes earlier.

      Being rushed by a parent means being bossed, which entails a loss of connection, even if it is necessary for the structure of the day. Building lots of extra time into routines will shift the dynamic form “rushing your daughter into bed/ or out the door” to connecting with her while engaging in end-of-day or start-of-day family rituals- doesn’t that sound more harmonious?

      This concept is what led me to write Creaing Hours, as I feel so strongly about this idea: Children that are rushed are denied a healthy attachment to their parents. Yet, in this day and age, we all have so much on our plates that it is difficult to slow down, hence the value of time-saving tips and techniques.

  9. Thank you for this. I count, and I never saw myself as a bully. I am a teacher, and don’t tolerate bullies, and now I will find another way. Thank you for this insight!

  10. I liked the post but I think it more suitable for older children. I don’t agree with the idea of 1,2 3 is bullying, when my kids were very young, I found I tried all the understanding of needs and offering them choices and found I was spending too much time negotiating with them, and when my child began to offer me choices, (do I want her to watch this or this movie- when I didn’t want any for example)I realized it had gone too far. Magic 1,2.3 I highly recommend as a book which helped me bring back discipline and respect for parent authority back into my home, initially with some conflict but I am glad to say I have 4 children today ranging from 13 to 5 who respect us as parents,and we respect them and their needs, who do not bully anyone, are cooperative and not demanding. Sometimes it is just fine to tell your kids to do something because “I told you so” and not to feel apologetic as a parent about your demand. If I was to look at society’s problems today of violence and crime, I would put it more down to lack of discipline in home than lack of understanding of their needs.

    • I believe that 123 Magic and such programs have their place, however they are less than ideal. Granted, we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people, so those systems may be a perfect vehicle to gain cooperation at certain times.

      The idea of understanding children’s needs and emotions comes before telling them what to do. When children feel connected to a parent, then they are happy to be helpful and cooperative.

      When children feel disconnected from parents, that is when a lack of discipline and behavior problems manifest themselves.

      Sometimes the disconnect is unavoidable: taking care of an ill parent, multiple responsibilities juggling schooling and jobs, and very little connection time is left for the child. However, this is a tragic situation if it persists for some time, as kids’ primary need is to feel attached to at least one caregiver.

      This is not to say that children who feel connected to a parent will never act out: they will- however, they are generally in a more cooperative mode than children who feel disconnected.

      I hope this is helpful; it is a fundamental shift in the way we view uncooperative behavior.

    • stephanie says:

      I loved reading this article and see lots of degrees in this discussion. I think as long as you are calm, make reasonble requests, the kids stay pretty calm too. I always found that if my daughter knew the rules and the agenda before we left the house, then the “Let’s leave the Park now” scenario went pretty well. If they understand what you expect and will allow/not allow beforehand (and also let them know how they are supposed to behave, then they know that there could be a consequence if the boundaries are breached. I found out quick that if I got out of control or too emotional, then she did too.
      I used a 1-2-3 tactic on my daughter and I used her biggest “hot button” as leverage: “If I get to three then you will loose your blankey for one night.” If I got bad results I would offer two nights blankey restriction. And so on. That way, she knew that there was a direct result to her disobedience or disrespectful behavior. But I dont think I ever threated her to tried to intimidate her with a 1-2-3. Sometimes, I think they just need to learn that it just works out better for them in the long run if they just say: Yes Mommy!” 🙂

    • I completely agree with Karen. I do think it’s important to understand our kids needs, but, parents need to define rules and boundaries, and enforce consequences for misbehavior. I believe that the lack of discipline is a real problem in our society, this has led to the deterioration of our educational system. Children need structure and clearly defined rules in order to thrive. I believe that learning ‘you can’t always get what you want’ is a valuable lesson that people in my generation (age 35) are missing, and many have passed this on to their own children. Unfortunately, our current economy is teaching this lesson the hard way to many people. Perhaps we wouldn’t be in such a mess if people were taught boundaries and restraint from an early age, instead of their parents trying to meet all of their wants. Just a side note: I don’t believe in corporal punishment, but, as I said earlier, some sort of consequence must be clear.

  11. I agree that much “discipline” constitutes bullying. My son had a teacher that used the 123 magic program on her students with absolutely disastrous results. We had to take him out of the class as his negative behaviors and feelings of worthlessness escalated.

    However, I disagree that all conflict is a result of conflicting “needs”. There is a difference between a need and a want. We may want many things, both as children and as adults, but that does not mean that we are entitled to receive them. Selfishness is a real character issue for people of all issues. In addition, we often want things that are in oppostiion to what we actually need. Children are not always adept at telling the difference and often need parents to help them make those judgement calls. For example, my child definitely challenges me at bedtime, not because he “needs” to keep playing, but because he “wants” to keep playing and “needs” to get a good night’s sleep. Likewise, he may want a candy bar or a new video game, but he needs to eat healthy foods and save his money. It is my job as a parent to help him learn how to make the best choices….which are often not in alignmnet with his impulses.

    • I 100% agree with the struggle between needs and wants. I try very hard to attend to all my child’s “needs”, practice attachment parenting, and give choices when I can so that my 3 year old son feels empowered, but often there are unreasonable or impossible “wants” that I can’t cater to. That is when the power struggle ensues. I try redirecting, and/or acknowledging that he has a want and is frustrated by not having it met, but this is only about half effective. At times he’ll just get flat out wild and completely taunt my authority or direction, and in those times demonstrates very little respect. I understand that he may be indirectly saying he “needs” something, but at 3, he’s not able to articulate that (I’ve asked!)…and frankly, in those moments of conflict, I’m at a loss for how to lovingly, respectfully, assert my authority and regain control and his respect. Any thoughts are much appreciated!

  12. Well, we are bigger and know better. We can still be firm with our children without bullying them– we can still honor the authority that is necessary that we have. I love and protect my children. There are certain things they should fear. I would never leave them, but they should learn also to actively keep close to me. We can listen to their needs of course, but we make the decisions for right over wrong. I count sometimes stating a clear consequence if they can’t do something on their own I’ve asked them to do. And I upped it to five seconds– five seconds to get your pants on or I am putting them on for you. They don’t have a concept of time and if I explain to them that we need to go they won’t get it still and it helps to hear it passing by. There is a medium in every approach.

  13. Hi it is most definitely true that we need to looka t the kids’ needs – however, I object violently to the labelling the use of the 1-2-3 strategy as bullying. Many books have been written by good people about this ‘discipline’ technique – it is abotu teaching children consequences and choices – in life, we need to make choices, sure you can choose to stay at home if you do not wish to move after you have been warned and warned that the rest will be leaving – with your eyes glued to the TV – the counting allows the child to be better able to gauge the meaning of time – what is 5 minutes to the young child – there is no concrete understanding of that – 1-2-3 gives a concrete feel of that waiting time coming to an end – I respect your choice, if you choose to stay, we leave and you face the consequence of not going out with the rest/the treat of having an ice-cream/the joy of having dinner together/the pleasure of going for a movie… the list goes on. Milie is right. The 1-2-3 method is a well proven method if it is used correctly. There is no bullying to it – you earn your black stars and you earn your gold stars; one gets ‘disciplined’ or one gets rewarded. You get a salary cut or you are axed if you don’t do your job; you get a good bonus if you do it well – by then, it’s an imaginery 1-2-3 in your mind – if you don’t hear it at a young age, it’ll be a rude shock when you ‘hear’ it with no warning and with more disastrous results. It is truly the approach that matters – 1-2-3 can be done with great love. All parents should learn how to do it – rightly.

    • Yes, it is truly the approach that matters.

      Studies show that over 80% of our communication is nonverbal. That being said, we can watch 2 different parents count; one in an impatient, totalitarian tone, while the other uses a fun, directional tone. And the first parent in this example will be disconnecting from her child through the counting, while the second parent here will actually be connecting to her child and utilizing the counting as a tool to demonstrate that a transition is coming up- rather than a threat of something horrid around the corner.

  14. I use a 1-2-3-4-5 and so on count up strategy .. But in a totally different sense .. It’s like a game .. The only times my child dilly-dallies is when he has to change into going out clothes .. or has to wash up .. or take a bath .. all very boring getting in the way of play time actions .. so I have made “counting up” a game for him .. He loves to rush and wear his clothes, brush his teeth, wash up as I count .. he loves the tension of trying to finish before the numbers get bigger .. and I vary the pace of my counting and let him win .. and give him a thumbs up .. It’s all in jest .. and it does not matter to me at all how fast or slow he gets doing those things .. the idea is to just break him out of the impasse and get him moving onto the next stage. Sometimes he will make me start again and again so he can move ahead and finish at a smaller number .. I make him count me up too at times in jest .. and he feels mighty pleased when I say Oh Dear i could not do it as fast as you do it.

    Yes the underlying emotion has always to be in sync with .. the child has so little control over his life show him some understanding and respect even when he is being made to do something he does not like or something that can’t be put away for later

    • I love this idea! I just recently started using counting as a transition (When I get to three, you jump up and …) and that has worked wonders with my almost three year old. It is a relief to use counting as a cooperation tool instead of a threat. Thanks for the idea!

      • stephanie says:

        I used to do that sometimes too. “Let’s see if you can get dressed before I get to 20!” I made it a race and she loved it. “Let’s see how many I get to before you can get all your books put up! I bet I’ll get to 15!” We made games and races out of chores.

    • I have used this ‘counting up’ method in the past but had forgotten about it. But thanks to your comment Su I tried this again and it worked miracles! My 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters kept looking for more things to do before the numbers got too high! Bath and bedtime has never been so quick and so painless! Thank you!

  15. Ellen, you are right on with this! I hope the people who are bringing up alternative points of view, above, will continue to ponder the seeds you are planting.

    I think one of the key points you made was about whether we would speak to our spouse or business associate the same way we might count to our kids. Even if it takes extra time, I think we would give the adult the opportunity to express a different opinion and then try to come to consensus. It would be inappropriate not to, and we would soon see the consequences of our own poor behavior!

    People think this is different with our children, because they’re “only” children, and we are the older and wiser adults; however, if you see families that already function as described in this article, you’ll see that children who are honored learn to honor others and naturally respect their parents all the more for being heard. True respect cannot be commanded, but fear can. Stop and think – how do you feel about people who treat you the way you treat your children?

    • I love that line at the end, “True respect cannot be commanded, but fear can.” – How true. And if we command and instill fear all the time, we effectively teach kids to be sneaky and not get caught!

  16. Wow, again this post with all its comments came just in time! I am pretty tough with my three boys ages 12, 10, 10 when it comes to giving orders to fullfill MY needs. Although most of the “orders” and “instructions” I give them are for their benefit, but sometimes I just want them to go shower and into bed so I can have my quiet evening time…
    I haven’t used the 1-2-3 method for a while now, but I did when they were smaller. Now I just try to make them understand that what I want from them is in their best interest.
    I have just one question regarding one of my twins (10 years old): he usually doesn’t respond to my request, only after I repeat them many times (this is of course when he’s busy with something). I have to struggle a lot to get him to do what I want, and then also it takes a lot of time (getting ready for bed or out of bed etc). In school the teachers have to also struggle to get or rather keep his attention and we get a lot of “bad” notes from them.
    I sometimes try to talk to him one on one, in a loving way, and then turns very stubborn and won’t talk at all or start crying…
    any advise anyone?
    Thanks

  17. The article was wonderful. I agree with many parents that 123 works in some situations. For instance,when I give my daughter a choice to cooperate and she doesn’t, I can give her 3 seconds to either make a choice, or I make the choice. . . something as simple as putting something away so we can leave the house. She’s THREE. So, if she’s focused on playing, but I need her to be focused on cleaning up, I can say “You can clean it up and if you aren’t able to start cleaning by 3, then I will help you get ready.” Sometimes this may even fall more in the category of the time negotiation, just a shorter time frame than five minutes, “you need to start cleaning up by the time I count to three.” Overall, we do follow these concepts in our home, I especially liked the information or ideas on older siblings showing understanding to youngers, we work on this even now with an almost 4yo and a 6m old, we say “thank you” as we take away a toy and offer an alternative toy. . . even when our first was a baby, we practiced this method with her, so we’re just passing it down. Sometimes we’re teaching our older one kindness, and allowing her to be particular about her own possessions and sometimes we’re teaching her safety, taking note of things her sister can’t have, and offering her an alternative that is safe to play with. Thanks for the article, good reminders!

  18. And to think we were taught that the “that’s one… that’s two…” model was wise and reasonable. (Timbra, I do like your twist on that method – the “3” being you make the choice!)

    Being a child is more complex than ever these days. Children are subject to tremendous stresses unheard of in our day, with the fast, almost schizophrenic pace of 21st century life. It’s up to us parents and grandparents to keep on our toes so that we can provide loving support… that really works!

    Thanks, Ellen, for a thoughtful and timely article.

  19. This was an insightful article and I will take some things from it and use it in my parenting.

    But I think the author was over dramatic in her assessment of the counting technique.
    I don’t ‘count’ very often…..I have on a number of times…..and at the end of counting….the consequence is SIMPLY a time out equal to the childs age on the steps in the middle of our living room. (an alternative consequence would be a favorite toy removed for a short time (ie the rest of the day, or a full day) and that was only done one or 2 times. (My child is now 5).

    To act like this type of technique is ‘bullying’ or teaching children that if you are bigger or strong, you can just bully to get your way is absurd and rediculous.
    As one poster said above, the counting just gives a child a chance to ‘think about his actions and make the right choice’ or else there will be a consequence….which in many cases, is a simple time out for a few minutes. Hardly a big, scarey,and inappropriately threatening consequence.

  20. I think a lot of folks here may be missing the overall point. Considering your child’s needs does NOT mean giving in and thus letting your child get his/her way. It does not have to mean that they get to take longer to do something. What it means is taking a moment to consider what your child might be feeling at that moment. Show your child that you EMPATHIZE.

    If you are informing your child that it’s time to put the toy down and leave the house, and he starts to throw a fit, instead of saying, “Too bad! It’s time to go!” it would be better to say, “You’d like to play with your truck longer, wouldn’t you?” (He answers tearfully, “Uh huh.”) “I know it’s hard to stop playing when you’re having fun, but we do need to get going, so would you like to bring your truck with you in the car?” OR “…so how about we make sure to play with trucks some more as soon as we get back?”

    I have used this very same discipline strategy with my son since he was barely walking (he’s now almost 5), and it works beautifully. Yes, there are times where he is really disappointed and lets us know it loud and clear. It can be frustrating, but even as I lead him to the car (or to bed, or wherever) while he’s carrying on, I keep repeating, “I know you’d rather stay here and play. It’s hard sometimes when we don’t get what we want.” or similar phrases.

    Far more often than not, all he wants is for me to understand his point of view. Once I empathize with him and let him know that I understand his feelings, he is very compliant. It may take a considerable mindset shift for many parents to do this instead of, “You’d better do X and Y by the time I count to three!!!!!”, but I really encourage everyone to keep working at it–it will be very, very worth it! Remember that discipline is not about punishment; it’s about teaching your child how to interact with others.

    I should mention that I am also an early-childhood music educator (ages 0 to 8), and I have used this type of strategy with my students for over 9 years with excellent results. I have also worked with elementary and middle school kids at camps for over 11 years and, yes, it was effective with them, as well.