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Managing your young child's behavior | Column
By Karen Pettersen, Director of Morning Star School, Inc. in Woodinville and Kenmore
Give clear guidelines use vocabulary and phrasing a they can understand. “Be nice!” is meaningless to a three year old. The chair is nice. It’s a nice day. “You need to play without hurting or you’ll need to play in a different area” is much more meaningful and provides a clear guideline of expected behavior.
Consistent follow through is important. One parent contradicts another or sometimes a child is punished and other times not. Gambling is addictive and this is gambling on the disciplinary level. Parents must provide a united front. If you disagree about discipline, work it out in another room and create a scenario that both parents agree on and can enforce regularly.
Positive reinforcement is your most powerful tool. Praise must be specific and for true accomplishments. Empty repeated phrases of "Good job!" "Great!", are just that, empty and eventually meaningless. “I was proud of how you got along with your sister today. It was nice to see you share your toy with her”.
Give them choices often so they feel empowered without having to use negative behaviors to feel like they can make choices too. Making choices is an important life skill and the sooner they start practicing, the better.
Acknowledge their feelings. If you’re standing at the top of a steep slope with skis on, it doesn’t help to have someone saying “Don’t be a scaredy-cat, just go!” “I can see you’re scared. We can go to a smaller hill until you feel up to this one” gives emotional space to work through feelings. “I can see you’re angry that your friend had to go home, however, hitting me is not OK. You need to use your words and say “I’m mad!”
To dos - Give them a safe way to engage in activities that seem compulsive. If they can't seem to stop actions such as throwing, climbing or jumping, then give them a place where they can engage in those actions. "If you feel like you need to throw blocks, you can throw them at this cushion".
Morning Star School, Inc. has been helping children succeed in school with high quality preschool programs since 1997.