I had the pleasure of reviewing Kathleen Cuneo’s workbook: Empowered Parenting: A Workbook for Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers, Helping You Become the Parent You Want to Be. I really like her comprehensive approach to parenting. She says that in order to become an empowered parent, you need to a) know yourself, b) know your child, and c) communicate effectively. This workbook helps you define these three important areas to be more effective and confident in your parenting.
Dr. Cuneo offered to answer parenting questions from my readers. So for part 1 of this 2-part series, we’re talking about discipline. If you like what you see, you can purchase her workbook here — it’s available at a discounted price until the end of January.
1. How do I discipline an unruly 2-year old?
If a parent came to me for parent coaching or counseling with the question of how to discipline an unruly 2-year-old, I would want to explore the meaning and details behind their question. Not only what does the child do, but also how does the child’s behavior affect the parent.
I’m guessing that this parent has tried many things to manage their child’s behavior but isn’t feeling too successful at it. Part of the process of learning what will be successful for this parent and child requires that the parent have some understanding and control with regard to his or her own buttons that are being pushed by this little one. In general, the most effective parenting approach with young children is to establish and maintain firm, clear limits while also nurturing a warm and loving parent-child connection.
More details about how to do that can be found in my workbook and in some of my answers to the questions that follow below.
2. How do you discipline kids while letting them know you still love them unconditionally?
You can love your children unconditionally for who they are, but that doesn’t mean that you have to approve of all their behaviors. Children thrive when they have firm limits that are enforced by a loving parent. Your “house rules” should be clearly defined and communicated. That does not mean, however, that you need to be angry or rejecting when your children don’t behave appropriately. The key is to focus on keeping yourself calm (not always possible, I know, but something to shoot for most of the time).
When you have a strong, positive foundation in your family, it is much easier to foster a sense of cooperation from your children and also to repair the inevitable rough spots that will occur in your parent-child relationships from time to time.
I also think it’s important for parents to really try to understand their children and their individual temperaments. It can be incredibly affirming for a child to feel that they are heard and understood by their parent. I include some exercises to help with this in my workbook.
And finally, it’s valuable to consider discipline as a form of teaching rather than punishment. When parents make it their priority to motivate positive behavior in their children rather than to solely correct negative behaviors, it makes for a more pleasant environment for everyone in the family.
3. What are alternatives to spanking a child?
Spanking is not effective in the long run as a way to motivate positive behavior so I’m happy to see someone asking for alternatives. The alternatives that I suggest are:
a) Emotion coaching – This is a concept described by John Gottman in his book, Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting, which involves helping your child connect their behavior with their feelings. Emotion coaching also involves helping your child problem solve and come up with more appropriate behaviors for the future.
b) Learning how to give effective commands and warnings with consequences that are directly related to specific behaviors. This is an area where lots of parents can get derailed and find themselves resorting to yelling and becoming angry and/or feeling frustrated by being repeatedly ignored. Briefly, giving effective commands and warnings requires a parent to be calm and confident in establishing their authority with their kids and in consistently following through with meaningful consequences.
c) Using effective behavioral plans when trying to motivate a change in behavior. Using behavioral plans effectively involves choosing a specific target behavior, choosing an appropriate and meaningful reward, and having a system for monitoring progress.
All of these alternatives are described in more detail in my workbook with exercises to help parents apply these techniques with their own families. Also, I have a free report, “6 Steps to Effective, Loving Discipline with Toddlers and Preschoolers,” which is available at my website, www.drcuneo.com.
4. How do you get an 11-month old to stop biting?
Most likely an 11-month old is biting because of teething. In that case, you will need to provide her with and direct her to bite on more appropriate teething objects (i.e., not people!)
Regardless of a child’s age or reason for biting, it is important to be calm yourself before you respond when your child does bite. If you react with intense feeling, you will likely make the situation worse. Your child needs to receive a clear, firm, brief message from you that biting is not acceptable. Usually, “No biting.” or “Biting hurts.” is sufficient. The victim of the bite should receive more attention than the biter especially if the victim is hurt or upset.
The next step in dealing with your biter is to help her develop connections and problem solve. How well this will work depends a lot on the language skills of your child. With an 11 month old, you might not get too far and “No” and some redirection might be the best you can do.
With slightly older toddlers, I would suggest pointing out the cause-effect connection between the bite and the crying victim (if there is one). Then talk about more acceptable strategies and behaviors for the future. Depending on your child’s verbal skills, you can ask questions such as, “If someone takes your toy away what can you do next time?” If she doesn’t have answers, you supply them. And finally, redirect your child to another, more positive activity. Depending on the situation, she may or may not need a time-out period to cool down, reorganize, and be ready to be with others again.
And have patience. It’s not likely that biting will be extinguished in one try. You’ll have to be consistent in your response and reactions over time.
Thanks Dr. Cuneo! Anyone having any challenges disciplining at home?