Lesson 4. React to problems in ways that teach

Story I was standing with a friend in the entrance to his garage. As we spoke, his young son rode into the garage on his bike and parked it in front of their old station wagon. Something about parking the bike in front of the car violated a family rule because the father interrupted our conversation to stomp over to his son, grab him, hold him up in the air and yell. "Why do you always...Won't you ever learn...What is it going to take..."

From the child's point of view Let's leave our adult point of view and see the situation from the child's point of view. Imagine yourself as a child suspended in the air over an angry face. Would you be saying, "I am so glad that dad is bringing these things to my attention. This will really help me."?

We probably wouldn't do much calm thinking. We probably would be overwhelmed with fear, anger and humiliation. Yelling often blocks learning.

Setting the stage for learning People learn best when they feel both safe and interested. Imagine yourself again as the son in the story above. If, rather than hold you in the air and yell at you, your father had come to your side and knelt by you and said, “Son, I'm worried about your bike.” You might respond, “Oh, yeah! I said I would park it on the patio so you won't run over it with the car.”

A lesson already taught can easily be renewed.

There is a place for consequences. When rules are clearly understood and the child fails to perform in spite of reminders, consequences may be necessary. Reasonable consequences aren't intended to make children suffer; They are intended to help children learn.

What are some of the lessons you would like children to learn from consequences?

Examples of consequences If a child fails to put away clothes, the natural result may be for the clothes to become wrinkled and not get laundered. If the clothes are left in a place that bothers others, the reasonable consequence may be to put the clothes on the child's bed.

If a child does not come home at the agreed-upon time for dinner, a natural consequence would be for the child to get a cold dinner.

If a child has not completed chores or homework, a consequence might be that the child cannot go out to play or watch television until the task is completed.

The purpose of timeout What uses of timeout might more or less effectively teach children good ways of acting?

Timeout is often used to punish children. In this approach, children are placed in a boring place and threatened not to leave. There is nothing in this use of timeout that makes learning more likely. The child may merely plot revenge while sitting quietly in the corner.

The best use of timeout is to soothe. It is equally valuable for parents and for children. You may invite a child who has misbehaved to go to her room and think about what happened while you do the same. After you and the child have regained your composure, you can ask the child, “Can you tell me why I was upset by your actions?”

The key question for parents in all reactions to problems behaviors is: Will my reaction help the child learn better ways and make it more likely that the child will act in that way when I'm not around?

The trouble with techniques that use the parents power is that they are often not effective when the parent is gone. A child who has been punished for certain behaviors may merely make sure not to do that behavior when the parent is around.

Helping children internalize The best responses to children's behavior help the child behave better because they want to, because of some internal standard.

Imagine a child is playing with a playmate, becomes impatient, and grabs a toy from the other child.

What would you do if you wanted the child to feel guilty?

What would you do if you wanted the child to resent you or the playmate?

What would you do if you wanted the child to be more sensitive to playmates?

One of the ways that helps the child to be more sensitive to playmates is to explain how the child's actions affected the other child. The objective is not to activate guilty feelings but compassionate ones. The parent might say something like:

“When you grab the toy, then Tommy doesn't want to play with you.”

“When you grab the toy, Susie thinks you don't want to play with her.”

Reflect/discuss Think of challenges you have faced with your child recently. How could you use consequences, timeout, and explaining in those situations to respond to your child in ways that teach?

Make a plan that works for you.
If reflection works for you, set a time for additional thinking. Anticipate future encounters and be prepared with actions that teach.
If you learn well from wise friends or professional helpers, make a specific plan to get input from them:
If you benefit from self-help aids, here are some recommendations:

Additional ideas:

Rudolph Dreikurs & Lawrence Zuckerman Children, The Challenge
Enjoyability: medium
Credibility: medium
Size of contribution: medium
It is hard to name a single great book on consequences (or timeout) that does not over-emphasize control. Dreikurs is generally sensible. Ginott and Gottman provide good guidelines for setting limits—though their strength is empathic communication.

Haim Ginott Between Parent and Child
Haim Ginott Between Parent and Teenager
Enjoyability: high
Credibility: high
Size of contribution: medium to high
In all his books Haim Ginott provided many stories and sensible principles. They remain popular and top-rated because of the quality of the ideas and the enjoyability of the text.

John Gottman Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.
Enjoyability: medium
Credibility: high
Size of contribution: medium to high
Gottman has studied the impact of parents who have different reactions to children's emotions: dismissive, disapproving, laissez-faire, and emotion coaching. He shows why emotion coaching is best and teaches how to do it.

Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
Enjoyability: medium
Credibility: medium
Size of contribution: medium to high
The authors of this book were students of Haim Ginott. They have written sensible and useful guides for parents.

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