Positive Guidance and Discipline Strategies: Description and Explanation (page 2)
Learning how to use these strategies makes it possible for you to meet the needs of individual children. You will be able to choose the most effective strategy in a variety of discipline encounters.
Positive discipline strategies begin with adult behaviors: good limit setting, clearly communicating limits. They include teaching more appropriate behavior, giving cues for the new behavior, giving choices, and supporting children in their new behavior. Positive guidance and discipline also include changing something about a situation, and ignoring behavior when it is appropriate to do so.
Positive guidance and discipline continue when adults manage typical discipline encounters with positive, helpful strategies: redirection, active listening, I-messages, conflict resolution, and recognizing and dealing with strong emotions.
Finally, helpful adults learn to recognize signs of stress, anxiety, and strong emotion. They try to prevent overstimulation and they teach calming techniques. The core of positive discipline strategies, however, is the last section in this chapter. Helping children save face and preserve their dignity in discipline encounters is the most important and essential element in child guidance.
We will start with limit setting. This strategy includes:
- Developing reasonable limits that focus on important things
- Stating limits effectively
- Helping children accept limits
- Communicating limits to others and reviewing limits periodically
Develop Reasonable Limits That Focus on Important Things
Adults influence children by stating their expectations for desired behavior and helping children understand that there are boundaries, or limits, on behavior. Authoritative caregivers understand the importance of proper boundaries in relationships in general, and appropriate limits in an adult-child relationship in particular. They figure out and clearly communicate limits that will be most helpful in encouraging children to behave appropriately. They understand what a good limit is and what benefits appropriate limits have for children (Marion, Swim, & Jenner, 2000).
Authoritative adults work with children in developing some, but not all, limits. For example, Mr. Claiborne, the first-grade teacher, led a discussion about classroom limits at the beginning of the school year.
Example. He started by stating first, “The most important rule in our classroom is that we treat each other and our animals with respect,” as he wrote on a large sheet of paper. He then described what that might mean and elicited the children’s contributions; for example, “The gerbils get scared when they hear loud noises. What would be a good rule about noise around the gerbils?” He printed limits and posted them as a reminder.
His children are much more likely to take ownership of limits because they have helped to develop them.
Highly responsive, authoritative adults set and maintain reasonable, fair, developmentally appropriate limits. Their limits focus on important, not trivial, things. The limits protect children’s and adults’ health and safety and encourage the development of healthy self-control. Their limits also transmit values of dignified, fair, humane treatment of people and animals to children.
Healthy self-control through limits
Self-control develops slowly in children. Reasonable, fair limits can help children achieve internal control gradually because limits clearly communicate appropriate behavior and reasons for that behavior.
Examples. “Scoot back to your spot on the carpet, Jack. Vinnie can’t see if you sit in front of him.”
Mr. Nellis to second grader Willis: “I see that you’ve finished your story. Please choose the next thing that you need to do now because the other children are also still working.”
Rules protecting physical health
One set of important limits deals with health issues. Disease can spread exceptionally quickly in group settings for children. Design and communicate rules that protect the physical health of both adults and children. Some examples:
- Thorough hand washing by adults. All adults who work in a classroom or elsewhere should be required to demonstrate that they know proper hand-washing techniques. All adults should also demonstrate the willingness to wash their hands at specific times.
- Thorough hand washing by children. A checklist would be useful.
- Proper handling of food.
- Washing and sanitizing toys and other equipment.
- Labeling and storing toothbrushes properly.
- Using tissues when sneezing.
- Proper toileting and diapering routines, including approved cleanup.
Rules protecting everyone’s safety
Appropriate limits ensure safety. Think about safety on different levels. One level governs the safe use of toys, equipment, and space. Typical limits include “You pour and dump sand in the sand box, but not on the trike path,” or “You must stay inside the fenced area of our playground.”
A child’s inner feeling of safety and security calls for another level of safety rules. Children feel secure when they know that they will not be hurt; therefore, a good environment for children has rules that keep children and adults safe.
Examples. Mr. Claiborne to Vinnie: “Yes, you are angry, and that’s OK, but I want you to tell Ryan that you are upset. Use words to tell him that you want your book back. Say, ‘I want my book back.’ ”
Mr. Nellis to kindergarten child Louie, who had asked what day it was several times in one morning: “Today is Thursday. You go home with your dad on Thursdays. He always comes to get you right on time.” Louie goes through many transitions (Mom’s house to school, school to baby-sitter, baby-sitter’s to Mom’s house, school to Dad’s house, Dad’s house to Mom’s house). His mother does not prepare him very well for transitions, but his father does a better job. Mr. Nellis does whatever he can to help Louie feel secure.
Respectful treatment of others with limits
Responsible adults set and maintain limits about fair treatment of everyone in a class. Children have to learn what respectful treatment means; they learn this best from the words and actions of adults. It also means clearly stating the behaviors that we will not tolerate (e.g., degrading or hurting others).
Examples. “Hold the kitten gently, like this” (teacher demonstrates). “Mitchell’s name is on the list before your name. He goes first.”
As you can see, this includes rules about humane treatment of animals. Humane means kind, caring, and compassionate treatment of animals, something that children must learn.
State Limits Effectively
Authoritative caregivers have a clear, direct, and validating communication style. If a goal in guiding children is to help children, we can best help them understand necessary limits by stating these limits effectively.
Speak naturally, but speak slowly enough that the child hears everything you say; use concrete words and short sentences when stating limits
“Put your puzzle in this first slot of the puzzle rack.” This limit tells a child exactly where the finished puzzle goes. It is more effective than saying, “Put it over there.” Avoid using abstract words or phrases such as “in a little while,” “be a good boy,” or “knock it off.”
Tell a child exactly what to do rather than what not to do, and be as positive as possible
It is more helpful to say, “Use this tissue to clean your nose” rather than “Don’t pick your nose!” We do need to be clear about what children may not do, but it is most helpful to focus on what we want children to do.
Use suggestions whenever possible
Suggestions are persuasive statements. Suggestions describe an acceptable behavior to a child in an appealing way; they do not order a child to do anything. Children cooperate more frequently and willingly when adults use suggestions (Baumrind, 1996).
Example. Sarah’s mom (in the chapter-opening case study) should have said, “I have an idea, Sarah. Let’s write what we want to buy at the store on this piece of paper and take it with us today.”
Use direct, self-responsible statements when you think it is necessary to make a reasonable request
Authoritative adults do occasionally have to state a very direct request, but their style is highly responsive.
Example. Mrs. Vargas had given an appropriate warning about cleanup on the playground but Jackie was still zipping around on his trike. “Whoa, there!” said the teacher as she signaled Jackie to stop. “I gave the signal for cleanup and now I want you to park the trike.” Then she put her hand on the handlebars, pointed to the row of trikes parked against the shed, turned Jackie in that direction, and said, “There’s a spot for your trike right next to the yellow trike. Let’s go and fit it in that space.”
This limit is stated directly, firmly, and kindly. This authoritative teacher relies on persuasion, not force. She has acted self-responsibly and the child is very likely to cooperate. Consider how a different, more authoritarian teacher would have stated the limit—by ordering, “Jackie, put that trike away now!” Ordering others around is a power-based way of speaking and it stirs up anger and resistance, not cooperation (Baumrind, 1996).
Give choices whenever possible
Children face so many important choices as they grow up. One of our goals, then, is to help children learn to make wise choices, a skill that we have to teach. A good way to start is by offering manageable choices to children.
Example. Mrs. Vargas first used a when-then statement to communicate clearly that the limit was that children had to wear paint aprons when painting. She said, “When you put on your paint apron, then you may paint at the easel.”
Then she gave Ralph a choice: “Do you want to wear the green or yellow paint apron?” Alternatively, she could have given a different choice: “Would you like to snap the Velcro pieces together yourself or do you want me to help you?”
Avoid giving a choice when the child really has no choice
For example, avoid saying “Do you want to wear a paint apron?” or “Do you want to go home now?” A logical response from a child to these questions is a yes or no answer because this is a closed type of question. It is unfair and confusing to give a child a choice when she really does not have one. You also set yourself up for an argument with a child who says “No” to such questions, because you then must backtrack and tell her why she really has no choice.
Issue only a few suggestions at a time; avoid giving a chain of limits
It is difficult for children to keep a string of limits or suggestions in their minds. If a child cannot remember a part of your string of limits, chances are good that she will not comply with all of the limits. Children comply more easily with limits when we state them in small chunks, small enough for children to remember. For example, “Use the clothespins to hang your painting.” “Good, it will dry nicely. Now, wash the part of the table where you worked with this sponge.” “OK, nice and clean. Now, wash your hands and hang up your apron.”
Allow enough time for the child to process information and complete a task before issuing another suggestion (Schaffer & Crook, 1980); repeat a limit if necessary, but do it effectively
Suppose that a child ignores your request. Frustrating? Yes, but do not take it personally. Avoid getting angry and remember that your job is to help this child accept a simple limit. You will be most effective if you
- manage your emotions well and repeat the limit calmly and with good will.
- call the child’s name again.
- pick up the item, and matter-of-factly hand the item to the child.
- repeat the request.
- avoid simply restating the limit in a snappish, peeved way because your irritation will show and will likely bring out anger and stubbornness from the child; then you will have a full-blown argument on your hands.
Help Children Accept Limits
Authoritative caregivers and teachers help children willingly accept good limits. They do several things to set the stage so that children will accept legitimate boundaries on behavior. Here are some practical ways to get you started on helping children willingly accept limits.
Researchers demonstrated many years ago how important it is to set the stage so that children can accept a limit (Schaffer & Crook, 1980; Stayton, Hogan, & Ainsworth, 1971). Adults who effectively help children accept limits believe that children are naturally compliant (Haswell, Hock, & Wenar, 1981). Authoritative adults tune in to a situation, help children focus on the task at hand, and give good cues.
Tune in to the situation
Observe what the child is doing before stating a limit.
Be responsive and take into account what a child is doing because her activity is important to her. If Moua is putting together her favorite puzzle when the cleanup signal is first given, she will very likely try to finish her work before putting things away.
Give children a reasonable amount of time to complete their work.
Consider cleanup in a classroom. Before officially beginning to clean up, announce cleanup quietly to the whole group, to small groups, or to individuals, and then allow the children a bit of time to finish up their work.
Decrease distance between you and a child. Avoid calling out limits from across the room. Decrease horizontal distance by walking toward a child. Decrease vertical distance by bending or stooping so that you can talk directly to a child.
Get a child’s attention, politely.
Touch a child on the arm or say her name quietly. Using nonthreatening verbal or nonverbal cues and appropriate physical contact 1 is essential with toddlers and is highly recommended with preschoolers, especially those who have not learned to live with reasonable boundaries and limits at home.
1. A note on appropriate physical contact: This is a source of comfort to a young child and is a part of the style of sensitive, supportive, encouraging adults. Appropriate physical contact reassures a child, is never imposed on a child, and is given in response to the child’s needs. With recent concern about child abuse in schools, it is prudent for school personnel to be clear about the policy of appropriate physical contact between staff and children. This policy must also be clearly communicated to and discussed with parents.
Help children focus on the task at hand and give cues
Direct a child’s visual attention to a specific object or task. “Here’s one of the puzzles that you worked on, Moua,” you say as you show her the puzzle you are holding and then point to the puzzle table. This is orientation compliance; its purpose is to orient the child properly (direct her attention toward something) before stating a limit or making a request.
Have the child make contact with a specific object.
For example, place a puzzle with which a child has worked in her hands and say, “Please hold the puzzle while we walk over to the puzzle table.” This is contact compliance; its purpose is to help the child tune in to the task at hand before she is asked to do anything specific.
Make your specific request (ask for task compliance). A child is much more likely to comply with your request when you have properly oriented her. It is much easier for a child to accept the cleanup limit when she is at the puzzle table holding the puzzle rather than when she is sitting in another area listening to a story when you announce cleanup.
Give reasons for rules and limits
Children accept limits much more readily when they understand the rationale behind them (Baumrind, 1996). Three practical suggestions will help you use reasons well: give short, simple, concrete reasons, decide when to state the limit, and decide whether you need to restate the limit.
Give short, simple, concrete reasons along with a limit, and decide when to state the reasons. Example.
“Put the lid on the paint cups” (the limit). “It will keep the paint fresh” (the reason).
State reasons for limits either before or after stating the limit, or after a child complies with the limit.
Examples. State the rationale before you give the limit: “We need tables cleared of toys before we can have snack” (the reason). “Put each puzzle back in the rack” (the limit). Some children tend to argue less about a rule if they hear the reason first and the limit second.
State the rationale after you state the limit: “I want you to put the puzzles away” (the limit). “Then the table is clear for snack” (the reason).
State the rationale after the child accepts the limit: “The puzzle table is clear! Now we can eat snack at that table.”
Decide whether you need to repeat the rationale if you restate the limit. Repeating the rationale is a good idea when you want to emphasize the reason for the limit, perhaps when children are first learning a limit.
Example. Mrs. Vargas said before going out to the playground on the second day of school, “Tell me our safety rule about how many children are allowed on the sliding board at one time.” “That’s right, only one at a time so that nobody gets hurt.” She also showed a picture of one child on the slide.
Be aware, however, that some children might try to distract you from carrying through with a limit by playing the “why game” (i.e., repeatedly asking, “Why?”). Ignoring their “Why?” is one of the most helpful things you can do for them. You can also say, “I think you’re having fun asking me why and I’ll tell you why one more time and then the game is over” (Seefeldt, 1993).
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