Positive Guidance: A Well-Stocked Toolbox

toolbox 2

Imagine we’re all going into business together.  You, me, and those other cyberfriends out there.  We’re starting a fix-it shop and we’re about to open our doors.  We will handle all kinds of problems: broken windows, leaky pipes, squeaky doors….You name it, we can fix it!  We’re about to start fielding phone calls from frantic home owners with all kinds of  problems, and we need to make sure everyone has their tools ready.  So we all check out our toolboxes.  In each toolbox is one, solitary hammer.  It’s shiny and new, and handy in many different situations, but is it really enough to get us through every situation?

My husband is a pretty handy guy to have around.  He has a toolbox that is so heavy, just hefting it from it’s spot on the shelf to the worksite could lead to a series of chiropractic appointments.  He has hammers to be sure: sledge hammers, small hammers, rubber mallets.  But he also has pliers and drills and 42 thousand different types of screwdrivers.  He has a zip saw and  a chalk line and even a tool designed for shoeing horses.  And we don’t own any horses.

The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t approach every job with the same tool.  Just as you can’t use a hammer for every household problem, you can’t approach every behavior challenge with the same technique.  It’s like trying to get a screw to go in by hitting it with a hammer.  So often you hear people say, “But it worked with ‘this child’ or in ‘this situation’, why doesn’t it work now?”  Or you find people responding to every undesired behavior with a time out.  Consistent….sure.  Effective…not necessarily.

Positive Guidance Techniques

Here is a quick run down of the positive guidance techniques I teach as part of the Children’s Center’s training.  Many will be familiar, some will require some more discussion.  (Of course, those discussions will be linked back to this page.)   The objective is to get familiar with the different methods, learn how to use them and when to use them, and then implement them in your own situations.  As you begin to approach behavior with a well-stocked toolbox, you’ll find those challenges a bit easier to handle.  Here are the tools you should have at your disposal.  Sometimes you’ll use one tool, sometimes the other, and often a combination of tools.

Encouragement– Specific encouragement, recognizing progress, not just accomplishment.

Positive Reinforcement Call attention to the desired behavior and ignore the undesired behavior.

Modeling As an adult, you are always a model for children, whether intentional or not.  Explicitly model desired behavior, particularly social skills.

Ignoring Behavior– Particularly if the behavior is simply annoying or an attention-getting device, ignore it.

Validate and Reflect Feelings– The emotion is OK even when the behavior is not.

Peer Feedback– Encourage other children who have been affected by the behavior to describe how they feel.

Adult Feedback– Describe the child’s behavior and its consequences for others, particularly when the actual victim can’t or won’t speak for himself.

Natural Consequences These are consequences that naturally happen as a result of the child’s choice.  Example: If he chooses not to wear a coat, he will get cold.  You must decide whether the natural consequence is appropriate to allow to happen, but without intervention, it will happen on its own.

Problem Solving– Involve the children in the problem-solving process, coaching them through rather than doing it for them.

Humor– Great for de-escalating the situation.

Choices Help children realize what appropriate choices they can select from.  Also clarify which behaviors are not acceptible choices, offering alternatives.

Speak Positively – Describe What You Want – Phrase directions without using “No” and “Don’t” whenever possible.  Give children a clear picture of what to do instead of just what not to do.

Gentle Reminders– Gently coach children through challenging situations.

Logical ConsequencesConsequence is related to the behavior.  For example, if the child dumps out the puzzles, he needs to pick them up.

Disengage- Particularly good response to arguing.  Simply stop feeding the argument.  My favorite line is, “I love you too much to argue,” from Love and Logic, I believe.

Redirection- Replace the negative behavior with a similar, acceptable behavior.  Example: Instead of climbing furniture, the child is redirected to the outdoor playground equipment.

Positive Time Out – Other Alternatives to the Traditional Time Out Instead of focusing on punishment, focus on helping the child regain self-control.

Physical Restraint – This is the most extreme, but is sometimes necessary to prevent harm to the child or to others.

As I mentioned, there are a few of these that need a post all their own for further explanation.  Stay tuned, and I will link them back to this page as well.

Top photo by thiagofest.



Filed under Article, social skills

14 responses to “Positive Guidance: A Well-Stocked Toolbox

  1. Kim

    OK, how about this one? My nearly-4-y.o. boy has been developing a bad habit of rubbing his nose on me when he’s snotty. I’ve tried the humor route: “do you think I’m a kleenex?! I’m not! I’m your mommy!” I’ve tried redirection: “here’s a kleenex.” And so on. He’s been doing it less. But last night, he put his finger into his nose, pulled out some snot, and deliberately WIPED it on my shirt. I was furious. I just couldn’t laugh it off. So I punished him. Nothing dramatic, just sent him to his room for a few minutes. Honestly, I was so mad (and tired, probably) that I just didn’t have the internal resources to work through it with him. I needed him to get away from me and give me some space while I calmed down. And I needed him to know, in no uncertain terms, that the behavior was completely unacceptable.

    So, here’s my question: which tools could I have used? What’s the tool for “this willfully disrespectful behavior is completely unacceptable”?


    • notjustcute

      Kim, I think you’re on the right track. Parenting rarely has an instant fix. It’s often trial and error. I hesitate to give exact advice because different things work with different kids, but here are a few thoughts.

      He may be looking for the easy access – so handing him a tissue was a good move. He may be looking for your reaction, so responding as you did, stating in a neutral calm voice (if you can muster it) and stating clearly that that kind of behavior does not show good manners, is a good route.

      For a nearly four year old there’s the question as to whether or not he understands the behavior is insulting (sounds like you’ve conveyed that), then you look to see if it’s giving him power in some way. He may just like that he can control your reaction. So if you keep your reaction very calm, but also firmly stating the impropriety, that might help.

      Depending on his verbal skills, you might try talking with him when you’re both calm (not right after an incident) and ask him why he does it (his answer might surprise you), expressing your dislike of it, and asking him to help brainstorm (problem-solving) how you could work together to change this behavior. Maybe he has some ideas, maybe you could suggest some. It might help him to have his own hanky or to come up with a fun or silly rhyme he can say when he’s using a Kleenex, to make that more appealing. Maybe putting superhero stickers on a Kleenex box and talking about capturing the “bad guys” (boogers) and throwing them in “jail” (the garbage). Think about what he’s in to and how you can connect what you need and what he needs.

      As a mom of an almost four year old myself, I know their behavior can be perplexing, and the fixes can sometimes be just as bizarre! Good luck! Let me know what you come up with!

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  4. I know you’re not blogging to offer personal parenting advice to every mom who wanders by, but if you’re willing I do have a specific dilemma I could use your help with. How do you help a (almost) 14-month-old child learn what is acceptable and what’s not? An example… our son constantly wants to play with the cat food and water. We would just move it out of his path, but we honestly have no where else to put it. We’ve repeatedly told him no, and, admittedly, have gotten down right loud about it a few times. We move him, we give him acceptable toys, but the stubborn boy goes right back!! We’ve even tried putting him in his pack-and-play for a few minutes to try to redirect his attention, and still he’ll go right back as soon as we take him out. It’s not just the cat food, it’s everything that’s a no-no — the trash can, books, putting his finger up his nose… you name it. Any thoughts or ideas? And p.s. we have no intention of spanking because of our own childhood issues with spanking, although we have given him a pat on the butt a few times, but stopped when we realized it didn’t make any difference either. And if you don’t want to answer this, if you just want to delete it, my feelings will not be hurt. I understand!!

    • notjustcute

      Hi Toni! Sounds like you have a typical toddler! My youngest is about the same age. At this point in their development, they are fairly newly mobile and exploring that independence. They’re also making huge gains in their communication skills and regulatory skills. So they’re going to explore and they’re going to test boundaries. Sometimes, I think they keep doing everything that’s a no-no because they want to hear that phrase again – they’re learning it. They want to know, “Is this a no-no?”, “Is that a no-no?”, “Is this one STILL a no-no?” Sometimes I find it helps to go beyond the no-no and use words like “hot” or “yucky” or “ouchy” – something that adds more description and gives a simple explanation. At the bottom line, I would say that this is normal behavior and that -as long as you are consistent in setting boundaries and redirecting – will pass as they grow and learn. Specifically with the cat food and water, my first instinct was as you mentioned – move it. But if that isn’t possible, redirect to a similar activity. A toddler is naturally fascinated by water and small sensory media, so find some avenue where that is acceptable. Fill a sensory bin with rice or water or something else. As your son plays with the cat items, state the boundary simply: “No-no, this is Kitty’s” or “Yucky”, use a concerned expression on your face. Move him to the other area with an excited expression, tell him it’s his, and help him play with the appropriate material. Expect him to try it a few more times – he’s testing you for consistency, not because he’s bad, but because toddlers are little scientists, and every experiment must be replicated! Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

  5. Corrie

    I’m not joking … but this seems to be an answer by some Godly power … Just this evening I was trying to find an answer to my question: how am I supposed to bring my daughters (2 1/1 and 8 months) up without constantly spanking, screaming and the like and how on earth will give me an answer I can work with? I am alone with them almost always (no family, husband constantly working …) I stumbled upon your blog via organizing-your-way. So thank you … Greetings from Germany, Corrie

    • notjustcute

      So happy to be able to help, Corrie! I hope it truly answers your question. Please let me know if there’s anything more specific I can do for you! I’m also planning an ebook on this topic for this fall, so if there’s something you’d like to find there, let me know!

  6. Sarah

    I also found your blog through Organizing-your- way when you did a guest post on homeschooling. I really appreciated the no spanking article and all these tools for discipline. My husband and I are in disagreement over spanking and in an effort to make sure we do not spank, I want to have some other tools that will work.
    I am so glad to have found your website. You do a wonderful job.

    • notjustcute

      I’m so glad to have you as a reader, Sarah! It’s so true — it’s nearly impossible to give up spanking unless you replace it with other tools. I hope you find these tools useful, as well as the e-book in the fall. Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or concerns in the future. You can email me at notjustcute@hotmail.com

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