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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade: Alternatives to the Traditional Time-Out

When the practice of time-out first made its appearance on the child guidance stage, it was introduced as an alternative to corporeal punishment, the preferred method of the day for helping children see the error of their ways.  In this context, the nuance was a huge step forward.  Unfortunately, many, parents and teachers alike, have fixated on time-out and the result is a method run amok.

The first problem with time-out is that it has become overused.  Too many parents and teachers turn to time out for each and every behavior misstep.  As I have mentioned before, this is like using one hammer to fix every household problem.  It’s certainly consistent, but not always effective.  Just as repairs require a full toolbox, responding to a child’s behavior requires careful selection from a variety of tools for guiding behavior.  Perhaps the child simply needs to be redirected.  In another situation, coaching her through problem-solving methods might be most appropriate.  Each behavior and each child is unique and needs to be dealt with in a responsive way, not just with the knee-jerk reflex that time-out has become.

The second problem with the way time-out has been implemented is that it is often not appropriate to the child’s age.  Too often, the behavior occurs and the adult responds with “Go to time out!”  The child goes (or is escorted) to time out and then sits until freed.  For a very young child, the mental process that is required to link the behavior to the consequence is too advanced.  The child doesn’t necessarily learn a better way to behave, but she does get the message, “This is where the bad kids sit” or “My parent/teacher is angry“.   A teachable moment is lost when an adult simply sends a child to time-out to sit alone and try to figure it out in the context of a two or three year old brain. 

The last problem with time-out is that it is often used punitively.  We as adults are angry and with that angry voice sternly say, “GO TO TIME-OUT!”  When we punish out of anger a learning moment is lost.  While we think that the unpleasant punishment will reduce the reoccurrence of the behavior, the child ends up leaving the time-out with the same skills and strategies she came with.  By merely going to time-out, she doesn’t know any better how to appropriately ask for a toy without hitting, or express frustration without a tantrum.  She only knows that she doesn’t like getting caught. 

A punishment approach can also affect a child’s self-esteem.  Past research has shown that children who are frequently punished begin to think of themselves as bad kids, and may actually seek negative attention.  Now I don’t mean to imply that we should never correct children for the sake of their egos, but it should be done from an attitude of guidance, not punishment.

We must remember that young children are learning how to behave appropriately, and as with learning any skill, they will make mistakes.  When they make mistakes, we must do our best to teach, not just reprimand.  Think of it in this analogy.  A child is gleefully singing the ABCs when he sings the famous letter, “Ellemenopee!”  You drop what you’re doing, and immediately shout, “That is not appropriate alphabet singing!  Go to time-out!”  He sulks on over to the designated spot  and sits for the alloted time,  all the while wondering exactly what was wrong with ellemenopee.  He may even make the vast mental leap between the specific behavior and the generic punishment, and decide never to sing that song again, but he still doesn’t know how he could sing it correctly.  Similarly, when we simply send a child to time-out for behavior they have not yet learned to master, we often leave them feeling punished, but not understanding what they did wrong, or more importantly, what to do right.

Now a caution here.  Some parents and teachers have grasped on to these problems with time-out and the relevant concerns for self-esteem and adopt a do-nothing approach instead.  This is just as harmful.  In either scenario appropriate behavior is not taught, nor is it learned.  Similarly, recognizing that behavior is within a normal developmental range or part of a phase, is not reason to ignore behavior.  We have additional patience when we realize that a behavior is normal, and that appropriate behavior is still being learned, but we still need to do the teaching.  Understanding, for example, that biting is normal for a teething youngster may make us worry less about our child’s future social deviance, but we still teach that biting people is wrong and redirect the behavior to an appropriate outlet (teething toy, crunchy food, etc.).

So what to do?  Well, first of all, some people do actually use time-out in an appropriate way.  It is not used to punish every behavioral mistake.  It is used when a child has lost control and needs to move to another area to regain control.  In these instances an adult may go with the child to a quiet area to scaffold the cooling off process.  Perhaps the child needs to be coached through deep breaths or responds calmly to being held.  In some cases the adult simply sits nearby as a steadying influence.  When the child regains calm, the adult talks briefly and directly about the behavior, what was unacceptable, and helps the child talk through what would be more appropriate in the future.  When the child is ready, she returns to where she was.  Some practitioners call this “Time-In” signifying that sometimes time in a closer proximity to a caring adult is more effective than time away when a child is trying to gain self-control.

Another variation of time-out is giving an area, by whatever name, where a child can choose to go to regain control.  One group of teachers created such a spot, coordinating with the book, Sometimes I’m Bombaloo.  They call it their Bombaloo room.  Another teacher called such a place the Power Chair.  Others have a Thinking Spot.  Whenever a child needs some time to cool down, he can choose to go to this safe place and have some calm and space.  This teaches a skill for future behavior, disengaging and regaining control, rather than penalizing for unlearned behavior.  We all need to learn to keep or regain our cool, and we shouldn’t teach children that it is a punishment to find the space to do that.

Offering a choice and holding children to reasonable consequences may also be better alternatives to time-out.  If a child is not behaving appropriately in one situation you may give her a choice of other activities.  For example, “Sarah, throwing sand can get it in people’s eyes and that hurts.  The sand needs to stay by your feet.”  (Sarah throws sand again.)  “Sarah, throwing sand can hurt people.  I can’t let you play here when you’re doing something that can hurt people.  Would you like to do an art project inside or ride trikes?  When you are ready to keep the sand by your feet you are welcome to play here.” 

Sarah may leave to play elsewhere and later return to play appropriately.  She has learned what the limits are in the sandbox and has gained a working understanding of what it will take to play there.  Rather than getting the generic, “I’m bad” or “I’m in trouble” message of time-out, she gained specific information that will help her in the future (“I can only play here when I keep the sand by my feet,”).  Some view this as a “Time Away” approach, giving children time away from a specific activity or person and explaining what behavior is required to return. 

So if you currently use time-out, take a look at how you implement it.  Are you using it when another tool might be more effective?  Are you simply sending children away to get them “out of your hair” and avoiding the teachable moment?  Are you viewing it as an unpleasant punishment that will lead to deterring future behaviors, expecting children to fill in the gaps for appropriate behavior themselves, or do you actively teach and guide them through their behavioral mishaps?

Just a few things to think about!  Maybe you should find a good “Thinking Spot” of your own and mull them over!

Positive guidance posts start here!

Positive Guidance Toolbox can be found here!

You may also be interested in Tools for Tantrums or Verbalizing Emotions.

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Disengage

My childhood and teenage years were shaped quite a bit by the fact that my dad was a lawyer and then a judge.  Building and presenting a logical and convincing argument was a favorite family pastime.  We engaged in (usually) friendly debate the way other families play Scrabble.  As my father’s child, I learned the art of pursuing an argument.  As a parent and a teacher, I have learned the art of ending one.

Often times, when we find ourselves engaged in an argument with children, the logic is sometimes lacking.  But that doesn’t matter much to the child.  It all makes perfect sense to him.  He still wants a sucker for breakfast in spite of the fact that you already told him he needs to choose from one of the healthy options.  She wants to play at her friend’s house NOW, even though you’ve explained that her playdate is tomorrow.  Often, we get passionate arguments when children realize the consequences of their choices and are trying to escape.  Susan begs for you to pick up the puzzle pieces, even though she is the one who threw them.  When a discussion with a child reaches the point that you find that logic isn’t going to bring you eye-to-eye and that you’re simply going around in circles, it’s time to disengage.

Disengaging means you, as the adult, has to take the high road and stop feeding the flames so that the fire of argument can go out rather than flare into an all-consuming inferno.  Monitoring your attitude and voice, very kindly and softly explain just one last time what the situation is, so that the child knows he has been heard.  Then follow it up with a terminal statement. 

 Here’s how that would sound:  “John, I understand that you want to watch the show.  But you chose to play with your Legos for twenty more minutes instead.  That time is gone and now it’s time for bed.  I love you too much to argue about this anymore.”  “Sasha, I understand that you want a sucker, but I don’t even have any.  So I’m not going to argue about it anymore.”  “Tyler, I know you want to paint now, but your name is right here on the sign up list.  So as soon as Ellen is done it will be your turn.  Arguing with me won’t change where your name is on the list, so we’re not going to talk about it anymore.” 

I can’t stress enough the importance of monitoring your tone and temper as you make these statements.  The point of disengaging is to diffuse the situation.  If you say all the right words, but with all the wrong non-verbal cues, you’ve just upped the tension.  Say it calmly, give a little hug, and then stick to it.  You can’t disengage and then jump back into the argument when the child inevitably tries one last shot.  You can ignore, change the subject (“Now who wants to read this hilarious story?”), or calmly repeat your terminal statement (“I love you too much to argue about this.” or “We’re not going to talk about this anymore.”) like a broken record. 

Sometimes a child will turn from an argument to a tantrum when she sees that you have decided to disengage.  Treat that as a new situation.  (Check out my Tools for Tantrums and see if that helps.)  Give the child space and help her to get control.  Then offer some choices of where to go from here.  (“Do you want to play with some playdough now, or go play outside?”  “Do you want to pick up those puzzle pieces now or in five minutes?”)  Trying to reason with them while they are out of control, going back to the argument, or simply caving aren’t options.   

You’ll find that as you are consistent in disengaging, it will become more effective in the future.   This practice lets the child know that we each own our own behavior.  Just as he gets to make his choices, you, as the adult, make yours.  When you choose not to argue, you are modeling positive behavior.  So even if you are a passionate arguer like I am, with careful application, you’ll find that you can “win” more arguments, simply by ending them.

Positive guidance posts start here!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Modeling

Charles Barkley is notorious for saying he is not a role model.  While this provided for an interesting campaign, and has the best intentions (implying parents should be a child’s primary role models, not athletes) it’s still a bit flawed.  (Sorry, Chuck.)  The truth is, any adult in view of a child, is to some degree a role model.  I mean, break down the word.  A role model is someone who demonstrates how a role is filled.  They are modeling behavior.  This is contingent upon a child being able to observe you, not upon your willingness or objection to being considered such.  Children are watching all around them and picking up cues on how to navigate social situations.  They are looking for social behavior to emulate as references for navigating their own social situations. 

They watch the clerk at the grocery store and file that away in the “How to Be the Clerk” part of their brains.  They observe the bus driver as an example of how to fill the bus driver role.  They see their grandparents filling the grandparent role.  And yes, back in the day, children even watched Charles Barkley and filed him into a role as well.  As they watch adult behavior, children are picking up cues for social behavior, social roles, and social speech.  They note how Mom takes care of Sister Sue, and next thing you know, they’re imitating that with a doll in a dramatic play situation, internalizing and making sense of what they’ve observed.  As the observations are refined and assimilated, parts begin to appear in their own behavior, even outside of play situations.  As parents and teachers, we’ve probably all had the experience of hearing one of our children lecture another child, a doll, or even ourselves, using the same tone and words (though sometimes in exaggerated caricature) that we have used ourselves.  They are constantly looking to adults and even peers for social examples.  It’s a simple truth for better or for worse.  Let’s talk about the better part.

One part Sir Charles did get right, is that loving relationships can increase the potency of a role model’s influence.  Parents and teachers can be extremely influential role models.  As we become cognizant of this, we can use our examples to shape and scaffold positive social behavior in the children we love and teach.  Here’s an example.  I was training a group of teachers recently, when one shared that she had spilled some milk during snack time with the children earlier that day.  She said the children were absolutely astonished!  “Teacher!  You spilled the milk!”  Their response displayed utter disequilibrium.  First of all, teachers are perfect, and don’t spill, right?  And secondly, this teacher was completely and perfectly calm about it.  Another confusing response in the view a young child who might panic or have a meltdown during such a calamity.  This teacher simply calmly said, “I did spill the milk.  Teachers make mistakes too.  How do you think we could clean it up?”  A simple incident, but a huge learning tool as well.  Through her mindful, positive modeling, this teacher taught:  1) It’s OK to make mistakes.  2) You can stay calm when you’re disappointed.  3)  We can fix our problems.  4)  Because of observing 1-3 with this teacher, a child knows it’s safe to take a risk with this teacher.

If you are working with a difficult behavior in a child, be sure to model the behavior you would like to see.  For example, if the child is having tantrums, model being very calm.  Particularly when the child is having a meltdown!  If the child is being aggressive, be sure you are not responding with aggression yourself.  If you have a shouter, model using a soft voice. 

Take note of your own behavior.  Is it being reflected in the children you love and teach?  Is it behavior you would want reflected?  As one test, imagine if a child spoke to you the way you speak to him or around him.  How would you feel?  If you’re uncomfortable, reconsider your own behavior.  Think also of the challenging behaviors you’re trying to modify in a child.  Can you teach through modeling, either explicitly (as in role playing) or implicitly in your every day encounters with the child? 

There’s a quote (though I don’t know the source) that states, “Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear your words.”  This is so true with young children.  Their language centers are still developing, so some of what we say may not always get through.  But they are also keen observers; what we do will almost always be noted.  These little ones can be like mirrors in a fun house.  We see our own motions and actions but in another form in front of us.  Make sure your own behavior is such that you would be OK seeing it again in the children around you!

Positive guidance posts start here!

Positive Guidance Toolbox can be found here!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Validate and Reflect Feelings

Have you ever frustrated or angry?  I mean really frustrated or angry?  Almost beyond words?  Doesn’t that just add to the aforementioned frustration?  Well, imagine being a child.  (It shouldn’t be too hard, I’m pretty sure you were one once.)  Young children are bombarded with emotions just as intense as our own – if not more so as they are not tempered with the same reason and justification we can sometimes muster.  These little ones feel just as frustrated and angry as we ever could, but have even less of an ability to verbalize it.  Too often, that results in some other manifestation or communication of the emotion.  This is when we usually see the tantrums, the biting, the hitting, the kicking, etc., etc., etc.  How do we as adults usually respond?  We swoop in, console the victim and cite the offender, lecturing them about that behavior.  We see it as a failure to behave properly, when often, it is a failure to communicate properly.

While I’m not saying that consequences should be ignored, I do think we are too frequently jumping past a critical first step.  In any highly emotional response for a young child, the first reaction we need to have is to label and validate those emotions.  We need to help them understand what they are feeling and let them know that the feeling is OK – even when the behavior is not. 

Think about it.  We all get angry.  I’m sure you’ve all had a turn feeling “righteous indignation”.  You’re angry, and you know you have every right to be angry.  Heads of State and geniuses get angry.  Well, children get angry too.  And many times for good reasons.  Getting angry is not a problem.  It’s how we respond to the anger that often causes problems.  We need to teach children how to properly respond, without sending the message that their feelings are wrong.

Here are some ways this may play out:

“Adam, I understand that you feel very angry right now, and it’s OK to feel that way, but hitting other children is never OK in this classroom.  Can you think of a better way to act when you feel angry?”  (Talk about simply saying “I FEEL ANGRY!”, or squishing all your anger into some playdough, or finding a quiet place for some deep breaths……etc.)

“Sandy, I know that you feel very sad because the other girls didn’t want to play your game.  I would feel sad and disappointed too.  Maybe you could ask if they’d like to play after they finish painting. – OR- Can you think of someone else you might like to invite to play your game with you-OR- Can you think of something that you like to do that makes you feel happy?”

By first helping them to label the feeling, it gives them tools to use to communicate in the future.  It also helps them to know they have been heard and understood, which is sometimes all they were looking for in the first place.  Lastly, it teaches them to recognize the feeling and to connect it with more appropriate behaviors in the future. 

Read here for more on Verbalizing Emotions.

Positive guidance posts start here!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Problem Solving

Teachers and parents of young children are notoriously good problem-solvers.  When discontent arises, we swoop in, assess the situation, and set timers, create turn-taking lists, grab another item for sharing, or utilize some other method from our bag of tricks.  We are so good at problem solving because we get so much practice!  This is all well and good, and at times a skill of survival, but to truly benefit children for the long run, it is ideal to involve them in the problem solving process.  It may slow things down a bit, but eventually you will find that you are “swooping in” less and less as the children build their own sets of social problem-solving skills and become more independent.

To be sure, problem solving is a complicated task.  Let’s be honest, there are plenty of adults who don’t have these skills!  Encouraging children to be problem solvers is more than saying, “Let me know how that works out for ya!”  Depending upon the individual child’s level of language skills and cognitive skills, we will coach them along at varying levels of support, scaffolding them through the process.  In essence, we are simply going through the process out loud and giving them a part in it.  Here are a few ways that I help children learn to problem solve, spanning across developmental levels.  Pick and practice those that apply best to the children you love and teach.

Describe the situation.  Come down to the child’s level, and put your arm around her if she seems comfortable with that.  Without passing judgement, describe what’s going on.  Keep your voice calm, and the child will likely follow.  “You look angry.  Tell me about it.”  Younger, less verbal children benefit greatly from this labeling process as their ability to feel very intense emotions far outweighs their ability to verbally express them (read more on Verbalizing Emotions).  In situations where there are two parties, you should encourage each person to tell his side.  “Lee I’m going to have Jesse tell what he thinks the problem is, and you and I are going to listen, and then Lee, you’re going to have a turn to tell Jesse and I what you think the problem is.”  If they’re fighting over an object, first say, “I’m going to hold this until we get things worked out.”  Gently remove it, and hold it out of sight if possible, so that the children can focus on talking rather than gaining possession. (For more on sharing, read here.)

Gaining peer feedback helps the children see things from another child’s perspective.  This is a very difficult task for young children, but hearing how their actions have affected another can help them make this leap.  It helps them to realize that their choices are not without consequences for themselves as well as for others.  When working with less verbal children, or a child who is too upset to speak, we must use adult feedback, where we as adults speak on behalf of the child.  “That really hurt Flora when the ball hit her.  She didn’t like it at all, and it made her feel really sad.  Do you see her face?  That looks very sad.”

What can we do?  Once you’ve clarified the problem, ask the children, “What can we do?”  As the children make suggestions, refer to the other party again, saying, “What do you think about that?”  Your job during this phase is to simply referee.  Make sure each party gets to make suggestions and weigh in on the other child’s suggestions.  Help them to be objective and find a solution that everyone can live with rather than getting overly emotional and waging personal attacks.  (Perhaps the political world could use some of this coaching…..but I digress.)  If the children are struggling, you may make some suggestions yourself.  “Hmmm.  We could set a timer and then take turns, or we could play with it at the same time, or we could put it away and paint instead…..” 

For very young children or children who may struggle through this process, you may simply present a solution and give them a smaller part to negotiate.  “It sounds like Tara had it first, and Sasha would like a turn.  Tara, I’m going to set my timer, so we know when it’s Sasha’s turn.  Should I set it for 3 minutes or 5 minutes?  OK Sasha, Tara will be done in five minutes and then it will be your turn.  Does that sound fair to you?” or “It sounds like you were just very frustrated because you needed help building the tower.  Who could you ask for help? OK, say, ‘Lisa will you help me build this tower?'”

For children who are more capable and familiar with the problem solving process, you may even get them started and then say, “Let me know when you come to an agreement.” Though you should still stay relatively close in case tempers flare again.  You’d be surprised as to the creative solutions children can come up with on their own when they’re given the tools and the space to own the problem!

Giving children an active part in the problem solving process- even if it’s just hearing the process out loud as you guide them through with simple questions- helps them to build the social skills necessary to problem solve in the future.  It also helps them to own their behavior, recognizing that you as an adult are there to help, not to fix things for them.

Not just in the heat of the moment.  Hopefully now you see the benefit of guiding children through the problem-solving process as conflicts arise.  Problem solving and negotiating is hard to do, particularly when the stakes- and tempers- are high.  Give children practice with these skills in other moments when they are in a less vulnerable position.  As an example, with my own boys, when we go to the library, they love to pick from the assortment of DVDs.  I allow each to pick one, and then allow them one additional DVD that they can agree on together.  If they can agree, great we get a bonus DVD.  If not, I simply respond, “That’s OK, we can try again to agree next week.” (Though that generally spurs them on to try negotiating one more time.) I often remind them that “I want this one, but I want that one” is arguing, not negotiating.  Then I tell them they need to share their ideas.  “Tell the other what you like most about the one you have, and maybe you’ll find some things you both like.” This is great practice in a safe situation.

So give it a try.  Find ways you can encourage your children to problem solve in safe situations, and coach them through the tougher conflicts they have with each other.  You’ll find that as they become more capable, you’ll be putting yourself out of a job! 

Positive guidance posts start here!

Positive Guidance Toolbox can be found here!

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Choices and Consequences

Sorry about the delay on Positive Guidance Posts!  Hopefully the combination of a few topics here will make up for my paucity of posts!

I mentioned in an earlier post about the importance and power of choice for children.  Giving children the opportunity to make choices builds their esteem, their independence, and gives them practice for future, more critical choices.  Here, I’d like to add to that by discussing how offering choices can be used to guide behavior, and how the consequences of a child’s choice can also shape current and future behaviors.

Guiding behaviors.  There are several ways we can use choices to guide behaviors.  The first is by redirection.  When a child is engaged in an inappropriate behavior, say running inside a classroom for example, we can use choice to redirect that behavior by giving appropriate choices.  We might say something like, “Sarah, running inside isn’t a choice today.  There are too many people and things in this room, and I’m afraid someone might get hurt.  You can choose to go outside and run, or you can walk with me around the room to find an activity you might like.” 

We can also use choice to guide behavior as we clarify the choices that are available and their accompanying consequences.  For example, if your child is supposed to be dressing but is not, you might say, “Damon, if you choose to get dressed right now, I will be here to help you.  But if you choose to keep playing and do it later, I will not be able to help you.  You will have to do it all by yourself.”  Be sure to pay attention to your tone of voice.  Don’t state the choices as threats, merely as a matter of fact statement.  Another example might be, “Abbie, this is snack time.  You may choose to eat with us, or to keep reading books.  Either way, there will not be another snack time today.  If you choose to eat with us, you probably won’t get hungry later.  If you choose not to eat with us, you might get hungry later when there is no snack time.”

Choices are not without their consequences.  As a matter of natural law, choices have consequences.  Too often we, as parents or teachers, are tempted to rescue children from those consequences.  We offer “one more chance” again and again.  (And I include myself in this category!) We just hate to see those sweet little ones upset and disappointed.  We avoid the meltdown in the short-term, but we also avoid the teachable moment.  We must remember that our responsibility is not to keep children from feeling any sort of discomfort in life.  It is our responsibility to teach these children and help them to gain the skills necessary to succeed now and in the future.  Sometimes that learning and growth requires a bit of discomfort.  There are far too many people in this world who struggle in life, in large measure, because they do not consider the consequences of their own actions, or do not feel personal responsibility for those consequences.  Learning that can take place in these early years can prevent such behaviors.  Particularly when we have outlined the consequences of specific choices, we must be willing to love children enough to let them experience the consequences they have chosen.

Consequences versus punishment.  Consequences are not really about punishment.  It’s not about exerting authority or inflicting unpleasant  conditions.  Allowing consequences is simply a matter of giving children the opportunity to learn about choices.  It’s about giving them ownership of their behavior. 

When we come from a punishment mentality, we tend to think that if the child doesn’t throw a fit, or exhibit disappointment, as a result of his punishment, then he hasn’t been  punished enough.  We, as adults, come from a position of authority and often try to control the situation, perhaps too much so. 

When we implement a mentality of choice and consequence we come from a place of love and support.  We allow the children to choose, and to fully experience that choice along with its consequences.  We are there to support and coach, but the choice and the consequence are owned by the child.  Just because a child deals with the consequence without so much as pouting, doesn’t mean that it has been a failure.  It likely means that the child is learning to accept personal responsibility and to deal appropriately and independently with those consequences.

As we talk about consequences, there are two types: natural consequences and logical consequences.  The two will be discussed and clarified here.

A Natural Consequence.  Sometimes, all that is necessary to implement a consequence is simple hesitation.  All we have to do, is do nothing.  The consequence will occur on its own as a matter of natural laws.  As an example, if a child chooses not to eat dinner, that child will become hungry. 

We, as adults, must use reason in deciding which natural consequences we will allow to happen.  Not all are appropriate.  A natural consequence of not brushing is severe decay and cavities.  Simply allowing that to happen is not an effective learning opportunity and is negligent on our part.  Likewise, any natural consequence that results in injury or humiliation is not an appropriate learning opportunity.  Waiting for a child to break an arm is not an effective way to teach that jumping off of a slide is not safe.  Obvious, I know, but you get the point!

A Logical Consequence.  Logical consequences may not happen on their own, but are logically connected to the initial behavior.  As in the previous example, where a natural consequence of not eating dinner would be hunger, a logical consequence would be not getting dessert.  It’s logical that if a child does not first have a healthy dinner, she can not have a rich dessert.  An illogical consequence would be not getting computer time or not getting a sticker because she did not eat her dinner.  In these examples, the consequence and the choice have very little to do with each other.

A logical consequence should be timely so that the connection can easily be made.  It should also teach the cause and effect concept of choice.  Logical consequences connect the behavior to the result and may be a preferred substitute for natural consequences that may not be appropriate or safe or that may take too long to occur for learning to be connected. 

Positive Consequences.  As we teach children about choice and consequence we must not forget that their choices often have positive consequences as well.  We should be just as diligent in emphasizing these consequences as we are in supporting their undesired consequences.  If a child is particularly timely in getting ready for bed, it is logical that as a consequence, there is more time for stories.  If a child works hard at the art table, it may be a natural consequence that she has several magnificent projects to take home.  We can draw her attention to that consequence by commenting, “Sylvia, you worked so hard today!  I noticed you spent a long time at the art table.  Look at all these things you were able to make!” 

As we allow children to make choices, and as we allow them to experience the consequences, we begin to build a foundation for future decision making.  When we can allow them full ownership of their behavior, they will begin to recognize that their choices have consequences and that they are able to control those consequences by carefully choosing their actions. 

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Positive Guidance Tools of the Trade – Using Humor

Often what is needed to head off a full-blown melt-down is just a little humor to lighten things up and regain perspective.  Let me give you an example.  Recently, I had spent a full day washing every dirty article of clothing in our house.  A small feat in itself.  I hadn’t, however, folded any of it yet.  So at the end of the day, I was exhausted, folding laundry on my bed, just trying to get to the bottom of it so I could climb in!  Well, my five year-old came in, with body language and a voice that conveyed that he just might try a bit of whining and fit-throwing to get his way as he said, “But I wanted to sit there!”  I responded that the bed was “closed”.  Then realizing the humor, said, “Get it?  The bed is closed with clothes!”  He paused for a moment, then his five year-old logic grasped it and his whole demeanor changed.  He visibly relaxed, laughed a bit, and then moved to another part of the room to settle in and talk to me about something else.

Humor is an excellent distraction.  It lightens the mood and shifts attention, often facilitating either natural or adult-prompted redirection.  It’s not always the children who are the ones who need to lighten up.  They’re naturals at funny business.  In fact, I recently read that, on average, a child laughs 300 times each day, while an adult laughs only 15 times each day.  So it’s logical that humor would be a natural tool to use when working with children.

My husband is an expert at using humor when the little ones are being a bit overly dramatic about their most recent injury or frustration.  He asks what happened and attends to their needs.  Then, if the drama continues, he often says, very seriously, “Now let me make sure I understand what happened,” then recreates the scene in full slapstick comedic fashion, flailing onto the floor or animatedly crashing into the wall, or whatever the drama may be.  The kiddos almost always stop crying, at least long enough to laugh.  And then, if they haven’t stopped completely, they seem to have to really try to cry over laughing – and laughing almost always wins out.

We can use humor to get attention as we’re working with children, starting off an activity with a silly song, a funny story, or your own comedic antics if you’ve got the gift.  It’s hard for a child not to be interested in what comes next once you’ve made him laugh.

Humor can also be used to relate to the child, providing proper perspective on mishaps and disappointments.  (“I remember when I accidentally spilled some water on my pants.  That wasn’t what I meant to do!  How silly!  You know what I did?  I just changed my clothes!)  Laughing at ourselves helps children to do the same.  It shows them that sometimes, it’s just “no big deal”.

Humor also builds relationships by providing positive shared experiences.  It’s fun to laugh together, and you really don’t need a reason to do it!  Building that positive relationship will certainly shade future interactions.

Now, obviously, humor is not for every situation.  We don’t want to brush off very intense reactions with a joke, but sometimes we can head off that eruption, letting out a bit of steam with some well-timed humor.  Also, humor is meant to be used to laugh with the child, not at her.  Never use humor to belittle the child or disregard his feelings.  Be aware of personalities and temperaments, and how they might affect the reaction to your humor.  Keep in mind that sarcasm relies heavily on logic and language skills that children haven’t developed yet.  At best it’s too advanced for children to understand, and at worst, it can be very hurtful.  Just avoid it.

So take a look at how you can use humor to lighten the mood, or re-energize your brood.  There are many times when laughter truly is the best medicine!

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Photo by maillme.

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