Tips on Applying Positive Discipline

Last year, I shared the principles behind Positive Discipline in a talk at Kyle’s school and in a blog post.  I promised to share tips on how to apply the principles, so here they are

1. Create rules that are fair and applicable to everyone.  When I make a rule, I make sure it gets followed by everyone in the house.  For example, I have a rule that there’s no eating in the bedroom. I make sure that Paul also follows this rule, otherwise, Kyle would ask, “Why can daddy eat in the room?”  Rules apply to everyone, not just Kyle.

2.  Inspire intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic motivation is fuelled by external conditions, like punishment for wrong actions or rewards for good actions.  I don’t rely on those motivators, because Kyle will end up doing things for the wrong reasons. One example I can think of is having Kyle take medicine.  I let Kyle understand that medicine is for him to feel better. I don’t tell Kyle that medicine tastes good, because it’s really not. There was even a time when, after taking his medicine, Kyle comes to me with a scrunched up face saying medicine tastes bad.  I told him it really doesn’t taste good, but he still needs to take it because it helps him get better. Yun expectation, na-set na (the expectation has been set) that it really doesn’t taste good, but he does it because he knows it’s good for him – not because he will get a reward after doing it.

3.  Recognize kids’ needs.  Focus on the unmet need that caused the bad behavior, instead of the behavior itself.  When Kyle has a tantrum, hindi ako nakikisabay. I usually let him cool off before talking to him and asking what happened.  This is especially tricky when in public. It’s always important to not embarrass your child outside.  Huwag mong ipahiya, just let them be and don’t mind other people.  Most people are probably parents and they’ll understand, anyway.  It’s common for kids to do bad things when they want attention, because they notice that mommy or daddy only takes notice of them when they’re misbehaving.  On the rare occasion that Kyle throws a tantrum, I let him be and allow him to cool off. When he’s calm, I’ll just ask him what happened, then we’ll talk about it. I don’t shout at him or correct him on the spot.  It’s important that I get to talk to him in a calm manner. Even when we’re at home, I’d wait for him to stop or cool down. Once he’s no longer agitated, I’ll ask him to join me for a closed door talk. I try to make him feel that I want to listen and understand him.

Talk to your kids when they’re calm, not when they’re throwing a tantrum. Understand their feelings and their needs.

4.  Understand the meaning behind the behavior.  This is similar to the earlier tip, but I’ll add a story to illustrate this.  We once visited a friend so Kyle can play with her two girls. This was the phase where I was teaching Kyle how to share his toys, and if he wants to borrow other children’s toys, he needs to ask permission.  So while they were playing, he was asking one of the girls if he can borrow her toy. She said no, but he kept asking, and I think the girl got frustrated, nakulitan ata.  So the girl hit Kyle on the head.  Kyle got really mad and showed it by hitting the toy. (At least not the girl!) I’m glad he did not do not what kids would normally do, which is fight back.  When I saw that the kids were beginning to get into a fight, I scolded Kyle. He got upset and started crying really hard. I realized I scolded the wrong kid because the girl was the first to hit Kyle.  I realized my mistake, but it was natural that I don’t scold someone else’s kid. So I talked to the mom and explained to her what happened. The mom agreed that her daughter should apologize to Kyle. Afterwards, I took Kyle to another corner where there wasn’t anyone, and I apologized to Kyle for scolding him.  I quietly asked him why he was crying, and he said, “She did not say sorry,” which confirmed what I thought. Kyle was upset because he got hurt, there was no apology, and I even scolded him. So I apologized to Kyle and explained that he needs to understand that he can’t force other kids to share their toys, no matter how many times he asks.  I also told him that we will have the girl apologize, because she was wrong. After that, Kyle calmed down and Kyle felt better after hearing the girl’s apology. This just reminds me that it’s important to understand my child’s feelings.

5.  Redirect negative behavior.  When a child just keeps hearing no, the word eventually loses its meaning.  With Kyle, I never stop at just no – I would explain why it’s a no. In fact, I suspect Kyle thinks I’m so makulit (naggy).  The practice paid off, though, because now Kyle is the one who keeps asking why.  Whenever I teach Kyle, I don’t just explain the why – I ask him follow-up questions to make sure he understood what I said.  Once, we were traveling and we ended up seated far from each other. It was taking a long time for the plane to take off, and Kyle started to lose his patience.  He was calling, “Mama, mama!” and he wanted to come to me. I was thinking, “How can I tell him no?” I redirected his attention and asked him to look at the seatbelt sign. “Do you see that?  Do you know what’s that?” He answered no, and I explained to him. “That’s the sign that says when everyone has to sit. If it’s on, you cannot stand up, can’t do anything but stay in your seat and buckle up.” That’s when he started to understand. Now, when we fly, he would check with me if the seatbelt light is on or off.  I would say, “It’s on, what does that mean?” And Kyle would reply, “I need to sit. But later, mommy, when it’s off, I can go to you, right?” I would assure him that he can, but I will also remind him that for his safety, he should sit. He now understands, and I don’t get any trouble from him on flights.

As a final note, I would encourage parents to always recognize the good things that your child does, rather than recognizing the bad behavior.  That’s how kids will understand that the good things they do are important. It’s our tendency as parents to notice and correct the bad things that kids do.  Because we’re so busy with our daily activities, we don’t normally spend time recognizing the good things that our children have done. Then when something bad happens, we notice it or we start to pay attention.  Because of that, the kids start to think that mom only pays attention to me when I do bad things.

For me, I always tell Kyle “I’m so proud of you!”  I check what he’s done right every day (sometimes I need to ask the yaya), and praise him for it.  If he happens to do something not good, I would simply ask Kyle why. “Why did you have a fight with so-and-so?” Then Kyle would narrate what happened, like “Because he grabbed my toy, he didn’t ask permission!”  Instead of scolding him, I continued asking what happened and he said, “I will tell him, I will not share with you.” He even explained, “This classmate does not know how to share, so I won’t share with him.” Then I would encourage him to do the better thing, “You teach him how to share, because he doesn’t know how” Kyle responded with, “I taught him, mommy!  I taught him three times, and he still doesn’t know how to share.” At that point, I reminded him that it took him a long time to learn how to share also, and I was patient with him since he was a baby. I encouraged him to be patient with his classmate, and maybe get his teacher’s help. Apparently, his teacher already helped. Kyle simply said, “He still doesn’t know how to share,” looking really disappointed. Actually, ang cute ng mukha nya (his face looks so cute), like he doesn’t understand why his classmate still doesn’t get it.  I simply continued to remind him to be patient with his classmate, because the classmate probably doesn’t understand why it’s good to share.

Caption – Appreciate and celebrate the good things your child has done.  Do it daily, to reinforce good behavior.

Finally, it’s important to always thank your kids for the small things they do. For instance, I thank Kyle for letting me leave home to run errands or go to work. Kids normally don’t want their parents to leave, and I would ask permission from him before I go out.  And when he says OK, I would thank him for allowing me to leave. Saying thank you makes them feel appreciated, and it sends the signal that what they do is important.

Parenting is really the hardest job, but no one will reap the long-term benefits of good parenting much more than parents themselves.  Positive discipline is really effective but takes effort. Just remember the 3P’s – patience, patience, patience!

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