How to problem solve bad behavior with positive discipline

Shouting at your child whenever they misbehave could just make them angry and resentful. Solving the issue together teaches them key skills - and keeps them on your side.

Positive discipline takes a different tack as your children get older and more able to understand the consequences of their actions. Problem-solving issues together with your child helps them learn to express themselves and negotiate what they want without sulking or shouting.

Start solving discipline problems with your child

Sit down with your child when things are calm (not in the heat of the moment) and use a five step approach:

Show concern and empathy by acknowledging your child’s concerns using a non-accusing tone. For example: “Tom, I’ve noticed that there’s something about teeth brushing you find really difficult” or “Getting up for school in the morning seems a real struggle” 

Define the problem Explain briefly, and without lecturing, why the behaviour needs to change: “Brushing teeth stops them rotting” “Getting up on time makes the morning calmer and gives you time to have breakfast”. Use the “When, then” technique to teach your child the impact of their behaviour on other people, for example: "When you call people names, then they get sad and feel hurt” “When you say sorry, I feel ready to have fun again”.

Ask for ideas "Let's think about what might make this easier" or "What do you think would help?"

Listen to your child’s ideas Respect their feelings and praise practical solutions. Agree on a mutually acceptable, feasible solution. “You don’t like brushing your teeth because you find the toothpaste tastes horrible, so we agreed that I’ll buy a different make and see if that helps”. “You don’t like me coming into your room in the morning because you're tired and don’t feel like talking, so instead, you’re going to set an alarm clock and I’m going to leave you to get up without nagging you”.

Review Suggest you both sit down together after a week or so of the new routine. Wait until then to talk about it if it isn't working out.

Make sure you acknowledge when your child gets it right ("You let me have a whole telephone conversation without interrupting. Thank you, that was really helpful") and use some kind of reward chart to keep a track of  successes.

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