Friday, March 30, 2012

Welcome to Discipline Magic

Discipline Magic will teach you some simple ways to bring the fun back into parenting.
  1. You will learn three rules for your children that work like magic. 
  2. You will learn what to do when your children break those rules.
  3. You will learn how to use time outs effectively. 
  4. You will learn how to encourage good behavior at home and in public. 
  5. While you do all of this, you will be having fun. I call that Parent Magic!
So many books I've read on parenting are complicated. They tell you all about what not to do. Or they give you complex systems that work with 5 year olds, but not with 10 year olds.  Don't lecture. Be positive. Give time outs. Don't give time outs. Count to three. Give time outs immediately.

What is best? What is supported by how young brains grow and learn?

Growing brains do best when there are clear limits. Most teachers are told that they should have no more than 5 rules in the classroom. The same is true of your home. You do not need more than 3 to 5 rules to help your children behave. The rules you choose and teach can make a huge difference.

You have to teach your children to follow your rules. That means that you need to both teach the rule and what it looks like when your child is following or not following the rules. Maybe it seems obvious to you what "Follow directions fast" means. It may or may not be clear to your child. The clearer you are in teaching the rules, the less wiggle room for the child and the less reason they have to test the rules.

Most teachers are told that they should spend part of every day the first 6 weeks of school reviewing and practicing the rules.  Teachers are also encouraged to review rules anytime there has been a break, a vacation or a big change. As a parent, the same is true.

I remember as a first and second year teacher being told that I needed to practice the rules. I thought - ok. I'm supposed to practice the rules. How in the world do you practice the rules? And how long can that take? 2 minutes? And wouldn't it be boring? And I'm really supposed to do that every day for 6 weeks? You have got to be kidding me! I was teaching 6th, 7th and 8th graders at the time.
As you can imagine, I both wasn't sure about how to practice the rules, nor about how to make it fun at the same time. So . . . I just skipped the whole rule practicing thing and learned the hard way. Yes, even 13 and 14 year olds who should "know better" still need to practice the rules! 
My understanding of what practicing rules meant, though, was turbo charged when I took over a kindergarten class that was complete chaos in the middle of the year. The previous teacher had been fired. I will admit that I was in tears before the end of the first day. The students wouldn't follow any of my directions, were running around and just plain crazy.
Long story short, a relative gave me quite the primer in how to practice the rules and let me know that I needed to do that every day. With time I learned that practicing the rules can be fun. Kids, no matter their age, can get into doing skits or using puppets. By the end of the year, the kids knew the routines and how to behave. More than that, though, they were having fun and learning at the same time.
If teaching rules consistently can turn around a class of 30 rambunctious kindergarteners, it can definitely turn around your household!

Kids are going to break rules. It is a part of life. If you expect that children will stop breaking rules after you teach them the rules, you are going to be disappointed daily. About 20% of children will continue to test the rules almost daily. About 80% of children will following along most of the time as long as the rules are clear. If you have a child in that 20% that I call "scientists," I have some techniques that will work for you. Either way, you need to have a set of strategies for when the rules are broken that keep you calm, stop the behavior and then teach correct behavior.

One year I had a class of students that was comprised of that 20%. Two out of every three children in my classroom had a learning disability, a behavior plan from the previous teacher, or was more than 2 years behind in school! Finally, I realized that I needed to have a plan for how to stay calm with those "scientists." I needed a simple plan that would work to stop the misbehavior. I needed to expect that my students would break the rules, because that was their nature.
They needed to know each day if I was still going to be consistent and love them by giving them limits. It is like each day they were needed to ask, "Do you still love me enough to give me limits?" Eventually, even the students with special education plans for behavior, started to realize that I would show them love every day by being consistent, and calm and setting limits every day. Even the last day of school!

The purpose of a time out is to stop behavior. It only stops the behavior in the moment. Stopping the behavior, though, is only one part of changing behavior. You also need to teach correct behavior!

Parenting, though, is so much more than discipline. While it might feel like half of your day is dealing with your child's behavior, it doesn't have to be that way! Parenting can be fun, joyful and the most important work you will every do.

It was the last day of school with my 66% "scientist" class. Yes, even on the last day some kids still needed to test the limits. But I was sad to see them go. Even with this tough group, we had fun every day together.
As a mother of three children, one of whom is a serious scientist, I of course have my challenging days. (I would hope you wouldn't listen to the book of someone who claims to know everything all of the time!) But, most of the time, I am able to just have fun with my children. Sure, they break rules. That is simply an opportunity to learn something new. Most of the time, though, they are three sunbeams full of light and joy.

So let's get started!

Step 1: Read about the three rules that will create discipline magic in your home!

When do you plan to do step 1? If you don't plan on reading chapter 2 right now, I encourage you to write down a time. Before I ________________, I will read chapter 2.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Three Rules

This is the moment you have been waiting for. What are the three rules for discipline magic? Drum roll please. . .

  1. Follow directions fast
  2. Make smart choices
  3. Respect your parents

Yup! That's it. These three rules are going to change your life.

You might be thinking for a moment - that's it? How are these three rules going to make a difference in my home? When I ask my kids to get ready to brush their teeth they run away from me screaming and act like I'm about make them drink a cup of cod liver oil?

Now, if you just post the rules in your home or tell your kids these are the rules, they are not going to do anything for you. You must have these rules imprinted in your child's mind if they are to be effective. To do that, you need to TEACH the rules.

You need to teach the rules when everyone is in a good mood. Make it fun. Smile. You know your child best, if you need to use some motivation like a small piece of candy for following along the first time, you do what you need to do. (I don't generally recommend that, but if a little bit of sugar is needed to make the medicine go down, it is just a temporary thing!)

Rule 1: Follow directions fast. 

(You could even take a picture of your own child running.)

Parent: I am going to teach you a very important rule. This is rule #1 in our house. It is follow directions fast. Move your arms like this (act like you are running) and say it with me.

Kid and Parent: (Moving arms) Follow directions fast.

Parent: Great job! Let's try that again. I'll say rule #1, and you'll say Follow directions fast while you move your arms.

Kid: Follow directions fast. (moves arms)

Parent: Yes! Follow direction fast. (move your arms every time you say the rule) You rock! Good job learning rule 1.

Rule 2: Make Smart Choices

(You could take a picture of your child pointing at their head)

Parent: I'm going to teach your rule #2. This rule is Make Smart Choices. When I say make smart choices, I want you to tap your finger on your head like you are thinking about something. Let's do that together.

Child and Parent: Make smart choices. (Tapping head)

Parent: Yes! Now, let's see if you can do that on your own. I'll say rule #2, and you'll say Make Smart Choices. Rule #2.

Child: Make smart choices (tapping head)

Parent: Correct. Make smart choices (tapping head). Nice work. Let's see if you remember the motion for rule #1: Follow directions fast. Rule #1.

Child: Follow directions fast (running movement)

Parent: Great. Now we are going to learn the final rule.

Rule 3: Respect your parents

Parent: The last rule is respect your parents. You make a smiley face with your hands while you say respect your parents. Let's try that together.

Child and Parent: Respect your parents (both making a smiley face with their hands around their face.)

Parent: Good. Let's see if you can do that by yourself. I'll say rule #3, and you will say Respect your parents making a smiley face with your hands. Rule #3.

Child: Respect your parents (smiley hands).

Parent: Yes! Respect your parents (smiley hands). Let's see how well you remember rule #1.

Child: Follow directions fast (running).

Parent: Fabulous. Let's see if you remember the motion to rule #2: Make smart choices.

Child: Make smart choices (tapping head).

Parent: Correct. Let's see if you can remember the motion to rule #3: Respect your parents.

Child: Respect your parents (smiley hands).

Parent: You really know those rules!

As a child I took piano lessons. I enjoyed the lessons, but I didn't like practicing that much! I'm sure glad I did practice, though, because I have a wealth of songs that I can play from memory.
I remember that every week my teacher would give me a page that had a 100 boxes in it and she would give me a phrase or line to practice that was challenging. I was the practice the phrase 25 times with my right hand. Then, 25 times with my left hand. Then 50 times with both hands together. You know what, even 20+ years later, I still know many of those pieces by heart.
I'm not suggesting that you make your child practice the rules 100 times every day, but a few times a week will do everyone a lot of good!

Your child will not learn to follow these rules by saying them one time! You need to practice the rules.

When should you practice the rules? 

You can practice them before breakfast, when you are driving in the car, before going to school, before dinner, before bed time. The most important thing is that you come up with a time and practice them consistently.

As a teacher, I had a routine in the classroom. After the bell would ring in the morning, the students would have 5 more minutes to finish eating their breakfast, get their materials for the day, read quietly and be ready for first period. Then, we would stand up and say a morning poem and practice the rules. I know many successful teachers have their students practice saying the rules every single day in the morning!
If it works in the classroom, it can also work in your home. (Although, unless you have a budding Einstein in your home, you probably don't need to practice them every single day!)

How often are you going to practice the rules?  

You need to practice them for 14 days in a row 1 time a day! I will practice them with my children each day before we ___________________. (eat dinner, brush teeth, drive to school, etc. you choose a time that will work for you)

Then, you need to practice them once a week on Sundays.

Why Sundays? 

Well, you really could choose any day, but the important thing is that you do choose a day. If you say I'm going to practice them once a week, but do not have a day in mind, you are much less likely to remember. On the other hand, if you say to yourself we will practice on Sundays before we ___________, you are much more likely to remember and practice the rules.

Here are some more thoughts and details about the rules.

You will probably find that your favorite rule is #3: Respect your parents. What is so special about this rule? It is the rule above all other rules. You are the only person that knows feels like respect to you and what will keep you happy. There is no way your child can get around the rule and argue with you. Either what the child is doing makes you feel respected or not. This rule eliminates lots of little rules that you might need, because they all fall under rule #3.

Can you have more rules?

Sure. You could have up to 5 rules! 

My son Mateo has created a rule for our family which is, "Keep the Earth clean." For that rule, we work on recycling, making sure we turn out lights after leaving rooms and making choices that help the planet.
My daughter Natalia (who is 4) currently has her own special rule which is "Keep your grapes in your mouth." I'm not really sure where that rule came from, but everyone thinks it is cute and funny. Plus, she enjoys having her own special rule that she made up. So, while that is not a real rule, it does help her buy into the system and have some fun at the same time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Time Outs

Before we start, what is the purpose of a time out? From my point of view, the time out is for one thing only.

Time outs stop behavior in the moment. That is all they do for challenging children.

Here are some things time outs do NOT definitely do for challenging kids.
  • They do not teach your child how to behave
  • They do not prevent your child from repeating the action
  • They are not educational
  • They are not the magic bullet

The time outs are like pressing the reset button on the computer. They give you a chance to breathe and think, your child is removed from the situation and you can try again. What you do after the time out can teach your child right from wrong, decrease the chances of your child repeating the action and be both positive and loving. The power in a time out comes from two things.
  1. No warning. Inappropriate behavior = time out
  2. How you talk with the child after the time out is completed
    • After a time out, ask these three questions
      • What did you do wrong?
      • Why was that wrong?
      • What will you differently next time?

If a child is doing something wrong, give a time out right away. If you count, you are teaching the child that it is ok to do something one or two times. If you ask a child to come and put on their shoes, they should come right away or before you count to 5 (or 10 - you choose). That time out doesn't have to last for a long time. Honestly 30 seconds might be fine.

Here is an example of what NOT to do.

Mom: "Please come and put on your shoes."
Kid: doesn't do anything
Mom: "I told you to put on your shoes. Come on. We are going to school. You're going to have a good day."
Kid: doddling
Mom: "That's 1. You need to put them on right now."
Kid: moving very slowly
Mom: "That's 2. You need to hurry up. We are going to be late."
Kid: slowly finding the shoe

You get the idea. The longer this conversation goes on, the more frustrated you as the parent are going to be. The more control your child is wielding over the situation. At the same time, even if the mom were to give a time out at 3, everyone got frustrated and doddling was tolerated for quite some time.

Try this for a change:

Mom: "You need to have your shoes on in 10 seconds. (counting slowly) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Kid: (Not doing anything or moving slowly)
Mom: "Take a time out. Come back when you are ready to tell me what you did wrong."
Kid: (Sits down and takes a time out. Kid comes back.) I'm ready to talk.
Mom: What did you do wrong?
Kid: I didn't put my shoes on in time.
Mom: Why was that wrong?
Kid: I wasn't following rule #1.
Mom: What are you going to do differently next time?
Kid: I'll put my shoes on quickly.
Mom: That sounds like a great plan! Let's see how quickly you can get them on!

You might be thinking - that sounds great, but my child isn't going to take a time out or have a conversation like that the first time either! You are right. The first time your child isn't going to have a conversation like that. On top of that, they probably will fight the time out.

I'll deal with those issues in the FAQ section below.


What if my child will not take a time out?

 Parent: Take a time out.
Child: (Doesn't do anything)
Parent: (Pick up the child and move them to the time out spot. If you need to, hold the door closed to their room for a minute.)
Child: I'm ready to talk.
Parent: I'm going to say "What did you do wrong?" and you are going to say, "I didn't go to my time out." What did you do wrong?
Child: (Doesn't respond.)
Parent: You are not finished with your time out. We can talk with you are ready. (Put the child back in time out. The first few times, this could last a very long time!)
Child: Can we talk now?
Parent: Sure. What did you do wrong?
Child: I didn't go to my time out.
Parent: Why was that wrong?
Child: I don't know.
Parent: You were breaking rule #1 - Follow directions fast. What rule were your breaking?
Child: I broke rule #1.
Parent: What will you do differently next time?
Child: I'll walk to my time out.
Parent: Great, let's practice. Let's pretend I just said time out. (Go through the process. If your kids are 7 or younger, you can even have a favorite stuffed animal act this out a few times and have the kid practice being the parent.)

What if my child comes back and is still whining?

If your child is still whining, they are not finished with their time out. I know this can be hard to enforce, but you do not want to tolerate whining. If they come out too soon, you might need to put on the timer and say you can try again in 5 minutes. The first time the time out might last a very long time. At the end, when you talk with your child, address why it is wrong to whine.

What if my child destroys his or her room during the time out?

Some kids will do this. If you know your child is a room wrecker, make sure they don't have anything valuable in their room. You want to talk about why wrecking their room is wrong after everyone has cooled down. You can either have the child clean up the room, or you can clean it up, but take away anything that you clean up. (You can just put them in garbage bags and give one thing back at a time a few days or weeks later as your child starts to behave.)

What if the time out seems to make my child escalate and s/he doesn't seem to calm down forever?

It is normal for a child to escalate at the beginning of a time out. Sometimes the first few times a child takes a time out they will escalate for 10, 20 or 30 minutes. This is normal. On the other hand, if this happens repeatedly and does not get better, you need to think about some other techniques.

This needs to be a judgement call on your part. For about 10% of children, especially those with special needs, time outs may just escalate the behavior. Sometimes you have to calm down the child before giving them a break or just skip the break all together. There is a chance that time outs really do not work for your child. 

If you have tried and your child just seems to get more and more wound up and more and more anxious during a time out, you may need to use a different technique. There are times when what a young child needs is to be rocked in a chair and calmed down. There are times when your child might just need a hug and some cuddles. You know what works best for your child, and you should feel to experiment if you try time outs and find that they really just escalate your child.  

Remember, the focus of the time out is to stop the behavior. The learning occurs with the discussion after your child is calmed down.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Change Behavior Fast: The Stars and Smileys Game

The quickest way to change behavior, for most kids, is what I call the Stars and Smileys game.

The Stars and Smileys game 

This game has been a trick that teachers have used effectively for years. I have used this game in my classroom for over 10 years teaching everything from kindergarten through eighth grade. It is simple and can be used at home too! The point of the game is to improve your child's behavior quickly.

Reward good behavior:

Anytime your child does something you want him or her to do more of, your child earns a star or a smile. This can be something you write on a chart, this can be something you draw on their arm, this can be something you keep track of out loud. (My daughter likes to have a flower drawn on her arm, where as my son prefers to have a lightening bolt. It doesn't have to be a star or a smiley face.

Penalize bad behavior.

Anytime your child does something undesirable, you earn a star. You should act excited to be earning stars and upset when your child earns a star.
    • "I hope I earn a star at the store. I really hope when we go to the store today I hear some really good whining. I want to hears something like can't I just have one piece of candy. Or maybe you could say something like, but all of my friends get to have gum when they go to the store. I know I'm going to get a star today. I just can't wait. Please whine for me at the store. Will you give me some really good whining?" 
    • You have to say this in a way that is playful. Your goal is for your child to win!
    • "Ah, you didn't whine a single time at the store. I'm so disappointed. I guess I'll have to give you a star. Well, maybe you'll refuse to help carry in the groceries. Now that way I would finally get a star today. Complain when I ask you to carry in the groceries. Ok?"

A Close Game is an Exciting Game

If you are at a basketball game and one team has 51 points, while the other team has 3 points,  how closely will you pay attention to the game? On the other hand, if the teams are neck in neck, and so close, flip flopping every so often, how exciting would that game be? The closer the sporting event or game, the more exciting the game. The same is true in the stars and smileys game! 

Your numbers should always be close. If your child is ahead of you by 2 or 3, you are looking for the smallest negative behavior to get you a star. On the other hand, if you are ahead by 2 or 3, you are looking for the smallest good behavior to give your child a star.

    • Parent = 6 points
    • Kid = 3 points
      • At this moment, you are looking for anything positive to reward your child for. "Ahh. You went for 10 whole minutes without arguing with your sister. I guess I'm going to have to give you another point for being so cooperative."
      • "You took the dishes from the table. I guess your earning yet another point for being so polite."

    • Parent = 3 points
    • Kid = 6 points
      • At this moment, you are looking for the smallest infraction to ding. "Sweet. You forgot to say please when you asked for the salt and pepper. I knew I would earn a point and win. Point for me! Yes!"

When you loose, your family wins 

First of all, at the end of the day, your child should almost always win. The game can be close and go back and forth, but at the end of the day you rig the game so the child wins. If need be, you can win up to 1 time a week, but NO MORE.


What do the kids win?

For young children, they don't need to win anything. Most kids will just be happy with beating you in the game. You don't win a prize for playing a basketball game!

For older kids, sometimes a prize helps with the system. Then, the prize should be something your child would get anyway. If you were planning on going out to dinner anyway, then the child wins going out to dinner. If your child normally gets to go to bed at 8 pm, then the prize is going to bed at 8 pm. If you win, though, your child goes to bed at 7:45!

I have three kids. How can I keep track of all of their scores?

 The kids are all on one team playing against you. Finally, you have a way to use sibling motivation to your advantage and decrease sibling rivalry.  As long as you do not have one child who is willing to do anything to get attention, including antagonizing everyone, they can all be on one team. If you do have a child who is willing to do anything to get attention, you can have that one child be on their own team. (This is extremely rare.) Out of a class of 25 students, I may have 1 child that needs to be an independent for part of the year, but normally after a few weeks they join the class team.

Here is a recap:

  1. Good behavior = star for the kids. (Act disappointed when your child gets a star.)
  2. Bad behavior = star for the parent. (Act excited when your child gets a star.)
  3. A close game is an exciting game.
  4. Remember, while you almost always loose the game, you win a peaceful, cooperative family environment.