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Discipline Tips

Stumped by a child's behavior or don't quite remember how to do "that thing" from your last workshop? You're in the
right place!

These discipline tips will help you deepen your understanding of Conscious Discipline, its application and the products that support it. We're regularly adding to this list as new questions arise, so please check back with us often.

Temper Tantrums

How do I handle my toddler’s temper tantrums?

The core skill that will help you through a temper tantrum is keeping your cool. Your upset will only fuel your child’s fire. Instead, use active calming techniques such as deep breathing to help manage these difficult, but developmentally normal fits.

As in any conflict situation, focus on what you want your child to do, model this behavior or state yourself, and notice any hint of success. In terms of tantrums, the behavior or state of being that you want from your child is “calm.” Your job is to focus on “calm” and model calmness yourself. This may sound particularly difficult in the face of a screaming 3-year-old, but can we really expect a 3-year-old to keep his cool if we can’t stay cool ourselves? Here’s an example:

Your toddler wants a bag of candy he’s spied in the grocery aisle. You say, “No.” He crashes to the floor, screaming. You're feeling angry, embarrassed, exhausted and at your wits end. You feel like everyone’s looking at you.

First, take three deep breaths to help calm the stress response in your body. Then, discipline yourself with the affirmation “I’m safe. Keep breathing. I can handle this.” Way to go! You’ve just set the internal foundation needed to teach your child how to handle frustration and become calm! Now you can address your upset child.

Be encouraging. Get down at eye level with him and say, "You can handle this. Breathe with me. You're safe." Scoop him up, hold him in your arms and breathe deeply with him. When his body relaxes a little, say, “There you go, you’re calming down.” Then tell him he has a choice, "You can sit in the cart and hold the list, or you can sit in the cart and hold your truck." Once he makes his choice, celebrate your success together, "You did it! You calmed yourself down and that's hard to do."

My book, Easy To Love, Difficult To Discipline, contains detailed information for wiring children’s brains for greater self-control (fewer tantrums in the first place) and helping children calm down so they can move through an existing tantrum more quickly.

What do I do when I think upset or a tantrum is likely to erupt?

Let’s face it; some situations are more likely to evoke upset than others. The keys to navigating these rough waters are composure, assertiveness, encouragement and choices. First and foremost, you must remain calm and in control of your own internal state. Breathe deeply and use affirmations to assist yourself in this process. Next, focus on assertive language with your child. Give an assertive command that paints a picture of what you want the child to do. For example, “It’s time to get out of the tub. Reach your hands up to the towel.”

If the child complies, say, “You’re doing it! Your arms are up just like this (model for the child).”

If the child refuses, say, “I’m going to help you start getting out.”

If the child complies this time, say, “That’s it. You’re doing it. It’s hard to stop when you are having fun.”

If the child refuses and turns or jerks away, notice the child’s body by saying, “Your arms went like this (demonstrate) and your head went like this (demonstrate).”

When your child looks to see what you are doing, take a breath and say, “There you are!” Then offer two positive choices such as, “You can get out of the water and into the towel or you can pull the plug and then get into the towel. Which do you choose?”

What can I do about my child’s chronic tantrums? She has a fit if she doesn’t get what she wants when we’re shopping. She demands to go home or refuses to leave when we’re out. She has bedtime and naptime meltdowns which include the usual screaming, screeching, and crying. Can I stop this behavior or is it just a phase?

A temper tantrum is an uncontrolled outburst of anger that usually arises from a child’s thwarted efforts to control a situation. The tantrum says, “I have tried desperately to make the world go my way. Now I’m frazzled. I can barely speak. I feel terrified, helpless and powerless.” Both children and adults have tantrums.

Tantrums are most typical for children between the ages of fifteen months and three years. These small children are battling between dependence and independence. Also, they have limited skills to influence the events that take place in their lives, so meltdowns do and can occur frequently. The outburst generally reflects the child’s inner struggle. However, certain parental practices encourage tantrums to continue far past the toddler years. These include inconsistency, expectations that are too high, undue strictness, over-protectiveness, overindulgence and lack of assertive limit setting.

Giving into children when they are having tantrums guarantee you will get more demanding behaviors in the future. You response to their upset teaches them how to behave in order to get what they want, and also how to treat other upset people.

Stopping a tantrum once it is set in action is impossible. Instead, our role as parents is to help our children move through their tantrums. In my book, Easy To Love, Difficult To Discipline, I explain how to help children calm down so they can move through their tantrums more quickly, and also how to wire children’s brains for greater self-control (fewer tantrums in the future). The following suggestions will get you started:

1) Discipline yourself first and your child second. Take several deep breaths before you begin to speak. Make your insides as calm as you would like the child’s to become. Then say to the child, “You are safe, you can handle this. Breath with me.”

2) Use empathy and reflection to help the child become aware of him or herself. Help establish body awareness by stating what you see: “Your arms are going like this (demonstrate) you face looks like this (demonstrate).” Then build emotional awareness by naming the feeling you believe the child is experiencing, “Your body is telling me you might be feeling frustrated. You wanted to buy something at the store.” More than likely, your child will be able to organize enough to say what she wanted, “I want a cookie!” At this point, validate the child’s desire and feelings, “You wish you could have a cookie. It is hard to not get what you want.”

3) Shift the focus to what you want the child to do and offer two positive choices to help her successfully meet your expectations. You might say, “You have a choice. You can have a snack in your car seat or have a snack when we get home. Which would you choose?”

Challenging Behaviors

Why does everything turn into a power struggle?

People create power struggles when they feel powerless. With young children, power struggles often occur after giving the child a command or when the child is tired, hungry or otherwise stressed. Power struggles are such a prominent concern that I have recorded an audio lecture CD titled Preventing Power Struggles to empower parents and caregivers to better prepare for and respond to this particular kind of conflict. Knowledge of child development, connection and active calming will help you to lessen power struggles.

Child development: Before age six, children process information 12 times slower than adults. We must slow down our speech and give only one or two commands at a time. If we speak at a normal pace and say, “Finish your snack, get your crayons and go color in the TV room.” The child may only process bits of information, hearing “crayons color the TV.”

Young children cannot conjugate the word “don’t.” When we say, “Don’t touch the lamp,” they hear, “Touch the lamp!” They look at you with a smile and touch the lamp. We think, “You wicked child, you deliberately defied me,” and enter power struggle territory. Instead of using “don’t,” pivot and tell the child what to do. “Don’t touch the lamp,” becomes, “Hold my hand (offer your hand) so you can learn how to touch delicate things softly.” “Don’t run,” becomes, “Walk slowly like this.”

Children under age seven also lack mature inner speech. Adults use inner speech to rehearse choices and outcomes before we act. Instead of inner speech, children encode information in pictures. So, we can use pictures to guide children’s behavior and avoid power struggles. Use your body as a picture by modeling what you want, use your words to help paint pictures of what you want, and put up actual pictures that show what to do. Instead of, “Walk in the house,” say, “Walk carefully with each foot going like this through the house.” Not only do you get better compliance (fewer power struggles), you also build language and literacy.

Finally, the brain is a pattern-seeking device. The more consistent your routines, the easier it is for the brain to pick up the pattern. If there is a consistent routine, the brain picks up the pattern, the child feels safe, and his neurological resources can be used for learning and exploration rather than for protection, and power struggles lessen.

Connection: Research indicates that the motivation to behave comes from being in relationship. Research also indicates that five minutes a day of focused play with children ages five and under reduces power struggles by 50%. Ten minutes of my I Love You Rituals per day will improve a child’s motivation and willingness, and decrease power struggles. If you don’t use I Love You Rituals, be certain to make time daily for specific, focused bonding activity you can share.

Active Calming: Finally, the absolute key for staying in control of yourself and helping to avoid power struggles is active calming. In Conscious Discipline, I call it “being a S.T.A.R.,” which stands for Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax. Three deep breaths will turn the stress response off in the body. Once you are able to regulate your inner state through deep breathing, you obtain access to the highest centers of your brain. While you are taking these deep breaths, affirm to yourself, “I’m safe. I feel calm. I can handle this.” These words are chosen based on research: They unhook you from the survival center of your brain and plug you into the rational part of your brain. Now you can respond calmly in the face of a power struggle, and access your inner wisdom to come up with solutions rather than entering into the fray. Practice active calming in your life and teach it to your children. Read Shubert is a S.T.A.R. over and over so this deep breathing technique becomes second nature. Demonstrate being a S.T.A.R. when you’re having a difficult time, and help your child learn to do the same!

When is my baby old enough to understand what "No" means?

We use “no” over and over in an effort to communicate with children. Maybe we think that because it is short and simple, it must be clear in its meaning. But what does “no” look like, how does “no” behave? To communicate effectively and encourage your child’s success, tell and show your child what to do (rather than what not to do).

To be clear in our communication, we must paint a picture of what we want the child to do. We have words that chatter away in our brains; children under about eight years old only have images. For this reason, it is imperative that we give commands in the positive. “Stop hitting your little sister” becomes “touch your sister gently on her arm.” “Pick up your blocks” becomes “put your blocks in the bucket like this.” Since children use mental pictures to guide their behavior instead of words, it is helpful if we use pictures to guide their behavior as well. Use your body as a picture by modeling what you want, use your words to help paint pictures of what you want, put up actual pictures that show what to do, and use the word “stop” rather than “no.” “Stop” means a cessation of movement. Starting in infancy play as many stop and go activities as possible. Walking while carrying your baby you can chant, “We walk and we walk and we walk and stop!” As they grow older, play fun stop and go games. Ultimately, they will learn that “stop” means “pause” or “hold up,” and that split second provides the time you need to jump in and guide or discipline them.

Also, whenever we’re upset, we’re focused on what we don’t want. We get more of the things we focus on, and so we soon end up in a negative loop. To help children be successful with our commands, it is essential for us to pivot and focus on what we want. Pivoting is simply pausing when you are upset (and focused on what you don’t want), and then using the Power of Attention to focus on what you do want. It’s a mental pivot, similar to how a soldier pivots and does an about-face when marching. When you feel yourself getting upset, say to yourself, “I’m feeling upset. I must be focused on what I don’t want. What do I want?” Then tell the child what to do. Focusing your child on what you want them to do will help them to be successful in following your commands.

There’s a child at my center who cries at drop off and nap time. What can I do to help?

It is challenging to offer much specific support without knowing more detailed information, but allow me to offer some broad support ideas. Generally, situations like this can be eased with consistent use of routines and rituals. Essentially, this child is feeling unsafe and/or unconnected for some reason. Creating a clear, repetitive routine that includes connecting rituals should help your situation, but realize that this will take consistency over time to make a real impact.

The brain is pattern-seeking, and when it can perceive a clear pattern, the child will naturally feel safer and become more calm. Establish a routine in which the same person greets this child every day upon arrival. The greeting will focus on connecting with the child and should include eye contact, touch, presence and playfulness. My I Love You Rituals book provides many examples of wonderful activities that would be appropriate. Similarly, you will also want to create a routine that includes another connecting ritual every day at nap time. I would suggest having the same person conduct an I Love You Ritual such as "Snuggle up."

Above all else, remember that the most important thing you can do to facilitate a child's return to a calm state is to remain in a calm and loving state yourself. It is difficult at times, but you can handle it and we are here to support you every step of the way. Resources that would be helpful in addition to the I Love You Rituals book include Brain Smart Choices for Connection and Caring (provides many I Love You Rituals and calming techniques to conduct together), the Safe Place Mat (which serves as a helpful cue for upset young ones if you've taught them the four calming strategies displayed on it), Shubert is a S.T.A.R. (another active calming tool), and, of course, my Conscious Discipline book.

What should I do when my preschooler clings on to me when I drop him off at preschool?

Your preschooler’s body is telling you important information about his feelings. Provide empathy for his upset, focus on safety and provide a connection before you leave. Say, “Your body tells me you might be feeling scared about staying at preschool while I go to work. You are safe at preschool. Mrs. Kendall will keep you safe.” Breathe together using an active calming technique like the S.T.A.R. (Read Shubert is a S.T.A.R. frequently at home so this deep breathing technique becomes second nature.) Establish a connection ritual that you do together every morning at goodbye time. Involve Mrs. Kendall in the ritual if possible. A favorite ritual from my I Love You Ritual book would be ideal. After the ritual, it is time for you to leave. Breathe deeply and assertively state, “I’ll be back after naptime. Mrs. Kendall will keep you safe. You can handle it,” and pass your child off into Mrs. Kendall’s waiting hands. As you leave, envision your child as capable and strong, instead of feeling bad about leaving or upset about the disruption. Turn and walk away, breathing and wishing him well.

It’s also helpful to know that during a certain developmental stage from 18 months to 2 ½ years, leaving Mom is more difficult for your child. If possible, you might ask your significant other to drop the child off.

What should I do when my preschooler doesn’t want to leave preschool? In the morning she doesn’t want to leave me, but at pick up time, I can’t get her out the door!

Your preschooler communicates to you through his/her actions. She is probably saying, “I missed you all day. I love you so much. I had fun today, but I’m still mad at you for not being with me.” Let go of the list of things you are going to be late for and your agenda, and become present in this moment. This allows you to stop being angry or trying to bribe the child. Speak to the moment. Bend down at her eye level and say, “You’ve had a great day with all your friends. It’s hard to leave when you are having so much fun. You seem angry. When you feel angry, you can be a drain or a balloon. Which do you choose?” Perform the active calming technique and breathe together. Then assertively provide two positive choices, “You can take my hand or skip to the car” (or two other acceptable choices for getting into the car.

Is a preschooler saying, "I hate you!" a normal developmental milestone?

Saying “I hate you” is one of many typical ways that preschoolers express feelings of frustration and anger. The ability to know what you are feeling at the time you are feeling it is the key to all emotional intelligence. Young children have not yet acquired the ability to label their emotions (I feel anger) or manage them enough to express them in socially acceptable ways.

Emotional intelligence allows us to manage our feelings, resolve conflicts and basically get along with one another. Emotional intelligence, like cognitive intelligence, takes decades to mature and requires certain experiences to bring about that maturity. Many adults, regardless of age, still have trouble identifying, managing and expressing their anger in helpful ways. Just think about your response when your own children are not ready to leave the house on time or your attempts to have children do their chores fall on deaf ears. Our own expression of anger can be very blaming and attacking. “What did I just tell you? Am I talking to thin air? Why can’t you just listen?” are all adult forms of “I hate you.” Our expressions of anger and response to children’s attempts at communicating their anger will lead to or impede their growing emotional intelligence.

Young children have immature emotional systems. There is a huge difference between feeling an emotion (sad, happy, disappointed) and expressing that feeling in a socially acceptable manner. Young children feel the emotion but lack the social and emotional skills to express what they feel. That’s where our emotional coaching comes in! It becomes our job to help children express their feelings instead of act them out (tantrum, stomp off, throw things, hide, etc.). It also becomes our job to help them verbally express them in helpful instead of hurtful ways.

Many children attempt to control their world so that everything goes their way in order to minimize the upset they feel and must deal with. Unless we help them deal with their feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment, they will grow more skilled at control and manipulation than at emotional intelligence. Without the skills of knowing what they are feeling, they will not learn to manage those feeling nor be able to empathetically recognize those feeling in others. In short, they will have trouble with close relationships throughout their lives.

Many adults give into children’s inappropriate expressions of emotions, giving them the illusion that acting out will make the world go their way. When we do this, we unconsciously teach them that hurtful actions yield positive results. These children grow up attempting to control others instead of modulating and expressing their own feelings. The ability to express their feelings is dependent on how we teach them through our modeling and responses to their upset. So when a child says, “I hate you,” overlay this expression with a socially acceptable one such as, “You seem angry? You were hoping/wanting ______.” (Fill in the blank with the desire you think they are blocking.) End by validating their feelings and encouraging them, “It’s hard to ________. You can handle this.” Remember to speak from the heart.

I am in the process of creating two new products to help parents, caregivers, educators and counselors assist children with the difficult task of recognizing, naming and calming difficult emotions. Check back often to see us launch the new iChoose board and iFeel feeling buddies to help increase the emotional intelligence of the children in your care.

My preschooler has started to lie. I know she’s drawing on the walls and furniture but she’s refusing to admit it. What can I do?

We have a choice, we can focus on getting our children to admit their errors and feel bad for their actions, or we can focus on helping our children learn to be responsible by experiencing the consequences of their actions.

In this case, you could go for admission of guilt and say, “Did you draw on these walls?” Asking a question you already know the answer to is a trap. More than likely, preschoolers will deny they did anything. Denial is a defense mechanism used when faced with fear of threat. Once the child denies the situation, then we really become upset, usually saying something like, “Don’t you lie to me. Lying just makes things worse.” From here the interaction can only deteriorate and the opportunity to teach a new skill is lost.

Alternately, we could set a limit and hold the child accountable for her actions by saying, “You wanted to draw some pictures. You may not draw on the walls. Drawing is something you do on paper. You can clean the walls with rag or sponge. What is your choice?” It is important to follow up with your child later when she is drawing on paper by saying, “You did it! You remembered to draw on the paper. Good for you, honey.” Then hug and kiss her all over.

My daughter tattles on the children around her, even when what they are doing has no impact on her. What can I do to make this tattling stop?

In this tattling scenario, the child is telling you about something that is happening around her, not to her. Sometimes children use tattling because they think it’s helpful to let adults know what someone else is doing. Other times, the motivation behind tattling may be to get another child in trouble because s/he bruised the tattler’s feelings in some way earlier in the day. Regardless of the motivation, you can utilize tattling to focus on personal self-control and teach self-control to children.

As your child approaches you and says, "Kimberly isn't doing her homework," try responding, "Are you telling me to be helpful or hurtful?" This question will bring the child's awareness to his or her own intent. Young children who are very honest will often say, "Hurtful." Your response would then be, "What could you do right now to be helpful?" Generally, the child will not know. This will give you the wonderful opportunity to teach. You might say, "You could go to Kimberly and ask her if she would like some help with her homework."

If the child's response to your original question is "helpful," then you can ask, "How is telling me about Kimberly helpful?" The child may respond, "I want her to get good grades." Then you can direct the child to share those thoughts with Kimberly by saying, "If you want Kimberly to get good grades, you could ask if she needs help with her homework."

I am over hearing my child say, “I don't care!"

Does this sound familiar? You give your son a consequence: "Chris, if you don't clean your room, you may not use the computer. " Chris snaps, "I don't care!"

Hold off on reacting with an aggressive, “You better start caring!” or passively caving in to your child’s distress. Instead, consider that "I don't care" is a signal that your child needs you; that he doesn't feel cared for.

If you are prone to aggression, breathe and see “I don’t care” as information about your child’s wellbeing.

If you are likely to buckle, breathe and remember to stay firm on the "no computer" consequence.

Then, to help your child through “I don’t care,” carve out extra time together to heal your relationship. Spend time doing activities that are fun for you both. Reconnect and be present with your child. You cannot buy your way out of “I don’t care” with gifts, nor can you punish it away by removing privileges. The single greatest motivation for a child to behave comes from family relationships, so work to keep them healthy. Do I Love You Rituals with younger children, carve out private time doing things they enjoy with your older children, start putting love notes in backpacks, and enjoy family meals together as often as possible. Your loving presence will provide the long-term solution to “I don’t care.”

How can I say "no" and be heard?

In its simplest terms, saying “no” and being heard is called “assertiveness.” It is a key skill that both adults and children must cultivate in order to develop healthy relationships. Assertive commands focus on what you want to have happen, give clear information about what to do, and are given in a tone of voice that says “just do it.” Conscious Discipline (educators) and Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (parents) spend ample time focusing on the skill of assertiveness. My Setting Limits Without Guilt audio lecture CD is also an excellent resource of most parents dealing with this issue. The following tips from these publications will get you started:

Focus on what to do: When you are upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want. Use active calming techniques to regain your composure as necessary, and then shift your focus away from what’s wrong. Instead, focus on what you want to have happen. Have you ever heard an Olympic athlete visualize “not losing?” No! They focus on diving their cleanest dive or running their fastest race in order to achieve their goal. You must do the same with your goal is to paint a picture with your words and gestures of exactly what you want the child to do.

“Don’t you dare touch anything in this store” focuses on what you don’t want (don’t touch). Pivot and reframe it in the positive, “Keep your hands in your pockets.” All assertive commands give usable information. “Don’t ____” is not usable information because it doesn’t tell what to do. “Don’t hit your brother” becomes: “When you want your brother to move say, “move please.”

Give the command assertively: There are three tones of voice we use when we communicate: passive, aggressive and assertive.

A passive approach says, “Approve of me, love me, is it okay with you if___.” A passive approach does not engender respect or compliance, so a passive person often resorts to manipulation or ‘going through the back door’ to get their needs met. Passive communication is not effective communication.

An aggressive approach says, “I am right and you are wrong, no matter what.” It often includes threats, blame, severe consequences or “you” statements that are focused solely on the other person. An aggressive approach invites a defensive response and engenders fear. Aggressive communication is not effective communication.

An assertive approach says, “Do this,” in a clear and respectful manner with a voice of no doubt. With children, follow these steps to deliver an assertive command:

  1. Establish eye contact by approaching the child, getting down on his/her level and moving closer until he/she notices you. For easily distracted children, you may need to get as close as six inches.
  2. Verbally tell the child what you want him/her to do. State your expectations clearly and simply. Be certain that the statement is formulated in the positive… focus on what you want them to do and paint a clear picture with your words. “Hold my hand so you are safe when we cross the street.” “Give me the scissors. They are sharp and could cut you.” “Use a quiet voice while we are in the museum.” “Pick up the markers and put them in the shoe box.”
  3. Give visual, auditory and tactile cues as often as possible. Demonstrate a gentle touch, gesture in the direction you wish the child to move, practice what a soft voice sounds like, etc.
  4. Send the nonverbal message “just do it” with the tone of your voice and with your nonverbal stance as you give the command. If your nonverbal cues are passive, your child may easily refuse. If your nonverbal cues are aggressive, your child will resist in self-defense. When nonverbal and verbal communication both say, “Just do it,” you let the child know your command has meaning.
  5. Celebrate your child’s success. The minute the child begins to show any degree of compliance, jump in with praise. Even if s/he wasn’t really going to comply, s/he likely will comply once you begin to praise him/her. “Good for you,” “You did it,” and “way to go” followed by a description of the child’s action are great ways to celebrate them without judging. “Way to go! You’re reaching for my hand so we can cross the street safely!”
  6. If your child chooses not to comply, repeat the request and say, “I’m going to show you what to do.” Lead the child gently and instructively in completing the request. Say, “I’m going to show you how to cross the street safely” and take the child’s hand in yours.
We have an unruly brood of kids between the ages of five and twelve. How can we get them to use manners? They really enjoy belching at the dinner table and taking food from siblings’ plates.

Conscious Discipline asks us to change our perception of conflict. Questioning how we can get a child to do something implies making them act differently. “How do I get my child to stay in her bed.” “How do I make my child finish his homework?” My first suggestion is to change the question. We cannot make another person do anything. If you have tried to make a smoker quit smoking, a drinker quit drinking, a miserable person happy or a baby eat peas, you know what I’m talking about. The only person we can make change is our self.

Change the question and ask yourself, “How am I going to help my children more likely choose to use manners at the dinner table?” From this question, we can generate a number of possible solutions. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give the children feedback. Say, “I don’t like to hear belching at the dinner table. I find it hard to eat.” Resist the temptation to give a moral lecture on the rudeness of bodily functions.
  2. Give the children choices. “You can stay at the table, eat quietly and talk with each other or you can be excused. If the children then choose to stay at the table and they continue with poor behavior you can simply say, “I can see by your actions you have decided to be excused.”
  3. Model appropriate manners with each other. You can also role play the skills you would like to see them use, remembering to encourage them.
  4. If one sibling grabs food off of another’s plate, empower the victim. When the child begins to whine, “Mom, he touched my food,” ask, “Did you like it?” When he says, “No,” then say, “Tell your sister, ‘I don’t like it when you take my food. Eat off your own plate.’” Use each moment as a teaching moment.
My 7-year-old daughter is really bossy. She bullies her sister and bosses her friends around when they come over. What can we do to discourage her from behaving this way?

Discouraging a child or a child’s behavior (young children do not separate who they are from what they do) is dangerous ground to walk on. Discouragement is like taking an antibiotic. Antibiotics destroy bad bacteria, but they also kill a significant number of good cells at the same time. Instead, I would focus on what you want the child to do and then decide on how to encourage that behavior. In this case, the new question we could ask ourselves is “How do I encourage my seven-year-old daughter to be more cooperative with her sister and playmates?” With this question, the following steps could be helpful:

1) Teach the victims of her bossiness to use their assertive BIG voice in setting a limit on the seven-year-old’s behavior. Shubert’ BIG Voice is an excellent resource toward this end. For example, if the child pushes her sister, go to the sister first and say, “You sister just pushed you. Did you like it?” When she says, “No,” tell her to say, “Stop, I don’t like it when you push me.” In bullying and bossy situations, it is imperative to go the victim first, empowering children how to deal with these situations. More often than not, we chase after the aggressor saying such things as, “Was that nice? How would you like it if people treated you like that?” or “Why are you doing this?” or, “That’s mean, go to your room.” None of these comments teaches either child what to do in social settings.

2) Teach the bossy child another way of communicating. Turn to the aggressive child next and set a limit. “You wanted your sister to move so you pushed her. You may not push, pushing hurts. When you want you sister to move say, ‘Move, please.’ Say it now for practice.”

This process of teaching will take some time. Research indicates that for a child to learn a new skill or concept it takes 2000 times in context. The good news is that you no longer need to ask your child, “How many times do I have to tell you?” because now you know the answer… 2000. Stick with it; change will happen as your children internalize these new skills.

My child is acting really mean. He’s hitting and biting us, saying, “I hate you.” and spitting at people. How can I help him to stop?

The first step to understand is that all behavior, including misbehavior, is a form of communication. You must ask yourself, “What is my child trying to say with his actions? Is he saying, ‘I feel angry,’ or is he saying, ‘I want attention.’”

The second step is to quit trying to stop children’s behavior. When you attempt to stop something, you will tend to resist what is happening and rely on fear, force, coercion or manipulation. More than likely, these are the same skills your child is using to get what he wants, and you’re trying to stop him from using! Also, when we attempt to stop a child’s behavior, we end up with side effects. The first side effect, of course, is power struggles. The second is a crushed spirit (both yours and theirs). This is the same spirit they will need to say, “no” to peers and “yes” to advanced math classes. I prefer to focus on transforming behavior so the child actually learns different ways of calling for help. To do this, we must focus on what we want the child to do instead of what we want to stop. If I said to you, “Don’t think about a purple alligator,” what immediately pops into your mind? “What you focus on you get more of” is one of the major principles of Conscious Discipline, found both in my Conscious Discipline book (educators) and Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (parents).

If you believe your child is hitting because he is angry and does not know how to express his feelings without hitting and hurting, I might say:

“Stop (hold onto his hand so he cannot hurt you). I will not let you hurt me or anyone else. When you feel angry say, ‘I feel angry.’” You must teach this skill over and over again. If your child refuses to be cooperative and willing to learn another way, then you must rebuild your relationship. The motivation to behave comes from being in relationship with one another. You know this from your own marriage… If your relationship is going well and one person asks the other, “Honey, while you’re up will you get me something from the refrigerator?” The answer is usually, “Yes.” However, if the relationship is severed and struggles have been the norm, the answer is more likely, “You have legs, get it yourself.” The same is true with children.

One more piece of information may be helpful: It is developmentally normal for stressed toddlers to bite and stressed preschoolers to hit. I do not know the age of your child. A four-year-old (or older) child who is biting could indicate potential problems. If this is the case, you may wish to seek professional guidance.

My eight-year-old doesn’t listen very well. Even though I remind him repeatedly, he’s not cleaning his room or putting away his possessions.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what is going on with many seven and eight-year-old children in regard to listening. Young children do not have mature inner speech. In other words, they do not talk to themselves inside their heads like adults. This has profound implication for disciplining children. Mature inner speech is the manner in which we, as adults, think through the consequences of our actions before we act. Most young children, knowing the consequence (loss of TV privileges, etc) still choose to misbehave. When the consequence is given, they meltdown with upset and begging, “I’ll be good now.” At around six to eight years of age, inner speech is maturing. This means that what used to be only outer speech now is going underground to become inner speech. For the first time, children have two conversations to attend to at once. They are more like adults. They can listen to the chatter in their heads as well as the talk of others. Often they will ask, “What?” even as you talk, appearing deaf at times. To help them through this developmental process here are some suggestions:

1) Stay calm. Remember, “What you focus on your get more of.” When you are upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want.

2) Do not shout at your child from across the room. Usually, we will start shouting the child’s name. “Kenyon, Kenyon, do you hear me. KENYON! Listen to me,” etc. This upset will be followed by a lecture. “I am your mother and I expect you to listen to me. Do you hear me now?”

Instead, walk up to your child and get as close to his face as you can until he makes eye contact with you. Once your child makes eye contact, gently say, “Well there you are.” Then say, “Room.” One word will be a sufficient reminder for many children.

Follow this up with encouragement as he begins to do what you’ve asked of him. You might say, “There you go. You can do it. Sometimes it is just hard to get started.”

3) If your child is not following through with a task, there is a good chance you are not following through with encouragement. You are telling children what you want them to do, but not taking the time to celebrate their accomplishments. Children need lots of encouragement. Imagine a football game where everyone sat quietly until a touchdown was made. We need to encourage our children like we do a team attempting to get two yards for a first down!

My Routine and Responsibility Cards are a helpful tool for putting more consistency in your home. A homemade job chart might also prove helpful, but remember that in addition to these tools, there is no substitute for encouragement and helpful parental reminders.

My child has started to steal. He’s sneaking money from my purse and recently I discovered toys in his room that we didn’t buy -- we suspect he might be taking things from his friends. How should we approach this with him?

Stealing is a sign that your child feels deprived in some area. This feeling of deprivation is always about intangible things such as a feeling of lack of love, lack of attention, or lack of value or worth. It’s helpful to think of children’s behavior belonging to two categories: One is behavior that is extending love (help). The other is asking for love (help). A child who is extending love or help is behaving in cooperative, caring and helpful ways. A child who is calling for love or help would be acting disrespectful, mean or uncooperative. In the case of stealing, the child is screaming for help. The help needed falls into one or both of the following categories:

Nurture: The child may need more focused attention and more family togetherness time.

Structure: The child needs clear limits with clear consequences. He or she needs to know that people mean what they say and say what they mean.

With that as your backdrop of understanding, I would suggest the following:

  1. Approach the child and say, “I’ve noticed money missing from my purse and some new toys in your room. I know you, and something must be really troubling you to take money. I love you and want to help.” Be empathetic and understanding. If you choose to approach the situation with threats or accusations, you probably will end up with a child who denies or becomes defensive, and you will not uncover the underlying problem that is brewing within.
  2. Listen to the child’s story. Sit quietly without interrupting. Resist the temptation to lecture and point out his or her faulty thinking. Listen deeply for the real problem.
  3. Make a plan to address the underlying problem (family communication, etc.) and a plan to repay the money stolen. The child would need to return the toys to the store or give them to a needy family or a local homeless shelter.
I feel like many of today’s children are self-centered and materialistic. What can I do to teach children to care more about others?

First, teach children empathy by helping them identify others’ emotions. When something occurs, help the child focus on the other child's face and name the emotion. Use phrasing like, "See her face? Her face says, ‘Ouch, pinching hurts. I want you to touch me softly.’" " See her face? Her face says, ‘I want you to play with me.’"

Next, begin to notice helpful and kind behaviors. Use the phrase, "You _______ so ________. That was helpful (kind, thoughtful, etc.).” “You set the table so we would be ready to eat. That was helpful." Noticing in this way tells children that their behavior makes a difference to the family (or classroom).

Educators can learn more about the language of noticing in my Conscious Discipline book, while similar information for parents is contained in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.

As a final note, parents can help by shifting to family activities that don't involve material things. Bake cookies to take to the fire department, give each other coupons for time spent together, back scratches, table setting, etc.

When two kids are fighting, what should I do?

First, breathe deeply and affirm, “I’m safe. Keep breathing. I can handle this,” so you can approach the children calmly. I heard a coach once start a story about breaking up a schoolyard fight by saying, “I knew I really had the composure thing down pat when I noticed myself automatically breathing and saying, “I’m safe, keep breathing, I’ve got this,” in my head as I sprinted across the court to get to Marcus and Jacob.”

Physically separate the children and assertively say, “Stop.” Breathe and focus on maintaining the inner state you want both children to return to. Encourage them to take a deep breath. Say, “Breathe with me,” and help them calm themselves.

Next, get down to their eye-level and say, “Both of you seem so angry. Something must have happened.” Let each child know you will listen to her story. Ask the first child, “Something must have happened?” in a questioning tone. Offer support to the second child by positioning yourself next to her and putting your hand on her shoulder as you listen. The second child will often interrupt, “But she…” Reassure her by keeping your hand on her shoulder and saying, “It’s hard to wait your turn. You will get a turn when she’s finished.” When the first child has finished, restate what she said to get clarification, offer empathy and reframe the situation with positive intent. “You were angry because she took your hat. You wanted it back and forgot to ask.” Then reposition yourself next to the first child and ask the second child to share. Restate, clarify, offer empathy and reframe with positive intent. “You were upset about what she said on the bus and didn’t know other ways to let her know.”
Utilize the Time Machine after both sides shar:

Step 1: Ask, “Did you like it when she_____?” 

Step 2: She responds “NO!”

Step 3: Set the limit on the hurtful act and include choices for the next time: “You may not grab someone’s hat. Grabbing is hurtful. The next time you want her to know you are upset with something she said, say, ' I didn’t like it when you said_____.' Next time please say or do _____. Or come ask me for help.” 

Step 4: Say it now for practice.

For more information about resolving conflict, my audio lecture CD Conflict Resolution, the Time Machine and Shubert’s BIG Voice are extremely helpful tools.

How do you recognize the difference between a child who is having normal behavior issues and one who needs specialized services?

Developmentally, children between the ages of 3-5 years old will test and question authority to determine what is and is not allowed. Children at this age check the limits and boundaries to figure out the expectations and rules of the environment.

When the behaviors become persistent and maladaptive to an extreme degree and they impede with the child’s learning process, then it would be recommended that the referral for special services begin. These children may also have an inability to form interpersonal relationships with others and/or inconsistent moods including depression. Some children may exhibit similar behaviors during a stressful time; such as the death of a loved one, recent move, change of schools or other life changing scenarios. For that reason, it is imperative that the child be observed over an extended period of time and not just referred due to a momentary reaction. In Contact your child’s school counselor or a mental health professional for additional assistance.

Difficult Situations

How do I handle my child’s upset?

One of the biggest challenges for parents of infant or toddler-aged children is dealing with an upset child. Think about how you handle an upset child. Do these responses sound familiar: “You’re okay, can you give me a hug?” “Come look over here! Play with this!” “Shhhhush (accompanied by rocking or bouncing).”

Though common, these responses rob the child of the opportunity to express his or her genuine emotion. These are reactive rather than responding statements. “You’re okay, can you give me a hug,” generally stems from the parent’s fear that the child isn’t okay, or that s/he is okay but is going to start wailing. “Come over here” and “Shhhhush” are both attempts to distract the child from his/her upset or pain. To respond to the child in a way that addresses his/her emotion, we must teach him/her how to handle the upset. We can do this by using active calming ourselves, helping the child to calm down and labeling the emotion to build the child’s self-awareness.

Step 1: S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a breath, And Relax). Actively calm yourself first so you can respond.
Step 2: Wish the child well by continuing to breathe and thinking loving thoughts about the child.
Step 3: Notice, “Your face is going like this (demonstrate the child’s expression). You’re safe, I’m here. Breathe with me.”
Step 4: Label emotion the emotion for the child to build awareness, “You seem sad (angry, upset, frustrated).” Do your best to label the child’s emotion. The child may correct you if you say “sad” and they feel “angry.”
Step 5: “You want ________.” Take a good guess at what the child wanted. Again, they may correct you. If the source of upset is a physical hurt (a fall, bump, etc.) describe what happened, “You were so busy playing that you didn’t see the coffee table until you ran into it.”
Step 6: Commit to keeping them safe: “I’ll keep you safe.”
Step 7: After the first six steps are complete and the child is calm, then you may offer redirection. “Let’s go play with the blocks.”

At first, the child’s upset may increase. This is healthy and occurs because you are allowing the child to feel the anger, upset or other emotion s/he is experiencing. Continue your active calming and move forward with the seven steps above.

As parents, our impulse is to bend over backward to avoid having our children experience any kind of discomfort. However, experiencing their own emotion is necessary and healthy for your children’s development. Be present with your children and help them cope with difficult emotions rather than attempting to shield them. The payoff will come years later when your children are able to handle their own upset about life events, whether they be bigger ones like a death in the family or smaller ones like getting a ding in his/her first car. Whatever the event, you will have taught your children the skills necessary to calm themselves in times of emotional difficulty.

Helpful tools for teaching active calming in your home are Shubert is a S.T.A.R. and the Safe Place Mat. My Easy to Discipline, Difficult to Discipline book is also an essential resource.

How do I help my child handle disappointment?

Disappointment is a difficult emotion to handle. All parents ultimately want children to be good sportsmen, take responsibility for their actions rather than blaming others, and be able to stand tall after their falls in life (both literal and metaphoric). Here are some essential guidelines to help children with this type of pain:

First, your goal must be to help them deal with the emotion, not “happy them up.” “Happying them up” comes in many forms. It could be a distraction, a promise to buy a toy or taking them out for ice cream. This attempt to take away the pain can lead (in many years) to adults who unconsciously graze through the refrigerator or use shopping sprees to deal with disappointment.

Instead, we can provide empathy to help ease their pain and teach them that they can handle all that life brings to them.

“You seem _____________.” (Put your best guess of the feeling in the blank… disappointed, frustrated, sad, etc.) If you guess their emotion correctly, their body will relax. If you guess incorrectly, they will tense up, pull away or correct you. If this happens, simply try to describe the feeling again.

“You were hoping ______________” or “You wanted____________.” Describe the disappointment or hurt.

“It’s hard when ___________________.” Validate their feelings.

“You can handle it.” Offer assurance.

“Breathe with me.” Take a deep breath together, and then physically connect in some way.

Example: A child does not make a football team.

“You seem disappointed. You were hoping to make the team with your friends. You wanted this more than anything. It’s hard when things turn out differently than you wanted. You can handle this. Let’s take some deep breaths together.” Then hug or hold your child.

I’ve posted a great video on YouTube that explains how empathy helps children take responsibility for their upset in a compassionate, healthy way. My Conscious Discipline (educators) and Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (parents) books also provide extensive information about ways to offer and benefits of empathy.

How can I help my child deal with pain?

Painful experiences are stressful to the mind and body. To help the body release endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers), touch is important. Deep touch, like we get during a massage, releases hormones that combat the corticosteroids (stress chemicals) in the body.

One way to touch your child is to play the I Love You Ritual “Putting Lotion on the Hurts” (pg 160).” This is a wonderful game to play with children after they have experienced some pain, either physical (after a fall from a bike) or emotional (after the death of a pet). You will need a bottle of hand lotion. Search the child for boo-boos, old scars or new scratches. The size or intensity of the scar or sore is not relevant. Begin the game by saying, “I am going to put some lotion on all those hurts. I see one right there. I will be very careful.” If the hurt is old, lotion can be put directly on the scar. If the hurt is new, be careful to circle around the wound with lotion. It is important that you repeat the message, “I will take care of you. No more hurts for you.” Continue looking over your child’s body for hurts. Use the time to massage old wounds. The nonverbal message to the child is, “You have experienced some pain, I notice that, and I am here for you.” Young children (under age five) are better with nonverbal communication than verbal. Even though the hurt the child experienced may be psychological, we can help address it in “child language” through touch. Psychological hurts and physical hurts activate the same pathways in the brain.

How can I help my child handle painful situations? We recently moved and my child is acting like it’s the end of the world.

Moving, divorce, the loss of a pet or relative, a new addition to the family, not making the team, broken bones and other experiences that cause pain, fear or uncertainty can cause a temporary state of regression for children. (Children’s behavior will become less mature.) In essence, they are trying to return to a time when life was easier and their needs were met. They talk baby talk, want to be carried, can’t manage to dress themselves, etc. One technique to help them move through the regression and deal with the pain they are experiencing is to play “When You Were a Baby” at bedtime.

Begin the game by saying, “When you were a baby, I would hold you like this (do it). When you were a baby, I would rock you like this (do it). When you were a baby, I would blow on your belly like this (do it).” Continue with some things you did from their early years.

The next day, if they continue with their regressive behavior, you can tell them. “Oh, you are playing our “when you were a baby” game again! We will play it together tonight. Right now, it is time to get dressed. You can do it.”

Some “do not’s” in dealing with a child’s pain:

  1. Do not give them choices. When we are experiencing painful situations, we feel overwhelmed. Giving choices to someone who is overwhelmed makes it worse. Instead of saying, “Do you want your blanket or a back rub?” Say, “I am going to rub your back and sit with you. You are safe, I am here.”
  2. Do not distract from painful experiences with food, shopping or other external things. This sets the child up for life-long issues. How you help the child now will be how they help themselves for the rest of their lives.
  3. Do not be sarcastic. Children do not understand sarcasm cognitively until around age 10.
  4. Do not minimize their experiences (“You will get over it.”) or maximize their experience (“My poor baby, this is so horrible.”). Let it be their experience, not yours.

Some “do’s” in dealing with a child’s pain

Observe what your child does naturally to soothe him or herself. If it is socially acceptable, help him/her expand this skill and become more conscious of it. If it is not socially acceptable, (hiding under things, masturbation, etc.) teach a replacement skill.

How do you recognize the difference between a child who is having normal behavior issues and one who needs specialized services?

Developmentally, children between the ages of 3-5 years old will test and question authority to determine what is and is not allowed. Children at this age check the limits and boundaries to figure out the expectations and rules of the environment. When the behaviors become persistent and maladaptive to an extreme degree and they impede with the child’s learning process, then it would be recommended that the referral for special services begin. These children may also have an inability to form interpersonal relationships with others and/or inconsistent moods including depression. Some children may exhibit similar behaviors during a stressful time; such as the death of a loved one, recent move, change of schools, or other life changing scenarios. For that reason, it is imperative that the child be observed over an extended period of time and not just referred due to a momentary reaction.

Special Needs

Are Dr. Bailey’s materials helpful for children with developmental or mental health issues?

I Love You Rituals are helpful for every child, and are ESSENTIAL for any child facing challenges (relationship-resistant, developmental issues, emotional issues, etc.). Conscious Discipline requires a paradigm shift that changes the way we perceive situations, and so our response is different. This teaches the child new skills and empowers him or her to behave differently. The key is for the adult to make that initial shift from seeing a difficult child to see a child that is calling for help, which also shifts him/her away from punishing (whether consciously or subconsciously) to teaching new skills.

Can students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) benefit from Conscious Discipline?

Conscious Discipline is extremely helpful for all children, and is essential to the success of those who are coping with developmental, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other challenging issues. Other approaches to discipline such as rewards, reflective colored mats, and RED/yellow/green card systems can confuse and frustrate children with these challenges. These approaches neither clarify the behavior that needs modifying, nor teach new skills. Conscious Discipline, however, creates a safe, connected environment in which children can successfully internalize new skills.

Students with ASD are frequently taught social concepts in settings outside their daily interactions (typically with therapists doing pull-out therapies). These children have a difficult time generalizing the concepts from the sessions and transferring what they've learned in isolation to their daily experience. They need to learn the missing skill in the context of the classroom with the peers they see everyday. One of Conscious Discipline’s greatest strengths is its unique classroom environment called the “School Family.” In a School Family, children feel safe enough and connected enough to internalize the healthy social-emotional skills that are modeled there in context every day. Conscious Discipline and the School Family provide the specificity and context ASD kids need to increase their learning and success: Specific language, behavior descriptors, visual supports, routines, rituals and, of course, the teaching of new skills.

Since Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents communication barriers, how does Conscious Discipline address the difficulty with language?

Children with autism often struggle with processing the subtleties of human communication, including expressive language, expressive gestures, metaphors, similes and sarcasm. The structure and language of Conscious Discipline simplifies, clarifies, and teaches new skills in brain-friendly ways that inserts breaks, provides motor outlets, facilitates social connectedness and relies on helpful routine and rituals.

Best Practices for students with ASD always incorporate a multisensory approach to learning, as does Conscious Discipline. Conscious Discipline encourages teachers to stimulate learning through all modes, including sensory, auditory, visual, tactile and even olfactory systems. ASD children in Conscious Discipline classrooms do well despite the auditory factor because it offers a variety of stimulation so they can always find comfort in one. For example, Conscious Discipline incorporates pictures in routines and activities. Pictures provide step-by-step visual information for what to do in certain situations, represent active calming strategies, provide job choices, depict rules and show activities to help students connect with others.

Language takes form beyond the spoken word with Conscious Discipline. This is crucial for the child with ASD because words can be meaningless without another format to extend the explanation. Unique in it’s approach, Conscious Discipline connects children through routines, rituals, music, movement, jobs, showing empathy, resolving conflicts with specific language, and socially connecting activities that can be as simple as greeting each child. The job component is particularly unique and helpful for ASD because in addition to such physical tasks like passing out supplies, Conscious Discipline jobs encompass social-emotional undertakings (Important to say that jobs are embedded in the daily routine so that the ASD child is more likely to be willing to do the job )like extending kindness, welcoming back absent children, wishing well when classmates are having difficulty and celebrating accomplishments.

The language of Conscious Discipline (in addition to being supplemented by visuals) is assertive, structured and concise. This is vital for children with ASD who have difficulty interpreting oral language and filtering directions through their auditory channel. Too many words, lengthy explanations, and aggressive or passive commands can confuse these children easily. Conscious Discipline teaches adults to use an assertive tone and give useful information when giving commands. Adults learn to paint of a picture of the desired behavior (“walk with your hands at your side like this”), use brief sentences to identify a child’s errant behavior, label the child’s emotion, assertively state the limit and/or offer two acceptable choices. This simple, sequential flow acknowledges the child’s internal state and desire, connects the child to his/her action, and presents two viable options from which to choose (when appropriate). Dr. Bailey designed this flow based on brain research to help the child move from an upset, unorganized state to a calm state where new skills can be acquired and new behaviors applied.

Developing relationships and friendships is a challenge for students with Autism or Asperger’s. How does Conscious Discipline address this, especially for students with the potential to become social outcasts or loners?

Peer relationships between a neuro-typical student and a student with Autism or Asperger’s can be delicate, strained or nonexistent because it’s an uneven playing field. Children with ASD are attempting to function without the same filter their peers have developed within the realm of interpersonal relationships and nonverbal cues.

Children in the autism spectrum often lack the skills to spontaneously join into play with peers or interpret vague invitations to participate. Conscious Discipline teaches the use of two positive choices because research shows the brain tends to respond to this with cooperation. This brain-based knowledge empowers children with autism to learn the social skill of inviting someone to play with them. You can assist in this process by creating prompt cards that have a formalized sentence structure or a two-picture option. The child with ASD can carry the prompt card in a pocket or wear it on an elastic wristband at recess.

Teachers can also pair up typical peers with ASD children for I Love You Rituals and other activities. When these connecting rituals are part of the daily routine, the child with ASD will often go right along with it, providing the opportunity to interact.

Within the typical classroom, it’s easy for a child in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to become invisible. Can Conscious Discipline make a difference?

Students with ASD can become ostracized because they have a unique perspective, focus or interest that is different from peers. In a classroom that implements Conscious Discipline, a student in the spectrum can experience a different paradigm.

At the heart of Conscious Discipline, the teacher establishes a solidly structured “School Family” with a Friends and Family Board, a School Family song, a Safe Place, greetings/goodbyes, clear routines, and rituals that call for children to connect, touch, interact and partner up together. The goal of the School Family is to help every child feel safe enough and connected enough to participate, learn and flourish. It is solidly committed to a “we” model, rather than a “me” model of being. Students with autism, Asperger’s, developmental issues, physical limitations, etc., are part of the School Family just like all the other students. Differences and uniqueness are acknowledged and embraced in this compassionately connected environment.

In a Conscious Discipline classroom, children learn to calm themselves, wish each other well, make commitments, celebrate successes, encourage each other, show empathy, practice redoing hurtful acts in helpful ways, practice responsibility with class jobs and more. Classroom structures support these ideals. The Safe Place, for example, is a place children can go when they feel overwhelmed, anxious, upset or confused. The Safe Place contains books, objects and pictures of interest, sensory items that help de-stress, pillows or a beanbag to sink into, and visual reminders of active calming techniques the teacher has taught and modeled. The unique structure and basis of a Conscious Discipline classroom creates an inclusive environment where all children can learn, connect and grow together.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have sensitivity to sound or difficulty tolerating music activities. What about the music used in Conscious Discipline? What will it do for a student who typically runs and covers his ears?

Individual Educational Plans for students with ASD typically include social goals because the dynamics of this disability complicate the process of creating and sustaining friendships. Teaching skills in isolated or contrived settings can be helpful, but more often than not, the student is unable to implement those practiced scripts when the opportunity unfolds in another environment.

The music of Conscious Discipline facilitates bonding and teaches life-changing concepts to children in the context of a normal social setting. This can be particularly helpful to children with ASD. Specifically, the songs on CDs from Loving Guidance encourage connections with others, provide a break/release, and reinforce classroom strategies for active calming, promoting kindness, conducting class jobs and more.

For example, Dr. Bailey co-created the CD “Brain Boogie Boosters” specifically to include choreographed movements that wire the brain for self-control. For students like those with ASD who have a high level of anxiety, songs like “Calm Your Brain” and “Move and Freeze” provide an outlet that helps them fit in with peers rather than removing them from the classroom to a sensory room or station. Repetitive movements, patterned movements, crossing the midline, and “start and stop” songs help wire the brain for impulse control.

If sound or music present challenges that interfere with a child’s participation or comfort level, simply introduce strategies to address these sensory issues. Students with ASD can be in charge of the volume (modulating it as needed), can wear ear muffs to decrease their sensitivity, or be introduced to parts of the song at first, then participate more fully as their sensitivity lessens.

My son was recently diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He yells and hits others when he feels threatened, frustrated or anxious, and I’m afraid he’s getting a reputation as bully because of it. Can Conscious Discipline help him?

Children sometimes lack the insight or maturity to understand that a child with ASD simply lacks the words they need to better communicate, making the child with ASD at risk for becoming the victim of bullying or being mislabeled as a bully themselves. Such misunderstandings can result in conflicts, isolation, ridicule and verbal or physical aggression. Anxiety skyrockets, the behavior increases and the student with ASD can become even more isolated from peers.

Conscious Discipline addresses these concerns by focusing on self-calming strategies, teaching all children conflict resolution skills, and creating an environment that teaches and encourages self-control, problem solving, seeing the best in others, victim empowerment and safety through the use of routines.

Rather than see conflict as something to be avoided, Conscious Discipline provides healthy ways to resolve and self-manage similar problems in the future. In the classroom, students experiencing conflict step onto a mat known as a Time Machine to solve the problem in a helpful way. Because the learning occurs in context and with proximity, it is more likely to be internalized. The Time Machine empowers students to identify what they want someone to do differently and assertively ask for this different behavior. It provides the structure and language necessary process the problem. Your son would be coached to say, “I don’t like it when you ______. Please _______,” when he encounters a difficult situation (instead of hitting and yelling). Though your son may be perceived a bully, his aggressive behaviors likely stem from an inability to express his needs. The Time Machine will give him the opportunity to learn how to constructively express his needs, and gives “victims” the opportunity to do the same if they feel bullied.

Shubert’s Big Voice is a great book for you to use in the home to supplement your son’s classroom learning. It teaches the skills used on the Time Machine and would be an extremely helpful addition to your home. Another wonderful and accessible book that will help him to cope with his frustration and anxiety is Shubert is a S.T.A.R. The deep breathing and active calming techniques in this book will help him to short-circuit the stress response in his body when he feels upset. Practice these breathing techniques as part of your daily ritual, several times a day. You can post free breathing icons around the home to remind him to practice, and perhaps keep a Safe Place Mat in his room. The embroidered front and dot-textured back can appeal to some children with sensory issues while providing a visual reminder to S.T.A.R., drain, balloon and pretzel.

My students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) struggle with transitions. HELP!

There is a definite need to address transitions for children with ASD. While the neuro-typical student may simply look around to see what peers are doing, a child with ASD may not have a clue where to get these cues. Transitions are part of what’s often referred to as “the hidden curriculum” in schools. Consequently, children with ASD may retreat to a perceived place of safety (hiding under the hood of their jackets, under tables, in bathrooms or out the door), throw objects, stand screaming in the center or corner of the room, or other frustrating behavior.

Acting out becomes these children’s language when their frustration feels overwhelming. As an adult practicing Conscious Discipline, your job is to see these behaviors as a call for help rather than poor behavior. We must see children differently in order for them to behave differently. When we perceive a call for help, we will naturally be inclined to respond in helpful ways. We can assign words to their confusion, anxiety and frustration, provide empathy, teach new skills, and problem solve, looking for creative solutions to help with transitions.

For a child with ASD, the transition might feel like: “Everything in this environment is coming at me at once – the chatter of those around me, multiple directions restated a new way each time, the humming of the florescent lights, the interruptions of the PA, the visitors at the door, the questions of others, the smell of scented markers, the abstract concept you’re explaining… I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing and my frustration is overwhelming.”

Conscious Discipline helps you see this call for help and weaves structure, predictability, routines, visuals, music and movement, scripts, and skills throughout the day. In addition, it teaches you the importance of clearly patterned and visually represented routines and transitions, and assists you in creating these. Together, these strategies help upset or confused children to relax, connect, consider their choices and move forward in the transition.

Finally, Conscious Discipline focuses on your intent. The intention of those working with the student, the words they use and the presence they bring to the moment are critical during transitions. As the child with Autism or Asperger’s feels confusion, frustration or an assault on their sensory system, the neuro-typical adult or child must become the surrogate prefrontal cortex to help them move forward. The adult must remain calm, empathetic and helpful rather than rushed, frustrated or coercive during these difficult moments. Conscious Discipline includes a wealth of information to assist you with maintaining (or regaining) this positive intent.

Children with autism have often been sent to some version of Time Out to relax until they accomplish an act of compliance. What alternate strategies are helpful when a child in the spectrum is at risk for losing control?

Teach and visually represent the S.T.A.R., drain, balloon and pretzel for active calming. Practice these as part of your daily routine and use during times of calm so they are more accessible during times of difficulty.

Create a Safe Place that provides a location in the classroom for the child to relax and regroup, rather than relying on removal. (This is a helpful structure for all students.) Include items the child will find helpful for a sensory break, like thera putty, wave bottles, weighted beanbag animals, etc.

Provide a choice board to provide a selection of healthy calming activities so he can clearly understand his options and choose the ones that are best for him.

Post Picture Rule Cards with rules that show two positive choices and one unacceptable choice to help guide behavior and minimize confusion.

Create routine boards or books for jobs, classroom responsibilities, etc.

Provide a breathing card to remind her to be a S.T.A.R. The card can be kept at her desk or hole-punched and worn as a necklace.

Provide creams to use if the child feels upset, if he needs to concentrate, or if he’s feeling cranky. Make your own labels or use the ones on the School Family Make-n-Take CD-Rom.

Create a Friends and Family Board full of photos that reassure the child he is loved.

Provide a fiddlebox at her table or in the Safe Place, and fill it with small manipulatives for her to squeeze or hold.

Use the Conscious Discipline skill of “noticing” to pair verbal teaching with visual teaching.

Build awareness with the Conscious Discipline language that says, “Your ___ is going like this. You seem frustrated. Something must have happened?” “You have a choice. You can ___ or ___. What works best for you?”

Read social stories and Shubert books that direct her to breathe, use the Safe Place, or ask someone to go into the Time Machine if the frustration involved another student.

Include regular daily music and movement activities that provide brain breaks.

Practice I Love You Rituals to provide natural connections andstress relief.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) need structure. How does Conscious Discipline help?

The daily routines in Conscious Discipline provide the predictability and structure students with ASD need to help them feel safe and move through their day successfully. Post the daily routine in a visual daily schedule. Post smaller routines like your hand washing routine, lining up routine, transition routine “what to do when you’re finished” routine etc., in visual form at the locations where you expect children to use the routine. (Creating the School Family does an excellent job of breaking down these routines and providing you with ideas to get started on your own.) Incorporate additional visual supports for any time the child seems to have difficulty such as reading, math, breaks or snack time. You may also wish to create a series of “First ____, then _____” cards. These cards are useful for sequencing the routines and language of Conscious Discipline.

Every child in the Conscious Discipline classroom has a job, and you will structure, teach and visually represent these for students to ensure their success. Many classrooms design a class-made book that explains how to do each job, using both words and in pictures.

Offering two acceptable choices in the form of visuals is another proactive structuring strategy for students with autism. The Picture Rule Cards do this quite effectively, but you can create these cards yourself to manage a variety of choices that are helpful for the child. For example, you might make a card that says, “You may S.T.A.R. or Pretzel (show images of both). Which is best for you?” Or “You can sit in your chair or sit in the reading square during journal time (show images of both locations). Which works best for you?”

Child Development

What can I do to promote early learning?

1. Play with your child and provide opportunities for them to play. Play is essential for healthy brain development. The over scheduled child attending academic preschools is actually thwarting their own physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development.

2. Turn off the TV. The types of behavior necessary to succeed in school are completely different from those fostered by television. A young child’s developing brain is largely shaped by his/her environment. The average child will spend an estimated 5,000 hours in front of the TV before entering first grade (TV Turn Off Network). Yet, research shows that the child’s brain develops by “doing,” not “watching.” Children need activities that stimulate the frontal lobe by involving all the senses, not just passive viewing.

3. Read and talk to your child. Phonemic awareness of sounds comes from listening to the human voice. The sounds that the young child hears wire the brain with the first building block for reading. So talk-talk-talk and read-read-read to hardwire the brain for later academic success.

4. Model the joy of learning and discovery. This means you have to turn off the TV and engage in reading and other activities that keep the mind active. Let your child see you writing; give them writing tools, paper and books. Every time your child sees you writing a phone message, reading a recipe, writing a grocery list and reading a paper, magazine or book, you are modeling the usefulness of reading and writing. Explore museums, zoos and parks together. Take walks and discover the outdoors. These types of activities all stimulate early learning.

5. Connect with your child. Connections with the people in their lives boosts children’s brain potential, encourages cooperation, promotes learning and literacy, increases attention, decreases power struggles and builds loving bonds. This happens because connections on the outside literally build neural connections inside the child’s brain. My I Love You Rituals book provides more than 70 positive rhymes and activities that are ideal for enhancing social, emotional and school success through connection. If you don’t utilize I Love You Rituals, be certain to dedicate plenty of time to other connecting rituals that include eye contact and touch in a playful setting.

What is UPK and does my 4-year-old have to go?

UPK stands for "Universal Pre-Kindergarten." The idea behind it is that providing a free, voluntary Pre-K program will increase students’ success later in life. UPK’s goal is to provide an opportunity for children to participate in a supportive educational environment in preparation for entering kindergarten. 

The UPK programs are completely voluntary. Your decision to have your child attend will be based on the quality of the UPK program and you child’s needs. Consider the following when you make your decision:

  • What is your child’s level of social involvement and home learning?
  • What would the child be doing if they were not in the UPK? Would they be at home, in full time day care, in another preschool program? What are they doing at home or in preschool? There is a great difference between a quality program and sitting in front of the TV.
  • What is the chronological age of the child? Many states do not start children in Kindergarten programs unless they are 5-years-old by the summer before admittance, so the UPK program is almost the Kindergarten of yesteryear when 4-year-olds could attend.
  • Is your UPK program full-day or half-day? Five days per week or less?
Should my child be in preschool?

Often the media suggests that all children would benefit from professional care as opposed to care at home. “Dedicated families” is a key phrase in this discussion. A family that is dedicated to teaching the child skills, organizing play dates and scheduling cooperative activities may not require professional care. Families that use the TV to teach and provide little beyond basic care, however, are putting their child at risk.

The early years are extremely valuable learning years for the child’s brain connections. Waiting until kindergarten to teach a child will increase the likelihood that your child will experience delays and deficits that will require remedial programs. Whether you choose to utilize professional childcare or care for your young child at home, your child’s day should provide plenty of opportunities to:

  • Engage large muscles in running, jumping, climbing etc.
  • Engage small muscles working with puzzles, writing, cutting and pasting activities
  • Learn responsibility by putting things away, preparing snacks, washing their hands, putting on coats etc.
  • Explore their world, inside and outside
  • Enjoy reading, music and learning some basic skills
  • Learn how to express ideas and feelings appropriately
  • Learn how to cooperate, work and play with both peers and adults
  • Learn how to be safe and healthy
  • Enjoy connecting rituals with others
  • Experience a daily schedule that is based on routine
  • Have plenty of opportunities to play with blocks, boxes, dress up clothes etc.

Furthermore, toddlers and preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than an hour at a time except while sleeping. Physical activity should be a routine part of every day. Early childhood time is a time to play and socialize. Overly academic-oriented preschools are counterproductive and can be harmful to your child.

Preschool is only one ingredient in a child’s life of learning. Preschool can create the right balance when combined with what the child is experiencing and learning at home. Some children may need additional professional care because of a lack of parental involvement or lack of time at home. In any situation, choosing high quality childcare and staying involved with the teachers and the school will be a priority.

How long should a preschool day be?

Research indicates that over 30 hours a week in childcare can hinder a child’s development. But more important than the length of a preschool day is, “What is included in the time allocated to preschool?” Quality care with attention to meeting developmentally appropriate needs is essential in any care setting, especially with longer-length care situations. A good cooperative preschool that operates 2 ½ hours per day and a nursery school that is open 3-4 hours per day are both an extension of the home. A full-day childcare facility, on the other hand, may care for the child during more waking hours than the family does. Regardless of the setting, the following is helpful to consider:

  • Each day should include some indoor and outdoor activities that support the child’s large and small muscle groups.
  • Whether at home or in a school setting, opportunities to explore the environment, be creative, cuddle and be cuddled, sing, play and be read to within a predictable routine are vital to optimal development.
  • Children should have blocks of time of 45 minutes or longer to thoroughly explore and “get into” whatever they are doing without interruption.
  • The brain is a pattern-seeking device. A predictable routine, at home and in school, offers a clear picture of each day for the child. This patterned regularity creates a sense of safety that encourages the organization and development of the child’s brain. Display your home routine in pictures. Look for a preschool that does the same.
  • In both home and school, use connecting rituals that include eye contact and touch in a playful setting. Rituals with these elements strengthen cortico-limbic connections in the brain, boost brain potential, encourage cooperation, increase attention and decrease power struggles. My “I Love You Rituals” book provides more than 70 positive rhymes and activities that are ideal for enhancing social, emotional and school success through connection.

There is strong support for quality preschool time combined with quality family/home time. The key is to balance the sometimes-complicated needs of the modern family while ensuring the child’s developmental needs are met.

How many activities and classes should my preschooler be enrolled in?

Just as adults’ personalities are different, each child also has a different temperament. Some adults thrive on working all day, going to the gym, attending evening meetings and scheduling a full weekend of activities; others keep a simpler schedule with ample quiet time in order to reduce stress. When scheduling your child, watch for signs of stress: Complaints of stomachaches or headaches, increased bed-wetting, reluctance to participate in activities or other physical complaints. Too many activities provide stress that often shows up with physical symptoms in children. If your child is experiencing some of these symptoms, you may need to scale back and provide your child with additional quiet, connected time with the family.

There is a push in our culture to start organized activities at a very early age. Be conscious of who you are doing an activity/class for and why you are participating in it. Also, be conscious of activities that are competition-driven. Success in these activities can create a positive experience, but a child will experience failure just as often. A multitude of factors (emotional development, the way wins/losses are handled by adults and peers, etc.) will all affect the child’s experience and may result in stress or a desire to avoid activities in later years, especially in young children.

A child may enjoy an activity because s/he likes the time with other children. This is a wonderful motivation for participating! As you seek to create a balanced schedule for your child, determine the number of activities and classes based on your child’s personality, how long s/he is spending away from the family and home already (i.e. time in daycare), how often s/he can have unscheduled social interactions with other children, the willingness of the family to transport the child, etc. Be cautious about pushing activities, particularly competitive activities, too early. See that activities and classes don’t interfere with time to play at home and be with other family members. Let your child’s enjoyment and temperament be your compass when it comes to scheduling classes and activities. The most important thing you can provide for your child is “play”. They need unstructured time to just play. The more a child plays the healthier and smarter they will be.

How can I tell if my preschooler is overscheduled?

Watch children’s behavior, it is always telling us something. Whining and inappropriate aggression towards siblings or other children could be telling us that the child is not getting basic survival needs met. A preschooler with a full schedule of preschool/day care, dance classes, soccer practice, etc. may not be getting adequate rest or good nutrition. Remember:

  • Young children still need 12-15 hours of sleep per day. A nap or rest time is still important for children under five-years-old.
  • Driving thru the fast food lane due to a busy schedule provides too much sugar, salt, and fat for a nutritional diet and it robs them of the mealtime connections that are made at the family dinner table.
  • Children need down time. Play is a child’s most important work. They need to be provided with adequate time to use their imagination.
  • Some personalities will thrive on the social opportunities. Setting up an organized play date, preschool and daycare all provide social interactions.

Most experts agree that in moderation, activities can be valuable for a child’s development and by providing “grown up time” for stay-at-home adults. But almost all experts agree that too much activity can hamper a child’s creativity and ability to entertain himself. Most young children with daily preschool or daycare do not need additional scheduled activities. The first priority for these children should be time with the family to connect, discover, explore, self-entertain and play.

What is a good bedtime ritual?

My I Love You Rituals book is full of rituals to conduct any time of day. My rewritten, positive version of the classic “A Wonderful Woman” would be an excellent choice to use in your bedtime routine:

A wonderful woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children
She knew exactly what to do.
She held them,
She rocked them,
And tucked them in bed.
“I love you, I love you,” Is what she said.

Have the child sit on your lap or lean against your body. Wrap your arms around the child and hold on to one hand. Turn the child's hands so they are facing you, palms out, and say, “A wonderful woman lived in a shoe.” 
Give the child's hand a nice, deep hand massage as you say, “She had so many children” 
Touch each finger on one hand as you say each word in this line: “She knew exactly what to do.” 
Fold your child's fingers into a fist and wrap your hands around the child’s, and say, “She held them,” 

Holding the child's hand securely, rock it from side to side: “She rocked them,” 

Press the child's hand against his or her chest. This will place you in a slight hugging position as you say, “And tucked them in bed.” 

Now, give the child a hug and say lovingly, "'I love you, I love you,’ is what she said.”

I feel overwhelmed, trapped by my responsibilities, caught up in economic struggles and generally stressed! How can I keep my family’s needs balanced?

Contribution and connection are key to balancing your family’s needs, and the best part is that neither requires one cent to be successful! As a parent, there are days when it seems easier to do everything yourself, but as responsibilities stack up, you may feel stress and resentment. Doing it all yourself also robs children of the value of contributing to the family. Assign children jobs or chores based on their developmental level. Contributing to the family by performing a job eases some of your responsibilities, increases children’s sense of wellbeing, and fosters cooperation. Next, create time for your family to connect. Five minutes of play a day will reduce power struggles with children by fifty percent. My I Love You Rituals book is full of activities that build connections. Setting aside time for connection with your child pays significant dividends in cooperation and contentment (a surefire investment in any market)!

Conscious Discipline Skills & Structures

How do I use Choices effectively?

Choices can be used effectively as a discipline technique and as a means to help children focus. Mr. Adams had announced to the class that in five minutes it would be cleanup time. He personally got Jason's attention and told him face-to-face. After the five minutes had passed, the class began singing the cleanup song and putting toys away. Jason had trouble redirecting his focus from playing to cleaning up. “Jason, you have a choice. You may pick up the big blocks first or the little blocks first. What is your choice?” Mr. Adams asked. Jason said, “The big blocks because I am strong.”

Most children can benefit from using choices as a guidance tool, especially children who need additional structure to be successful. Jason is a good example. He needs more direction than some of the other children. Since he needs more guidance, the teacher is prone to giving him a lot of commands. “Jason, get your lunch. Jason, get in line. Jason, wait until the door is opened.” Jason, in his need for external structure from adults, misses out on some of the choice-making decisions other children acquire on a regular basis. So, instead of constantly directing Jason with commands, choices would give him the structure he needs, provide practice in making decisions and ultimately build his self-esteem.

Choices are also helpful with compliance. A teacher is less likely to get resistance with “Katie, you have a choice to sit on the red tape or the blue tape,” than if the teacher simply says, “Katie, it is circle time. Sit down.” Since preschool children are developing autonomy and initiative skills, they sometimes like to assert themselves in response to adult commands. Choices provide the option of complying with adult wishes while still maintaining the “last word,” so to speak.

In order for the adult to deliver choices to children on a regular basis, two things are required.

  1. The adult must think in terms of what he or she wants the children to do. We have been conditioned to think negativity—what we don't want them to do. “Don't run. Don't talk when I am talking.” This “don’t” thinking is detrimental to giving choices.
  2. The adult must give the children two positive choices. Typically, adults have been trained to give the child one “good” choice and one “bad” choice to coerce the child into picking the one the adult wants. For example, children have been given the choice to pick up their toys or lose recess time. This is not a choice; it is a manipulation. A true choice is given when we, as adults, do not care which option the child selects.

To create choices for children, think first, “What do I want them to do?” Then create two positive options to accomplish that goal. If you want a child to wipe off the table, you could create the options of “with a towel” or “with a washcloth.” If you want a child to pick up some trash on the floor, you could give the options of “putting it in this trash can or that one.”

When is my toddler old enough for a time out?

Conscious Discipline teaches lifelong social and emotional skills. In general, time out does not teach a life skill, nor does it permanently change behavior.

Traditionally, we send a child to time out to think about what they’ve done wrong or as a punishment. With Conscious Discipline, power struggles, tantrums and other conflicts are handled in a way that models and teaches new skills so children have specific tools for success. Consequences are utilized, but in a manner that directly relates to the infraction, which a generic time out does not. Instead of relying on time outs, try practicing some of the core concepts of Conscious Discipline and see what happens. Perhaps you will see your desire and need for time outs diminish, to be replaced with learning tools and consequences that encourage your child’s development.

Composure is the first chapter and skill of Conscious Discipline. It discussed at length in the beginning of the Conscious Discipline book (educators) and Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (parents). By maintaining composure, parents can view misbehavior as a call for help and teach children the behavior they want to see instead of punishing the misbehavior. As parents model and maintain their composure, children also learn to take a deep breath when they are frustrated. This skill alone will greatly diminish the power struggles and outbursts that lead to the time out threat.

Along with composure, parents may offer a Safe Place for the child. The Safe Place is a physical location in a room that provides the opportunity for children to remove themselves from the group/family in order to become regain composure and maintain control when they feel upset, angry or frustrated. The Safe Place is not a place of punishment, but rather a tool for becoming calm. Outfit your Safe Place with comforting blankets, stress-relief tools, paper to draw on, and images reminding children of active calming techniques such as S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a deep breath And Relax). Free downloadable icons for active calming can be found online, the Safe Place Mat is a helpful plush breathing reminder and Shubert is a S.T.A.R. helps introduce the calming techniques and the Safe Place to your child.

When a conflict is occurring, the focus must be on maintaining/regaining composure. Only when both the parent and child are composed can true teaching and learning take place. Once everyone is calm, the parent has the opportunity to teach a helpful way the child could have responded. If the child pinched you, you would set the limit and teach him the exact words you would like him to use: “You may not pinch. Pinching hurts. When you want my attention, say, “Mom, over here!’”

When a child continues to misbehave, a parent may impose a consequence that is related, reasonable and respectful, and that teaches the child that his/her choices have certain prescribed outcomes. Generally, tying the consequence to the loss of an opportunity related to the infraction will have greatest teaching value. (For a child who repeatedly throws blocks, the prescribed consequence would be to put the blocks away until tomorrow.) At all times, the parent must retain composure so that the child is focused on his choices and subsequent feelings, and not on the parent’s anger or upset.

What does Positive Intent really mean?

Are you a mind reader? I’m not, yet I find myself walking through the day attributing intent to other people’s actions and words. The waitress is an idiot because she didn’t give me correct change. My husband is being spiteful by leaving his shaving can on the tile after I specifically told him it leaves a rust ring. My child is being selfish by grabbing things out of my purse without asking.

Are stupid, spiteful and selfish the “real” motivations these people have when they open their mouths or take a certain action? There is no way for us to know for certain. We make up their intent in our minds. We can choose to see the best in others or to see the worst. Once we’ve judged the nature of another person’s actions or words, we reap a slew of emotions of our own. When we attribute negative intent, the emotions that we experience are equally nasty. Attributing negative intent to them creates negative feelings within us and throws us into the lower centers of our brain. If we’re making up the intent, why in the world would we want to attribute an intent that results in nasty feelings for us? We can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.

Negative intent does more than just flood us with nasty feelings, it also inhibits our ability teach others how to treat us and how to treat each other. Particularly when dealing with children, seeing the best in them is the only perceptual frame that will enable us to teach new skills rather than project guilt, hurt and other negative feelings. Children convey their wants and needs through actions such as hitting, grabbing and fussing. When they don’t get what they want, they tend to fuss louder and bigger. To be effective parents, we must shift from viewing “louder and bigger” with negative intent (she’s being selfish), to viewing it with positive intent (she’s missing social skills).

The habit of attributing negative intent is so ingrained in most of us that it is difficult at times to recognize, much less reframe positively. Yet this shift is 100% necessary if we want to raise children with self-esteem, responsibility and self-control. It is also essential for teaching them a new skill and solving problems. Below are common examples of attributing negative intent followed by possible positive intent for the same situation. Remember, we are making it up; it is our choice which way to perceive the situation.

Casey is just mean.
Casey wanted the crayon and didn’t know how to ask for it.

I’ve told her 1,000 times not to come in without knocking!
She gets excited and forgets to knock.

Mathieu sure pushes my buttons!
Mathieu is giving me an opportunity to practice staying calm.

Devon is acting crazy!
Devon has a lot of energy and needs help to focus.

Keri is disrupting my quiet time just to irritate me.
Keri is having trouble finding her blankie.

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying, “You mean nothing the child does is wrong?” Attributing positive intent doesn’t mean the rules fly out the window and limits don’t need enforcing! Rather, positive intent allows you a frame of mind from which you can better teach the skills the child needs. First attribute positive intent, then set the limit and teach as necessary.

Step 1 – Breathe and attribute positive intent to the action. You could reframe the situation with the child calling for love, displaying a need for skills, etc. Make the shift to positive intent in your own mind first, and then say, “You wanted_____.” “You wanted my attention.”

Step 2 – Put words to the child’s action. No judging words allowed; just describe the action. “So you_____.” Your verbal description will bring the child’s action into his/her awareness. “So you hit me in the knee.”

Step 3 – Finish speaking the positive intent out loud. Define the child as a worthy person who made a mistake. You might say, “You didn’t know how to_____.” “You didn’t know how else to get me to look at you.” Your child may correct you. If this happens, repeat the correction and reframe. “Oh, you hit me in the knee because you were mad at me. You didn’t know how else to tell me you were angry.”

Step 4 – Assertively set the limit and explain why. Give the child a clear limit and a simple reason why the limit is set. Be assertive. Relate the limit to safety whenever possible. Setting the limit fits nicely into this sentence: “You may not ____, ___ isn’t safe (hurts, etc.).” “You may not hit. Hitting hurts.”

Step 5 – Finally, teach what is acceptable behavior. Once you have taught the appropriate action, ask the child to practice the new skill. It’s helpful to use these words to frame the learning: “When you want ______, say (or do) _____. Say (or do) it now “When you want my attention, touch my arm gently. Try touching my arm gently now.”

Step 6 – You did it! Reinforce the action by telling the child how his/her new skill is successful. Say, “You did it!” and describe the action. “You did it! You touched my arm gently so I would know you wanted my attention.”

With positive intent, we can transform hurtful situations into teaching moments. With negative intent, we will continually punish our children for not having skills that they have not been taught. The choice is ours.

How do you resolve conflicts with children of different age groups?

What does it look like to focus on what to do in the face of daily conflict and “bad” behavior? First, calm yourself. Then approach your child in the following age-appropriate ways:

(2 year old) Tantrum in the store:

Your toddler wants a toy in the store. She throws herself on the floor screaming. You feel angry, embarrassed, tired and desperate. Focus on what you want to have happen rather than on your feelings of discomfort or her tantrum. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, “You’re safe, keep breathing, you can handle this.” Once you feel calm, you are ready to teach your child to handle frustration and calm down. Be encouraging. Tell her, "You can handle this. Breathe with me. You're safe." Hold her and breathe deeply with her. When her body begins to relax, tell her that she has a choice. "You can sit in the cart and hold the shopping list or you can sit in the cart and hold your doll." Once your toddler makes her choice, say, "You did it! You calmed yourself down and that's hard to do." Celebrate your success together.

(3-4 year old) Being bullied on the playground:

Your preschooler runs over to you at the playground, whining, "He pushed me.” Your child is focused on being hurt. You can focus on an assertive solution. Ask him "Did you like it?" Then instruct him to tell his playmate, "I don't like it when you push me." Encourage him to practice saying it. Teach him to use an assertive voice because either an aggressive voice or a passive (whiny) voice will invite further aggression. (An assertive voice sounds like “just do it.”) Practice with your child. Tell him to make his voice match yours. When his voice sounds assertive, support his success with, “There you go. You did it!”

(5 year old) Bullied in Kindergarten:

Your child wanted her friend's blue marker, so she smacked her friend and took it. Rather than highlighting poor behavior by admonishing your child as a first response, focus on a solution by teaching new skills. Go to the victim. Console him and ask, "Did you like being hit?" Then turn to your child and say, "You wanted a blue marker so you hit your friend." Resist the urge to judge the action as mean. Instead, see it as an opportunity to teach communication skills. Say, "You didn't know the words to say to get the marker, did you?" Tell her directly, "You may not hit. Hitting hurts. When you want a marker, say 'May I have a turn, please?' Say it now, for practice." When you handle the situation this way, your child is seen as someone who didn't know better. If she seems remorseful, she may apologize. Whether she apologizes or not, your goal is to focus on teaching her the skills needed to behave acceptably the next time.

(6-8 year old) Tattling on your brother or sister:

Your grade-schooler loves to tattle. "Sissy’s not cleaning her room!" he says. Shift your focus from negative tattling to helpful behavior. Ask your child, "Are you telling me this to be helpful or hurtful?" He'll stop and reflect on his intent. Maybe he was trying to get her in trouble because she embarrassed him in front of his friends yesterday. If he answers, "hurtful," ask "What could you do that would be helpful?" If he says, "I don't know," you've created a teaching moment. Tell him to go back to his sister and ask her, "Mary, do you need some help cleaning your room?" If his initial response to the question is “helpful” or "I don't know," then tell him, “So, you wanted to be helpful. Families help each other. If you want to be helpful, ask her, ‘Mary, do you need some help cleaning your room?’"

(9-10 year old) Not doing homework

You receive a note from your child's teacher saying that he isn't turning in his homework. Resist the urge to tear into him. Instead, show the note to your child and calmly ask, "What seems to be the problem? What would help you be successful in getting your homework done?" (or "…help you keep your room clean?" or "...get to bed on time?" etc.) This places the burden of action on the child. If you start admonishing your child, your intent changes from helpful to punishing. Do you want the child to pay or do you want the child to learn? Problem solve by giving your child a say-so in the process. Map out a plan together and help him to be successful by offering encouragement. You may also set up prescribed consequences if he does not meet his obligation. He might say, “I don’t like doing homework right after school because all my friends are hanging out together. I’d rather do it after dinner.” You might say, “Okay, you can do homework after dinner, however, if you do not turn in your homework every day, you will go back to doing homework as soon as you get off the bus.” Remind him that it is homework time after dinner and follow up with the consequence and more problem solving as necessary.

Remember the following principles as you discipline your children:

  1. What you focus on, you get more of.
  2. When you are upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want.
  3. Upset comes from resisting “what is.”
What does the acronym Q-Tip stand for?

Q-Tip is an acronym I use to help remember to Quit Taking It Personally!

I have a child who is abusing the Safe Place. She goes there and pretends to cry to stay in this special place much longer than the other students. Is it okay to set rules like time limits and the number of times per day you can use the Safe Place?

Most teachers employ "Safe Place Rules," rules for using the Safe Place. They generally include things like "You can go to the Safe Place on your own. The teacher can suggest you go to the Safe Place. If someone else is in the Safe Place, you can make your own by moving a pillow to another location in the classroom." Etc. If you decide to set a time limit on using the Safe Place, you would need to include that in the Safe Place rules, and make the rule the same for all children. Post written and visual representations of your rules in the Safe Place and teach/model/practice them regularly. 

At the same time, I would strongly encourage you to explore this child's behavior as useful information to you. When you say she "pretends to cry to stay in the special place," I think I am hearing frustration with her behavior (your buttons are pushed). If this is true, reframe this statement from "the child is misbehaving" to "the child asking for my help." With this new perspective, you might ask, "Why does she feel the need to be in the Safe Place so much?" Ultimately, there is a skill this child is missing or some problem in her life that is urging her to act out in this way. Maybe transition time or a certain subject is overwhelming. Perhaps she is having social issues or has an ill relative. Her behavior is a signal to you that she needs your help coping; she needs a new skill set. Once you know why she is crying to stay in the Safe Place, you can better determine how to help her/what skills to teach.

Years ago one of our long-time teachers had a young girl in her class who spent a large amount of time sleeping in the Safe Place. Instead of seeing a child as trying to avoid her schoolwork, the teacher saw the little girl's overuse of the Safe Place as an important clue that said, "This is a call for help. Something is going on with this child." In 99% of cases, that "something" is anxiety, upset, a skill issue, etc. In this particular case, it was something much greater. Upon further exploration, the teacher discovered that a family member was molesting the child at night, causing this little girl to come to school exhausted. The teacher called in a professional for assessment, and the child was removed from this dangerous situation. The teacher's ability to see the behavior as a call for help rather than misbehavior was the key that unlocked a positive ending to this difficult story.

By all means, set up your Safe Place rules so you are comfortable with the way children use the Safe Place, but please don't forget that seeing a child's behavior as a call for help rather than misbehavior is a powerful shift that will help you to teach children the coping, social, academic and other skills they are missing. I will be wishing you well as you work through this issue with the child.

How do I use the acronym A-C-T to set limits with toddlers?

It’s a toddler’s job to explore. Hand-in-hand with that exploration come behaviors like pushing the limits. A toddler is trying to define the edges of his/her world, and to define where “I” end and “you” (everyone else) begins. Because they are just beginning to explore and gain experience, toddlers are unable to consciously realize the consequences of their behavior. In behavior, this ends yup looking like impulsivity to adults. A toddler’s impulsivity is the tool s/he uses to learn about boundaries and cause-effect relationships. When children are impulsive, parents and other caregivers must set limits on their behavior. You can optimize your child’s exploration while setting appropriate boundaries by acknowledging your child’s feelings while clearly communicating and maintaining the limit, and offering acceptable alternatives. The steps to set an effective limit can be summed up with the acronym “ACT.”

A - Acknowledge the child’s feelings, wishes and wants.
C - Communicate the limit in terms of safety
T - Target acceptable behavior

A- Acknowledge the child’s feelings, wishes, wants and motivations. When you do this, you tell your child that his/her emotions and inner-self are okay. Setting the limit without acknowledging your toddler’s feelings indicate that emotions are not important and may carry a sense of “wrongness” rather than age-appropriate exploration. As you empathize with your child’s feelings, you will help to diffuse them. Accepting the feelings often satisfies the child and his/her need for the act no longer exists. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings with statements like these: “You seem angry.” “Seems like you’re frustrated with these puzzles.” “It seems to me like you feel sad today.” “You wanted to see what was outside the window.”

C- Communicate the limit in terms of safety, using an assertive voice and clear language. Set the limit using words that the child can easily understand. “Throwing puzzle pieces is not safe,” “It’s not safe to climb on the dresser,” “It’s hard for me to breathe when you squeeze my neck so hard,” are examples of clear and age-appropriate limits. These statements leave no doubt about the behavior. Avoid phrases like, “You need to___,” and “I think___,” because these phrases do not communicate the limit in a clear and assertive way.

T- Target acceptable behavior by giving the child positive alternatives. You have told your child the unsafe consequence of his/her action, now tell him/her how to express the original desire appropriately. Toddlers act impulsively and without stopping to think about consequences. They have a feeling, wish, desire or need, and they express it in the only way they know. They may not be aware of other way to express what they want or feel. “If you want my attention, you can touch my arm,” is an example of an appropriate alternative.

Putting all of our examples together, the ACT process would sound like this:

“Seems like you’re frustrated with this puzzle. Throwing puzzle pieces is not safe. You can throw the sponge ball inside or throw a regular ball in the back yard.”

“You wanted to see what was outside the window. It’s not safe to climb on the dresser. You may climb on the play gym at the park.”

“You wanted to get my attention. It’s hard for me to breathe when you squeeze my neck so hard. If you want my attention, you can touch my arm.”

“You wanted to give me a big hug. It’s hard for me to breathe when you squeeze my neck so hard. If you want to give me a big hug, do it gently like this (demonstrate).”

“It seems to me like you feel sad today. It’s not safe for you to run away from me in the store. If you want to have some quiet time, you may sit in the cart.”

“You seem angry. You may not push, pushing hurts. You can use your words to say, ‘I’m mad at you’ or you can go to the Safe Place.”

How do I use the acronym A-C-T to set limits with children at any age?

There are several basic steps that can be used in the limit-setting process. The key factors in limit-setting are the understanding of the child's intention and motivation. Limit-setting works better when the adult acknowledges the child's feelings, wishes and wants, communicates the limits clearly, and targets acceptable behavior.

A - Acknowledge the child’s feelings, wishes and wants.
C - Communicate the limit in terms of safety
T - Target acceptable behavior

Why is the active calming activity called "draining" but the icon is of a faucet?

Draining is an active calming technique where we drain our stress out of our bodies through our fingertips like water through a faucet. So, the technique has components of both "drain" and "faucet". We took creative liberties with the name and icon in order to include both components. (Plus we think faucets are cuter than drains, don't you?) To practice draining: Extend your arms out, pretending your arms are faucets. Tighten your arm, shoulder and face muscles. Exhale slowly making a “sssshhh” sound and release all your muscles, draining the stress right out through your tingertips!

Tweens and Teens

How does a parent who has not effectively set limits in the past set a limit now?

Composure is the key. It is difficult to set limits when you are in an upset state. Limits set from an upset state feel like, and usually are, attempts to control children instead of structuring them to be successful. Setting the limit is not the most difficult part; the most difficult part is maintaining a composed state when children begin to challenge you. Understand that “challenging you” is part of their job as they learn their limitations. Our job, and the key to setting effective limits, is choosing not to be offended by their hurtful words and behaviors, nor fall into our own guilt. Setting a limit doesn’t mean you are angry or trying to deprive your child of any pleasure. Setting limits is about helping them to navigate through decision-making. It is similar to bowling; until you are a certain age and skill level, you need the bumpers in the gutters. With lots of practice and gaining strength, the bumpers (limits) can be removed and you can make sound decisions on your own. The CEO of the brain—that part that allows us to set goals and achieve them, focus attention, see from a variety of perspectives, and stick to our values in the face of temptation– does not fully mature until 24 years of age. Understanding this helps parents understand the importance of limit setting. It is also essential for parents to understand that you cannot set a limit and take care of someone’s feelings at the same time.

So, your new steps for setting limits are as follows:

  1. Compose yourself
  2. Take back your power: Understand that you are in charge of your inner state and the teen is in charge of theirs. You are not making them angry, and they are not making you angry. You are both making the choice to feel angry. Become aware of phrases like, “You’re making me have to take away your computer” and reclaim your power by changing them to, “I’m going to take away your computer.”
  3. Change your intention: Your intention in setting limits is crucial to their success. Your job is not to make them behave or make them happy. The notions that it’s your job to make them happy and they will accept your limits without challenging them are both complete myths. It is a teenager’s job to make wise choices and regulate their state of mind. Your job is to help them make decisions that will keep them safe.
  4. Focus on what you want to occur. (Be home at a reasonable hour.) Then work with your teen to come up with what is “reasonable” for that specific event. (Is it a school night, who is going, what is event, how it is chaperoned, etc.) State the limit in very specific terms. “You will be back home no later than 11pm.”
  5. When your teen challenges the limit, stay calm and repeat the child’s choices. “You can go to the party and be back by 11pm, or you can stay home. Which would be best for you tonight”
  6. When they blow it, set a consequence or deliver the predetermined one. Resist the temptation to give a lecture and lose your composure. If they begin to mouth off about the consequence, offer empathy instead. When you become angry because your teenager made a poor choice, this shifts the attention away from the consequence of the teen’s action and to their mean, angry, unfair parent. If you offer empathy instead, your teen will leave the situation feeling the angst of having made a mistake and focusing on what needs to be changed next time.
  7. See how these two situations feel. Let’s say the predetermined curfew is 11pm, and a teen comes home at 11:30. The predetermined consequence is that he will lose opportunity to use the car.

Deliver lecture: What was our agreed upon time? You want me to trust you, but how can I trust you if you are not going to do what you say you will? You want to be treated like and adult, but you act like a child. Your brother tried the same mess when he was your age. And don’t even think about giving me any of that nasty mouth of yours. One more word about losing your car privileges, and you’ll be grounded for the rest of the month.

Deliver consequence and empathy: Our agreement was 11pm, and you came home at 11:30 without calling. I worry that you are not safe when you disregard our agreed upon curfew. Next time, you will not be able to drive the car. You can choose between being dropped off and picked up at the party, or not going at all. Then I will know you are safe and you will get home at the correct time.

Child challenges with “attitude”: This is unfair! It was just 30 minutes. What do you mean safe? You are always safe, safe, safe. I am not a child. You just act this way because Dad is gone.

Offer Empathy: It’s hard to lose your driving privileges. You can handle this. (End the conversation with assurance.)

Also see my Setting Limits without Guilt audio lecture for additional assistance.

Should I negotiate with teens? When is it appropriate?

There absolutely is an appropriate time for negotiation. Negotiating happens during “ice cream” moments. During the crisis itself, there can be no negotiation. Even if you have second thoughts, negotiating during the heat of the moment is counterproductive because one or both of you will likely be emotionally triggered. Useful negotiating can only happen after a cool down period if you feel things didn’t go the way you hoped. (You hoped your teen would willingly accept the boundaries you set, and they hoped you would change your mind.) Often times the “24 hour” rule needs to be utilized. Twenty-four hours after the upsetting situation happens, you and your teen can come together to discuss what went well and what didn’t. The emotionally charged event is behind you, and hopefully it is easier to speak from and hear each other’s perspectives. (Ultimately, the consequence may or may not change.)

Everyone advises parents to “pick your battle.” How do you know which battles to pick? I think the advice to “pick your battles” reflects the notion that teenagers will challenge the limits set and the consequences delivered. There can be no battle if you are not willing to argue. If you can stay calm, offer choices, repeat them calmly and walk away, then there will be no battle (just an outraged teenager trying to engage you in one).

Often, choices can help alleviate the need to pick your battles. For example, if you want your teen to come home at midnight and you believe it will be a battle, simply say, “Tonight are you coming home at 11:30 or 12. Either works for me.” If you are ok with them being on Facebook for an hour say, “I know you have some homework to finish, so will you choose to be on Facebook for 30 minutes or an hour tonight?”

Should teens participate in defining the rules and consequences?

Absolutely. We call the rules agreements for that very reason. This allows you to share the power while maintaining your maximum safety expectations. For example: When setting the agreements for the amount of time you spend on Facebook a night, start by visually creating a fence around the issue in your mind. As a parent you want to assure that your child will not rush through their homework so they can get on the computer and chat with friends. You also want to be sure that they are not staying up all hours of the night. Modeling is very important during this process. Have a docking station where everyone puts his or her electronics at 9:00pm. We all need to unplug and recharge. Let them know what the broad guidelines (fences) are and then discuss the details such as when are the important times to them within that timeline to chat with friends. Once they have shared when it is most important to them to be online, the next step is to decide together the duration of the chatting.

The amount of consequences that will “need” to be delivered will be significantly decreased when they are part of the process of what is expected. When the agreements are created together, the amount of “policing” the agreements will also be considerable less.

The most important piece of consequences are choosing not to create them with or without the child during the highly emotionally charged times. Waiting several hours or even until the following day and then discussing the agreements and that they were broken is more productive then “nailing” them. Consequences are opportunities to learn. Most beneficial learning experiences happen when you are in a relaxed, alert state. This relaxed, alert state does not just magically happen. In order to achieve successful consequences, we as adults must first consciously discipline ourselves to respond to upsetting situations instead of reacting to them.

What do you suggest for parents who feel that their parenting style and rules are very different from the community norm?

You are the “Safekeeper” for your child. Safety is the always the core of your decision-making, and no other person knows your child better than you do. When we talk about “safety,” we are talking about physical, emotional, academic, social and financial safety. The boundaries and consequences that you create with love for your child will yield positive results for your child. If the boundaries and consequences are created as a team and problem solved together, the frustration experienced by you and your teen will be minimal, regardless of how strict those boundaries are. If, on the other hand, you dictate what your teen must do, you model “bullying” qualities. Your teen will respond by becoming completely submissive or revolting. Either trait results in the teen not using the problem solving state of their brain. When we have “obedient” children they are generally doing it “because we say so.” The potential problem is that as they grow up, they will easily become obedient to peers. This is sometimes referred to as caving into peer pressure. In many cases, parents say to their teens, “What were you thinking, would you jump off a bridge if they told you?” If you do not actively engage your teen in the problem solving process of setting boundaries within your home, teen’s response to this could be, “I was not thinking because you did not teach me to think, you taught me to obey. I’m just choosing not to obey you now, I’m obeying my peers.” Sharing power with your teen does not mean you’re lenient. It simply means you are teaching and modeling how to manage all the opportunities that life offers together.

Many people feel that teens are going to test some risky behavior anyway, so should parents create safe environments for the testing? Does that condone the behavior?

This seems like a personal value question. The law states that it is illegal to drive alone at 15 years old, drink at 21 years old, to text while driving in some states, etc. If you choose to break the law and allow the behavior, it is difficult for a teen to understand which laws we must obey and which laws we can choose to create our own limits with. There are many ways to teach impulse control to your child without allowing them to drink before the legal age. If your hope is that they will learn to drink responsibly when they become the legal age, skill set is the same as the one that helps you restrain yourself from becoming over indulgent with shopping, food, video games, etc. The science of the brain explains that impulse control is not attained through stamina training. Impulse control and decision-making skills are acquired through healthy prefrontal lobe development.

What are some obvious rules for teens – bedtime, drinking, co-ed sleepovers? How do the rules change for each age? Each adult’s moral compass or inner guidance system dictates what is appropriate for each child at each age. Helping teens regulate school and social experiences is a full time job. The most valuable tools you have in your tool kit are not the rules you create. The most powerful tool you have is your relationship. If parents spent half the amount of time talking with their teen about his or her interests (sports, drama, friends, schools) as they do talking about how they are going to “catch” their teen, “get them to” do something or “make them” do something, life in the house would be easier. Discipline is like a country western dance. The slow-slow represents relationship we must establish with our teen. This relationship provides connection, and connection is essential for cooperation and willingness. The quick-quick represents actions we need to take in moments of upset (drinking, cell phones, curfew, skipping school).

Certainly, as teens grow up, we offer them more responsibilities. However, there is no timeline about when we “should” offer extended opportunities to teens. The teen’s actions dictate which responsibilities they are ready tackle.

Can you share some examples of good consequences? And how long to impose them?

Consequences are about teaching, not punishing or rescuing. We recall how parents handled it “back in the day” when a child threw a ball through the neighbor’s window. Our parents would march us over to the neighbor’s house and have us tell them what we had done. Then we would have to pay for the window. We didn’t have a job, so in order to pay for the window, we would take on additional chores, rake yards, etc. While we did these jobs, we were missing TV time, special events with the family and playtime. The core of the learning did not come from missing the activities or suffering (though, these things weren’t particularly fun); the learning came from the uncomfortable feeling we had as we walked over to the neighbor’s house. In our fast paced society, we have robbed children from truly experiencing consequences because we want them to be swift and effortless for us. The most beneficial consequence is a natural consequence. We should focus, not on the consequence, but on how we deliver the consequence. Each time we deliver a consequence while emotionally charged, we give the kid a free “pass.” When we are yelling and threatening, they respond by saying we are picking on them, “It’s not fair, I hate you!” The consequence essentially becomes about our upset, not their behavior. When you are calm during your delivery of a consequence, it is very difficult for the child to be angry at the message because we are generating a state of calm in them as we explain what will happen. State consequences in a voice that is clear, calm and assertive, as opposed to shouting it from the mountaintop. Create consequences that are respectful, reasonable, and related to the offense (Late for curfew? Curfew gets moved up an hour for the rest of the month. Returned the car without refilling it with gas? You lose car privileges for the week.). As long as you can calmly reflect that your consequences meet those guidelines, you have started in the right direction.

When do you confront a teen who’s giving you attitude and when do you ignore it?

The attitude that a teen offers is often a reflection of the feelings they are experiencing and not able to communicate constructively. When a teen rolls her eyes, she is really saying, “I am very frustrated,” but she doesn’t possess the maturity to express her feelings in a socially acceptable way. Our typical reaction to a teen’s attitude usually teaches them to withhold their feelings rather than teaching them to navigate through or manage them. How many adults do you know who have the skills to share their frustration with someone face to face in a socially acceptable way? How many adults do you know who politely speak to the person they are frustrated with, and then go to another adult to complain about the situation? We are not teaching our children how to navigate through their upset (or attitude), we are simply asking them not to get frustrated, irritated or upset. This expectation is not realistic. Instead of ignoring the attitude, choose to compose yourself and tell yourself something different. Instead of saying, “Here we go again,” try, “She is really irritated and doesn’t have the words to let me know.” Overlay the attitude with empathy. For example the teen says, “This is just stupid. You’re such a bitch,” you could respond, “You were hoping you could get poor grades and continue to stay out late. It’s hard. You can handle this.” Later, after the child is calmer, tell him or her, “Calling names in this family is not helpful. When you feel all that anger say, ‘I disagree,’ and take some breaths. We can do this differently. It doesn’t have to be ugly.” A tug of war game is a great visual representation of the attitude that a teen gives. The teen throws out the rope by saying something disrespectful. As the adult, we either decide to pick up the rope and pull (get offended and argue our point) or stay composed and let the rope dangle there. When we pick up the rope, it is always followed by the teen tugging back with more hurtful statements. When we choose to stay composed, we leave the teen with the discomfort of his or her feelings.

Choosing to not take their words personally requires us to understand their attitude is their way of calling for help. Some words to get you started in this process are:

You seem _________.
You wanted ______ or you were hoping _________
It is hard. You can handle this

The real change is when you can apply the Q-Tip method (Quit Taking It Personally), see your teen’s attitude as a call for help, seek to connect instead of control, and speak from your heart. It doesn’t make all the issues disappear, but it sure allows you to sleep better at night.

What do you recommend when parents disagree on limits and consequences?

Stop, take a deep breath and regroup. When parents disagree, they are typically focused on what they don’t like about the other spouse’s thinking. With this approach, a line in the sand is drawn and nothing productive is achieved. Understand that each person’s perspective is created from a personal experience from their past. Ask the question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to feel heard?” The only person you have any control over changing is yourself. When you choose to let go of justifying why your view is the correct view and truly open your mind to hearing your partner’s perspective, all of a sudden you are both communicating instead of building your case.

An important way to get on the same page is to start with a focus on what you want your teen to do. Each person can agree on what behaviors they expect. Do you want teenagers who feel safe enough to call home if they find themselves in a tough situation (drunk at a party)? Do you want your teenagers to accept responsibility for their actions, both successes and mistakes? Start with the big picture, phrase things with a focus on what you want to see, and work your way down.

Do you think parents should drink in front of their teenage kids? Taking part in legal activities for adults teaches children how to manage the activities for themselves. Drinking is certainly one issue in which you can model personal responsibility. Driving a car is another opportunity to teach. Some adults drive above the speed limit or text while driving. This models inappropriate ways to handle the opportunities extended to adults. Modeling the appropriate ways to handle our activities teaches teens how to balance the responsibilities of adulthood.

I think I’ve made a bad parenting decision. How do you know when it’s a bad decision and how do you back down?

Allowing your teens to realize that you make mistakes is a gift to your teen. No “backing down” is necessary. Instead, model for your teen that sometimes time can give everyone a new perspective. Often, the reason for our new perspective is because we have left the highly emotional states of our brain and returned to the thinking state where reflection is natural. An enormous amount of pressure is placed on teens when they are taught that you must make the correct decision the first time. It is absolutely necessary to model for them that we make the most informed decision in the moment, but that we can adjust our decision later when other information is revealed.

Do parents generally follow the patterns their parents established with rules and consequences?

Yes, the choices we make when parenting are directly related to our personal past. It is possible to consciously become aware of those experiences and choose to parent with a different style. This does not come from blame, shame or guilt, but from a conscious awareness of what is currently happening in the present moment. Much of parenting is spent on worrying about what might happen in the future or punishing yourself for not doing it correctly in the past. Much time is wasted with what should be happening and what you wish would happen, as opposed to assessing the currently situation and deciding what you are going to do. It is key to stay present in the moment, learn active calming techniques so we can remain calm in stressful moments, recognize how our past affects our emotional triggers, and consciously choose to do it differently.

Educators

I’m a first grade teacher. How do I get ready for the upcoming school year?

Back to school brings a flurry of excitement and preparation. In these last weeks as you get ready for the first bell to ring, Loving Guidance is wishing you well and here to support you. We hope you will take a moment to S.T.A.R. and focus on the joy and the many wonderful lessons the coming school year will bring.

As you create and re-create your classroom checklists, we hope you will make room for helpful Conscious Discipline® routines, rituals and structures. Here is a list of components you may want to include to help create a safe, connected environment where learning can thrive.

  • Brain Smart Start to the Day
  • Transition Routines
  • Safe Place
  • Visual Representation of Class Rules
  • Time Machine
  • Friends and Family Board
  • Job Board
  • Classroom Commitments
  • Ways to be Helpful Board
  • We Care Center
  • Classroom Meetings
  • Celebration Center

You can download and print free classroom tools such as the breathing icons in our Free Stuff section. Loving Guidance also carries many products to support the components above. Products like the Make-N-Take CDrom, Picture Rule Cards, Time Machines, Job Boards are all very helpful.

We are having some discussion about notes that go home to parents that are negative in nature about the child’s behavior. Some of our staff don’t want to send notes home because “the notes are hurtful and don’t change behavior.”

To send a note home describing bad behavior or problems is hurtful and doesn’t change the behavior. The notes sent home need to be part of the solution, not notification of problem. Try this procedure:

  1. Talk in person with the parents. Outline the problem and solutions.  Solutions will be evaluated and revisited to see if they work or not. An email would be fine.
  2. Be cognizant of the power of attention: What you focus on, you get more of. If you focus on the bad behavior, you will get more of the same. Instead, replace the bad behavior with a good behavior, a solution. 

    Example: To get a child to move, a child might poke or push (problem). Replace the poking and pushing with “please move” (solution).

  3. Send notes home sharing success because success breeds success.  We use a standard form: “You Did It! You __________________ so __________________. That was helpful, kind, etc.”

You can find a reproducible for “You did it” cards on our We Care CDrom. These notes are part of the solution strategies, not communication to the parents.

How do you recognize the difference between a child who is having normal behavior issues and one who needs specialized services?

Developmentally, children between the ages of 3-5 years old will test and question authority to determine what is and is not allowed. Children at this age check the limits and boundaries to figure out the expectations and rules of the environment.

When the behaviors become persistent and maladaptive to an extreme degree and they impede with the child’s learning process, then it would be recommended that the referral for special services begin. These children may also have an inability to form interpersonal relationships with others and/or inconsistent moods including depression. Some children may exhibit similar behaviors during a stressful time; such as the death of a loved one, recent move, change of schools, or other life changing scenarios. For that reason, it is imperative that the child be observed over an extended period of time and not just referred due to a momentary reaction.

What are the common mistakes teachers make when working with young children who are aggressive?

Teachers may rely on using fear-based discipline in efforts to control the children in their care. This stems from the belief that we can make others change, which is unrealistic and simply impossible. We can only really change and control ourselves, and doing so will have a profound impact on those around us. The brain cannot function optimally when under threat. Fear-based discipline approaches are actually detrimental to optimal learning and brain development. There is a better way. Conscious Discipline focuses on a relationship-based community approach to classroom management. Adults and children are encouraged to build connections, and connections govern our behavior. The classroom culture becomes one that centers around a sense of community in which all members are valuable and important.

Teachers may also make the mistake of seeing conflict as a disruption that must be stopped or removed from the classroom. In reality, vital life skills can be taught during conflict moments. These moments give teachers an opportunity to teach the missing skills so that children can become active participants in solving their own problems.

What resources would be the most effective for teachers to use when working with aggressive children?

More and more often, teachers are dealing with aggressive behaviors in children including hitting, biting, and inappropriate language. These behaviors could be the result of an unbalanced nervous system that responds in a violent way. These children need strategies to balance the stress response. Teachers can immediately begin showing children how to disengage the stress response by teaching S.T.A.R.: Smile Take a deep breath And Relax. Through practice and repetition, children will create an automatic response of composure when dealing with upset or when things do not go their way. Teachers can actually help wire the child’s brain for impulse control through the use of S.T.A.R.

A teacher may comment that a child is demanding attention. In fact, an aggressive child may actually be looking to connect. Connection can be enhanced through the use of I Love You Rituals. These loving games send the message of acceptance to the child. When the child feels a sense of unconditional love, he/she is more likely to display more helpful and kind acts to peers and adults. These rituals have proven effective when implemented with even the most challenging children.

When needed, what types of interventions are found effective for young aggressive children? And to what extent (if any) will teachers need specialized training in order to implement them effectively?

To help children self-regulate and to promote composure, I teach use of the “safe place.” This physical structure is created in the classroom as a haven for children and adults to regain their composure after a difficult situation. There they engage in calming activities that have been previously taught as part of the social skill curriculum. The focus in this area is on the healing of the child’s hurt. A coherent adult can guide the child through some of the disengaging stress techniques at this time. Or the child can do this independently. Children learn to manage their own upset and then re-engage in the daily routine. In time and with patience and understanding, children progress to a level in which the safe place in an internal structure to access no matter where they are at the time.

For teachers or administrators to begin implementing the safe place, it is recommended that they seek more specific training. For more information, the Conscious Discipline and School Family books are helpful.

What do I need to do when working with students who are non-verbal?

Children who are non-verbal may begin to exhibit aggressive behaviors due to limited language and frustration from not being understood. For this reason, it is vital that teachers use adaptations in order to help the child communicate his needs. Voice output devices are highly recommended to give the child a “voice.” Teachers record a simple word or sentence on these devices for the child to activate at the appropriate time. The child feels included in the group, thus creating a sense of interconnectedness with peers and adults and decreasing frustration levels.

Visuals also help in working with students who are non-verbal. Picture cues are provided throughout the day so that children know what to expect, creating more predictability and a sense of safety. Some examples of visuals would include a picture schedule so that students know what comes next in the daily routine. Communication boards can also be provided so that children (may) point or use verbal approximations to indicate a desired choice or to express an opinion or feeling. The child is understood and the adult can understand.

These mentioned strategies are not designed to replace language and communication, but to enhance it. Students feel a sense of accomplishment and increased self-esteem knowing that their words have power.

One of my colleagues attended your workshop and came back saying Conscious Discipline does not “allow for” suspensions and that if we were using Conscious Discipline, we wouldn’t have to suspend students. I cannot believe that violent acts are accepted without consequences like suspension! Please tell me when and where Conscious Discipline feels suspensions are appropriate.

It sounds like your colleague might be saying that by becoming a Conscious Discipline school, the need for suspensions would decrease or disappear entirely. Research does indicate a dramatic decrease in problem behaviors in schools where Conscious Discipline is used. This correlates with a reduction in referrals, suspensions and other imposed consequences.


Conscious Discipline does not condone or dismiss violence. We teach self-regulation skills that help children recognize and manage strong emotions rather than act them out inappropriately. We teach that consequences happen all the time. You may already be familiar with natural consequences (if you are rude to your friends, they won't want to play with you) and are imposed consequences (if you choose to throw sand, you will lose the ability to play in the sandbox). A suspension is an imposed consequence. In Conscious Discipline, we use imposed consequences after the appropriate behavior is taught, modeled and practiced extensively, and a related, reasonable consequence is set and clearly stated to the child. In this way, we focus on teaching useful new skills, rather than on punishment or removal. Our goal is to create a classroom environment built on safety, connection and problem solving so the need for imposed consequences like suspensions becomes minimal.


Part of implementing Conscious Discipline is to focus on what you want (cooperative students who can self-regulate) rather what you don't want (violent acts, suspensions). Rather than focus on the element of violence or suspensions, focus on what you could do that would help children become more likely to choose cooperative and self-regulatory behaviors. Begin by reading the Composure chapter on the Conscious Discipline book, and working with your colleague to suss out helpful strategies for your school based on what she learned at the workshop. Then, continue with the rest of the Conscious Discipline book, and begin to implement the structures that speak to you. Building a Conscious Discipline School Family takes time, but it is the key to seeing more of the positive behaviors you desire (and for reducing or eliminating the need for suspensions).

 
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