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Raising Great Grade Schoolers Issue 1 2 3 4

Parents Are Teachers, Not Punishers

Discipline without Tears

Any time you're with your child, you are teaching. Whatever you're doing, whether it's showing your child how to make their bed, helping with their homework, or even watching a movie together, your words and actions are influencing your children. You are your child's first and most important teacher.

As a parent of a grade schooler, you may feel like you have to choose between being your child's friend and coming down on them as a tough disciplinarian. The truth is that discipline is really a form of teaching.

Discipline Can Be Positive

Parents often consider discipline as something negative and unpleasant. Rather than looking at it that way, try looking at discipline as positive teaching. We discipline our children so they will learn to live cooperatively within our families and with others away from home.

If you think of discipline as teaching your child lessons, then it will seem less like a chore and more like an opportunity to lay the foundation for what they will need to know in the future to succeed. Discipline in the form of positive teaching is caring, specific, responsive, concrete, and effective.

The Four Basic Steps of Positive Teaching

Positive teaching might sound overwhelming or complicated, but it doesn't have to be. Boys Town sums it up in four simple steps:

  1. Set reasonable expectations. Clear expectations help children understand what they should and shouldn't do. When setting expectations for your child, ask yourself three questions:
    • Have I taught and modeled what I expect?
    • Does my child understand what I expect?
    • Can my child demonstrate what I expect?
  2. Send clear messages. Clear messages tell your child specifically and clearly whether a behavior is acceptable or unacceptable. When you're clear with your child, they are more likely to understand you and how you want them to behave in certain situations.
  3. Use consequences to change behavior. Appropriate consequences teach children acceptable ways to behave. Positive consequences help strengthen positive responses, and negative consequences discourage negative behaviors.

    At Boys Town, we teach parents to "catch them being good" and use positive consequences to reward kids for good behavior. A positive consequence or reward doesn't have to be something tangible; children want their parents' approval, so praise or spending quality time with you are often effective rewards. We recommend the "4-to-1 rule" — four praise interactions for every one corrective interaction for negative behavior. If you focus on the good things your kids do, you'll find that positive consequences work.

  4. Offer reasons to encourage improvement. Your child will more readily accept negative consequences when you provide reasons for why they're receiving them. This is an integral part of teaching; reasons help children make the connection between their behavior and what happens to them as a result.

Positive Teaching in Action

Children are much more likely to learn when they're treated with affection and pleasantness rather than anger and punishing behavior. Here's an example of positive teaching:

Dad tells Vernon he can't go outside to shoot baskets because he has homework to finish. Vernon gets angry, stomps his feet, and complains that Dad is unfair.

Dad tells Vernon they need to talk about his behavior. First, Dad asks Vernon to calm down and stop yelling. When Vernon is calm, Dad explains to him that he needs to learn to accept "No" for an answer and why it is important to do so. Then Dad teaches the skill of accepting "No" for an answer to Vernon and helps him practice.

Children are like sponges, soaking up your words and actions, even when you think they aren't watching or listening. When you take a positive approach to teaching and discipline, you make the most of everyday opportunities to use your experience and love to shape your child's life.

Ultimately, positive teaching helps build your child's self-confidence, teaches them to get along well with others, and gives them the skills they need to make their own decisions and control their behavior.

Teaching Activity

Here's an activity to encourage your whole family to think about reasonable expectations.

  1. Gather one paper bag, scissors, and a piece of paper and a pencil for each family member.
  2. Ask everyone to write down a list of things they expect from other family members. Help younger children make a list of things they think others should do to support them. Examples: Mom could write, "I expect a hug." Dad could write, "I expect everyone to pitch in with the yard work on the weekends before they go off to play or visit with their friends." A child might request, "I want my brother to play a video game with me."
  3. Cut the lists into slips of paper, each with one expectation, and put the slips in the paper bag. You could also tape a wrapped piece of candy to each slip of paper to encourage family members to participate.
  4. Write "Grab Bag" on the front of the bag and set it out where everyone can see it.
  5. Encourage family members pull out a slip of paper once a day or once a week and make an effort to carry out the expectation for someone in the home.

Social skill

Asking for Clarification

Many negative behaviors result from misunderstandings, poor communication, and unclear expectations. Children will naturally push boundaries, and if those boundaries aren't well-defined, kids will argue incessantly about why they should be allowed to do what they want to do. Teaching your child how to seek clarification can help resolve that confusion. Here are the steps:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Ask if the person has time to talk. Don't interrupt.
  3. Use a pleasant or neutral tone of voice.
  4. State specifically what you're confused about. Begin with, "I was wondering if. . ." or, "Could I ask about . . .?"
  5. Listen to the other person's reply and acknowledge their answer.
  6. Thank the person for their time.

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