Archive of ‘Parenting’ category

Parenting Your Preschooler

Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott’s Positive Discipline views children’s behavior that looks and feels like misbehavior as discouragement, or the feeling that they don’t belong. This paradigm shift can help parents respond in a different way, ultimately changing the child’s behavior and the parents’ feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness. In this article, we will focus on parenting the preschool-age child, but most of the concepts can be applied loosely to all age groups.

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Part of successfully responding to your child’s “misbehavior” is to understand the meaning behind the behavior. Children generally want to behave well and when they aren’t, it’s usually with good reason. For example, they may be acting out to get more attention (which means they want to be noticed and involved), to gain power or control (they want to help or be given choices), to get even or have revenge (they are hurting and need their feelings recognized and validated), or they have given up (they need to be believed in and shown in smalls steps how to be successful).

Another important tip for parenting your preschooler is to be consistent with your expectations. Respond kindly and firmly to negative behavior. Children don’t understand when you are inconsistent or when something is sometimes okay and sometimes not because you are too tired to enforce a rule. Let your love for them be evident in the way you interact with them (be explicit about your love and care for them).

Redirect instead of using “no when possible. Instead of telling your child what not to do, share your expectations or what they can be doing. You might ask for their help or turn tedious tasks fun by making up a competition.

Encouragement and recognition motivates children to continue behaving in positive ways and will get much better results than scolding or only paying attention when your child does something “bad.” Praise your children for positive behavior, and build on their strengths.

Because children are emulating the behavior they experience at home and with important adults, focus on your own responses and behaviors. If your goal is to raise a respectful, caring, responsible adult, you must model these behaviors when with your children (toward them and others). Instead of punishing your child in the heat of the moment, it can be helpful to take a time out yourself to collect your thoughts, calm down, and then thoughtfully respond to your child.

Developmental Considerations for Preschoolers:

  •  Until age five children are much more interested in what/how they are doing something rather than the goal or outcome. Be patient and give children time to be process-oriented when possible. When you are running short on time, set clear (but kind) expectations ahead of time to improve cooperation.
  • Recognize your child’s physical perspective and limitations to increase feelings of competence and to decrease frustration. For example, buy a footstool to allow your child to wash his/her hands independently. Or, get down on their level when you are having a conversation with them instead of talking down to them.
  • Children have a difficult time understanding the difference between what is real and what is not. Instead of disciplining children for what might be perceived as lying or for developmental difficulty in understanding reality versus fantasy, try to accept your child’s fears and listen to his/her feelings.
  • Mistakes are inevitable- strive to recognize your child’s mistakes as an opportunity to learn.
  • When your child does lie (which they may do at this age), listen and avoid shaming or punishing. Fear of punishment or shame often encourages children to lie! Instead, work with him/her to understand the truth as well as the value of honesty. And remember to model honesty yourself.
  • The preschool years often bring questions about anatomy and defining who they are. When asked, try to remain calm and approachable. Use accurate terms when describing anatomy, but avoid giving a great deal of detailed information about sexuality to small children as they don’t need it at this point.

Parenting your Toddler

The toddler years are exhilarating and exhausting. Your little one’s budding personality, interest and excitement for all they are learning, as well as their neediness and desire for independence are bound to make for both amazing and trying times. Following are a few tips about development and how to best raise a capable and confident child based on Positive Discipline, The First Three Years.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Feeling a sense of belonging and significance is a basic need.

  • Engage your toddler by giving them helpful tasks that are age appropriate (holding the clean diaper while being changed, helping put toys into the bath tub, etc). Welcome and encourage their innate desire to be helpful.

We all have mirror neurons that fire when we see an action performed.

  • If you want a kind, compassionate, thoughtful child, you must demonstrate this in your own behavior by being patient, loving, and caring toward your child and others.

Your child will have feelings. Your job is to help them develop their emotional intelligence.

  • Help your child understand emotions by using words to label the feeling(s) they are experiencing. Validate their feelings (there is no such thing as a wrong emotion, only actions that are not), and then provide appropriate ways for them to express their feelings (ie. scribble with markers or run around the backyard, cry, etc).

Use positive time outs for children over the age of three and a half.

  • Little children are not capable of recognizing and managing their emotions so sitting in time out to think about what they have done wrong isn’t fair or helpful. A positive time out, however, can be a great way to teach your child to calm down when s/he is angry or upset. Click here to learn more about positive time outs.

Children do better (and will be more cooperative) when they understand what is expected of them and what will happen.

  • Even if your child is preverbal, take time to explain what will happen or what is expected from them. This is particularly important if you need to do something quickly or if things will be out of the norm for the child.

Say no with actions instead of words.

  • Instead of telling your child no, ask yourself what you do want to have happen and then tell your child what you want. If you must say no, use distraction and redirection (it is helpful to remember that “no” is an abstract idea that little ones don’t really get until they are about four). Toddlers aren’t trying to be disobedient- they are exploring their world and following their developmental intuitions to do so.

Be firm and kind while focusing on love and relationships.

  • Provide opportunities for your toddler to explore their world by creating safe places for play. Use distraction and redirection instead of yelling, slapping, or spanking. Repair with hugs, kisses, and apologies when things don’t go so well

Remember that your child is working toward autonomy.

  • Remind yourself of your child’s developmental abilities and calm yourself before responding. Make time to enjoy the process of raising your little one. Avoid power struggles by offering limited choices (all of which are acceptable to you) and giving them opportunities to say no when appropriate. Teach by doing and being kind and firm.

Remember in moments when there are impossible messes, tantrums and meltdowns, you are shaping little hearts and minds, and with a little patience and grace, there is sure to be a heartwarming, sweet and tender moment right around the corner.

Children and Their Feelings

I was at the rock climbing wall at our gym the other day when I heard a little boy say to his dad, “I don’t know if I can do it. I’m scared.”He was referring to the route he was hoping to climb. His dad, who seemed relatively supportive and encouraging toward his son replied, “You can do it. Big boys don’t get scared.”

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Although perhaps said with good intentions, this statement made me sigh and feel concerned about another generation of boys and men (and even girls and women) being taught that it isn’t okay to experience perceived “weaker”emotions. And more importantly, what they can do when these inevitable feelings do creep up.

Part of the reason it is so difficult to respond well when our children/friends/partners are experiencing difficult emotions (besides all of the gender messages we are socialized to adhere to) is that in order to be empathetic, we have to actually touch that part in ourselves that knows what it is like to feel that feeling. And that is scary! And what is more scary is to imagine your child feeling that, and so the easiest thing to do is brush it under the rug, dismiss or minimize the feeling, shame the feeling, or try to make them feel better. Unfortunately, this generally leads to the other person feeling like they are not heard, that their feelings don’t matter, that they should be ashamed of those feelings and are bad for having them, or that they need to keep their feelings to themselves in the future. And it generally intensifies the feeling while causing isolation.

I’m certain the father at the gym did not want for his response to his son to have any of these outcomes. Likely, he was wanting to help socialize his son to stereotypical gender norms that he learned (without even realizing it necessarily), and he probably honestly didn’t know how to respond. I did keep my mouth shut at the gym, but here are a few thoughts about how I hope to handle these conversations with my children and what you might do when your kids are experiencing painful or difficult emotions.

1. Because we are modeling emotion regulation for our children, it can be really helpful to walk them through our process.

Example: “I sometimes get scared, too. I remember when I was scared (give age

appropriate example). This is how I handled it (give healthy, age appropriate ideas about how to manage that emotion).

2. Simply validate the feeling. Nothing feels better than having someone acknowledge our emotions.

Example: “It does look scary! I would be scared in that situation, too!”

3. Listen and give your child time to talk about what they are experiencing. Having our feelings validated and being given space to talk through them can greatly lessen the intensity of the negative emotion.

Example: “I hear that you are scared. What are you most afraid of? What can I do to support you?”

If you feel like you might benefit from a little lesson on empathy and what it looks like, check out this great animated video based on the work of Brené Brown.



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