ENFORCING THE RULES – STEP 1: Identify the problem & offer an alternative.

When you see your child doing something that “feels” like it requires a disciplinary response on your part, think first “How does what he is doing now break one of the four main rules???” If you have difficulty answering this, you probably should not be disciplining at all. Once you have made clear in your own mind the connection, you are ready to say to the child, “No, don’t do that, because…”. It is very important not to simply say no, but to also explain to the child why you are saying no, which means telling the child exactly how what he is doing is breaking one of the above rules.

For example, one might say “No, don’t touch that knife,
it could hurt you and we don’t do things that are dangerous”.
Or, “No, don’t hit your sister, that hurts her and
we don’t hurt other people, you wouldn’t want her to hurt you”.
Or, you might say, “Go brush your teeth right now, everybody
in this family brushes their teeth before bedtime”.

After you have said “No” and explained why, you must then offer the child an alternative, or “a way to be good”. At the very least this alternative represents a necessary distraction.

The distraction is important because a young child simply told
“No” is “stuck” – he can’t think of anything but the thing that
he wanted to do that he has now been told not to do.
He thinks of the thing, he thinks of you, he thinks of the thing,
and he thinks of you. . . it is only a matter of time
before he goes back to the thing that he should not be doing.
It is important to provide him with something else to do
in order to help him out of this cycle.

However, when a parent gets good at it, offering “a way to be good” can be much more than just a distraction – it can be a very effective teaching tool. It can demonstrate ways of more appropriate behavior which can recognize, address, or express the child’s inner needs or feelings.

For instance, if a child is hitting you, after you have said no
and explained why we don’t hit, you can then say, “but I understand
that you are mad at me right now, why don’t you use your words
to tell me that you are mad at me – it is OK to be mad at mommy,
but it is not OK to hit”. Or, for a younger child who doesn’t
yet have sufficient language for the preceding example, you
could say, “but I understand you are feeling angry right now –
if you need to hit something go hit the stuffed animal or the
pillow, you can hit those things, but we don’t hit animals
or people because they have feelings”. In this way, you
recognize your child’s own legitimate feelings, validate
that it is all right to have those feelings, and teach
the child more appropriate ways of handling them.

Then, if the child stops the behavior and “takes” the offered way out, you can end your discipline on a positive note and give the child some praise.