x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Michael Kaplan: Be specific and remain calm when disciplining children

Can't get your child to behave? Here are six tips to teach little kids how to take 'no' for an answer without exploding into a fit of rage or throwing a tantrum.

Children need you to be in control when they're out of control, says Michael Kaplan, an assistant professor of child psychiatry at Yale University. iStock
Children need you to be in control when they're out of control, says Michael Kaplan, an assistant professor of child psychiatry at Yale University. iStock

One of the most important things we learn in life is self-control – as adults, it’s what gets us to work on time and keeps us from eating an entire packet of chocolate biscuits at once. As this is something that’s learnt before we hit the age of 5, how can we teach small children this valuable lesson while setting boundaries and limiting tantrums and outbursts?

Michael Kaplan, an assistant clinical professor in child psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center, who was recently in Abu Dhabi, shares six tips to address behavioural conflicts.

1 Be specific

The words you use when trying to discipline and even praise a child are very important. Recent research shows that not all praise is good. What works best is specific praise, such as “You did a great job cleaning your room.” Instead of always saying “good girl/boy” to a very young child, use love, warmth and empathy to show them you’re proud of them.

Similarly, when you’re establishing boundaries, don’t use abstract words. Target what they‘re doing at that time in a repetitive way. For example, say “Don’t throw that toy at your brother” instead of “Stop being naughty”, and reiterate it until they stop.

2 Keep calm and carry on

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. If we lose it now and then, it’s not the end of the world.

But children need you to be in control when they’re out of control. Ignore bad behaviour at all costs, with minimal talking. When a child is acting up they are trying to get attention, and reacting to them reinforces the behaviour.

3 Count to three

Set a time limit for the activity or chore they’re supposed to be doing. If they’re not getting dressed and you need to leave soon, say: “I am going to count to three and then you get a time out.” If they complete the task, praise them. If not, give them the time out, which involves sitting calmly for three-to-five minutes away from everyone.

You don’t need to fight every battle. Distraction, humour and making a game out of the situation (such as who can tidy up their toys the fastest) can be effective, too.

4 Teach them empathy

If your child is snatching a toy from another child, get them to think about how the other child is feeling. Say: “When you do that, how do you think it makes your friend feel?”

Asking a question forces them to stop, observe, then think and speak, and by the time they’ve done that, they’ll have stopped their behaviour.

The more parents use “feeling words” with their children, the more quickly they develop empathy.

5 Decisions, decisions

Parents control important decisions, but let the kids make smaller decisions within that frame. For example, on school days, let them pick out the route you take if they didn’t dawdle that the morning, or let them choose what they want for dinner once a week as long as they help set the table and wash up afterwards.

6 The right rewards

Avoid offering food or gifts as positive rewards. Instead, reward your child with special family time – play their favourite game, enjoy a family movie night together or let them stay up a little later on the weekend.