Help children learn from their mistakes

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By Dona Matthews

Many adults believe in punishment, whether it’s timeouts, spanking, or loss of privileges. “Kids need consequences for bad behavior,” parents often say. Young children do need us to pay attention and do something about it when they’re out of control, or behaving in cruel, sneaky, destructive, dangerous, or antisocial ways. It’s our job as the adults in their lives to protect them from themselves when they’re engaging in behaviour that will get them in trouble now, or in another context in their lives. But everything we know about child development suggests that angry punishments don’t work very well in the long run. You may get a child to comply for the moment, but it will come at the cost of their self-esteem or lead to simmering resentment. In the long run, this won’t go well for you or the child. Natural consequences – the painful results of one’s actions – are the best teachers of all. When a child refuses to wear a coat on a rainy day, the natural consequence of allowing the child to go out without a coat is that the child will get wet and uncomfortable. When it’s an option, a natural consequence is a great teaching tool. The child has no one but himself to blame for his misery, and will probably wear a coat next time it rains. Logical consequences are also the result of a person’s actions but are imposed by someone else. In both cases, the child is experiencing some type of trouble because of their behaviour. Here, however, ‘logical consequences’ include natural as well as logical consequences. So what can parents do? What’s the best way to respond when toddlers and young children (up to age seven or so) are doing something they shouldn’t do? It depends on the nature of the child and the problem, of course, but here are some ideas for addressing misbehaviour. Dial it down. Step back, take a deep breath, and rein in any impulses you might have to yell or punish. Don’t be a bully. Remember they are much smaller than you. As with any situation where one person has a lot more power or strength than another, your anger carries an implicit threat of violence. The evil monster in the fairy tales, that’s you. So stay present and connected. The last thing a young child needs when they’re out of control or misbehaving badly is to be banished from your presence. Timeouts may appear benign and useful, but they don’t work in the long run. See it as a learning opportunity. Try to put the child’s bad behaviour into positive perspective, as a great opportunity for you to help the child learn something. Sometimes the child – especially if they’re under four – is genuinely ignorant about the “badness” inherent in their actions. Sometimes all the child needs is a strong but loving conversation about why you don’t want them doing what they’re doing. Look for what else is wrong. Sometimes kids know exactly what they’re doing, and are trying to get you angry enough to pay attention. Whether the bad behaviour is intentional or not, bad behaviour is always a message. The child has real needs that aren’t being met, and they don’t yet know how to communicate it so you will hear them. Try to deal with the situation, but do it privately. Even young children feel humiliated when they’re publicly corrected or punished. However, if you think a consequence is required for the child to learn what you want them to, remember that children (like adults!) learn best when they feel respected, valued, and listened to. And if you can’t think of a good logical consequence, ask the misbehaving child. Kids are almost always brilliant at thinking up appropriate consequences, although they can be a bit draconian. You may have to tone down their ideas before implementation. Move on. Once the child has done their time, you might ask if they’ve learned anything from the experience, but don’t belabour it Most of the time, logical consequences work since there is no humiliation. By focusing on the deed as bad, and not the perpetrator, logical consequences don’t shame or punish the child. With children – like most adults – humiliation is more likely to breed resentment and retaliation than learning. It also encourages responsibility for behaviour. Punishments, including timeouts, show that the adult is the boss, no matter what the adult might tell the child about reaping the punishment they earned. Logical consequences, on the other hand, show the child how to take responsibility for their behaviour.–(Courtesy–Khaleej Times)

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