One of the goals I set for myself a couple of years ago was to learn how to discipline a child without yelling.
We were in the midst of a busy season at the time – we were renovating our home, none of us were sleeping particularly well, and my husband and I were both drowning in work projects and deadlines – and there simply were not enough hours in the day. I was stretched too thin, and my daughter (understandably) started to act out. But instead of realizing that we were caught in a negative reinforcement loop and taking steps to fix it, things started to spiral. I became increasingly more short-tempered, and I’m embarrassed to admit that yelling soon became a regular part of our days.
And I hated it.
But, as with most things in life, it wasn’t until we moved past that difficult season that I was able to evaluate everything that transpired objectively. I took stock of what was and wasn’t working and came up with some positive parenting techniques I wanted to adopt to ensure we didn’t fall back into old habits, and while we still have bad days, they are much fewer and farther between and we recover from them much faster.
And I rarely yell!
If you want to know how to discipline a child without yelling, read on for some of my best calm parenting techniques!
What Is Positive Parenting?
Also known as ‘positive discipline’, positive parenting is all about remaining calm and respectful to children while simultaneously enforcing the rules of conduct you wish to maintain within your home. Instead of punishing a child for bad behavior, positive discipline techniques are designed to teach, model, and encourage positive behavior.
Keep in mind that teaching and reinforcing good behavior does not require parents to ignore poor behavior. Positive parenting is designed to go deeper and teach children how to handle situations appropriately and provide them with the tools they need to recognize and rectify poor choices and behaviors on their own.
In short, positive discipline involves establishing reasonable limits for children, guiding them to remain within these limits, and teaching them how to deal with situations when they don’t.
Why Does Positive Parenting Work?
Positive parenting is based on the concept of positive reinforcement, and while reinforcement of any kind is helpful in teaching kids how to behave appropriately, research tends to suggest that positive reinforcement – the act of rewarding a child when he or she completes a desired behavior as a means of increasing the likelihood he or she will repeat the behavior again – is the most effective.
Positive discipline techniques avoid using shame as a way to get children to behave, and has been shown to:
- create a collaborative relationship between the parent and child
- improve a child’s self-esteem
- create positive interactions between the parent and child
- encourage children to make good choices and decisions
- decrease power struggles
- improve trust and respect between the parent and child
Discipline without Shouting: 6 Tips to Stop Yelling
Be clear about rules and expectations. When it comes to learning how to discipline a child without yelling, one of my best tips is to clearly outline the rules you have for your child so he or she knows exactly what is expected of him or her, and enforce logical consequences when these rules aren’t followed. The easier the rules are, and the more consistently you reinforce them, the easier it is for your kids to meet your expectations. Visual schedules are a great tool to use for younger kids and/or those who require extra prompting throughout the day.
Limit your reactions. When your child misbehaves, make it a point to take a 5-minute breather before you react. Make sure your child is in a safe place, and then remove yourself from the situation and take a few deep breaths. Think through the situation that occurred and your reaction to it. Is your child legitimately misbehaving, or is he or she feeling overwhelmed? Are you distracted? Is his or her behavior simply a plea for your attention? Did your child make you angry, or did something else upset you? Will lashing out at your child solve anything other than your need to release your anger? Taking a few moments to really consider these things will help put things in perspective so you can react appropriately.
Think before you speak. Another great calm parenting tip is to remain silent. The problem with reacting in the moment is that we often say things we cannot take back later. We may agree to things our child is asking for simply to keep the peace, threaten punishments that don’t align with our child’s behavior, or say mean things as a way to get our own anger out, but if we make a conscious choice not to speak until we can think rationally, everyone will be better off. You won’t negatively reinforce your child’s behavior and will avoid unnecessary feelings of guilt later.
Stay calm. On those days when your child really pushes your buttons and a 5-minute breather isn’t enough to bring you back to a place of zen so you can discuss the situation rationally, give yourself permission to take a time out to do something calming so you can gain perspective. Meditate, write your feelings out in a journal, call a friend, go for a workout, organize a closet, go for a drive, or find another outlet to expel the negative energy you’re feeling.
Remember that we are our child’s biggest role models, so exercising proper self-control can go a long way in teaching your child appropriate anger management skills. Don’t be afraid to verbalize what you’re doing (‘I’m feeling angry right now, so I am going to take 20 minutes to calm down before I respond to you’) so he or she has a better understanding of the strategies you are using to stay calm as a parent.
Discuss. After a difficult situation has passed and everyone has returned to a state of calm, make it a point to sit down and talk to your child. Remember that this isn’t a time to discipline or shame your child – it’s a time to work together to figure out what caused the behavior to occur in the first place, discuss how you both handled the situation, and come up with solutions for the future. Did something happen at school that upset your child? Is he or she in need of more one-on-one time with you? Is your child nervous about an upcoming event? The more open and honest you are in the discussion, the more comfortable your child will be in admitting the reason behind his or her behavior.
Start again. No matter how hard you try to adopt positive parenting techniques in your quest to figure out how to discipline a child without yelling, you’ll still have days where you and/or your child lose your cool. It’s all part of being human, but the way you respond to these situations can have a lasting impact on your child, so tread carefully. Once the big emotions are out of the way, suggest that the 2 of you go your separate ways for a few minutes and then try again. If your child engaged in poor behavior, give him or her the chance for a do-over. If you’re both just in a crabby mood after a hectic and overwhelming day, you may even suggest crawling back into your respective beds for a couple of minutes, and then get up and greet each other as if it’s a completely new day full of hope and optimism. Don’t be afraid to make this exercise silly and fun. Laughter is often the best medicine, and as long as you find a way for your child to learn from the situation, finding ways to put it behind you both will go a long way in helping you end the day on a more positive note.
8 Positive Discipline Techniques that Work
Use An ABC Chart. Have you ever heard of The Iceberg Model? It’s quite fascinating. According to this theory, the poor behaviors we see in our children are only the ‘tip’ of a much bigger iceberg. And since only about 10% of an iceberg is visible to the naked eye, it is theorized that the drivers of our child’s behaviors live beneath the surface, and that we must find a way to see and understand these drivers before change can occur.
An ABC, or Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence Chart is a fabulous positive parenting technique you can use to track the things that occur before and after certain behaviors occur. Making a conscious effort to dig deeper into the ‘iceberg’ of your child’s behaviors can be life-changing when it comes to figuring out how to discipline a child without yelling. Each time an undesired behavior occurs, take the time to write down the ABCs of that specific behavior:
Antecedent: The events that occurred before the behavior happened.
Behavior: Your child’s response to the antecedent.
Consequence: What happened after the behavior to either encourage/hinder a repeat of the situation.
The idea is to track the same behavior multiple times to determine if there are any consistencies, and then formulate a plan to change the antecedent and/or consequence to ensure the poor behavior stops happening. You can also use this tool to determine if the antecedent and/or consequence is out of your child’s control (i.e. sickness, hunger, poor sleep, etc.) or if your child is just being a kid and acting out.
Develop house rules. When it comes to positive parenting techniques, developing a set of ‘House Rules’ in which you clearly define the rules by which you wish your home to be governed can be life-changing for the entire family. Spend some time brainstorming the behaviors your child struggles with most, and then put together a list of rules you expect him or her to abide by each day. Keep the list relatively short (aim for 5-10 items), focus on behaviors your child struggles with, use basic language, and make sure the rules you’re trying to enforce are realistic. Examples might include:
- I use a quiet voice
- I keep my hands and feet to myself
- I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- I clean my own messes
- I do not interrupt when someone is speaking
Keep the list somewhere visible to your child and revisit it together often, and if you find your child struggling to follow the house rules you’ve set forth, consider turning it into a reward chart whereby your child earns a small reward for successfully following a certain number of rules each day (i.e. if your child earns 4 of 6 check marks, he or she gets an additional 15 minutes on his or her iPad after school).
Use positive over negative reinforcement. As mentioned earlier, reinforcement is a fabulous technique to use to encourage appropriate behaviors in children, and research tends to suggest that positive reinforcement – the act of rewarding a child when he or she completes a desired behavior as a means of increasing the likelihood he or she will repeat the behavior again – is the most effective. Sticker charts are a simple, yet effective form of positive reinforcement that can be extremely motivating for kids, and this post contains a list of all kinds of fabulous reward charts you can use to positively reinforce your child’s behaviors.
Be consistent. If you haven’t already figured it out, consistency is key in the wonderful world of parenting. When you follow through with what you say, your child will soon learn that the rules and expectations you set forth are not up for negotiation. It can be very tempting to give in when you’re in the heat of the moment, but the more consistent you are, the more successful your child will be.
Offer choices. Another one of my favorite positive parenting techniques is to increase a child’s perceived level of control by offering choices. This strategy can be used at mealtimes, while doing household chores, and in the classroom. By empowering a child to make his or her own decisions through a choice-making strategy, he or she will feel respected and more motivated to participate, resulting in fewer power struggles and explosive outbursts.
Stick to a predictable routine. It’s no secret that kids thrive on routine. Parents often complain that their children act out more on weekends and school holidays, but few realize the lack of structure and consistency is the cause of these behavioral changes. Creating a daily schedule – and sticking to it – will not only help your child feel more in control, but it will also set him or her up for long-term success by demonstrating appropriate organization and time management skills. In order to reap the full benefits of implementing a daily routine, you must adhere to it all the time – even on weekends, school holidays, and summer vacation.
Opt for natural and logical consequences. Unlike punishment, which is aimed at making a child suffer in retaliation for inappropriate behavior, consequences offer an opportunity for children to learn from their mistakes. The problem lies in how parents use consequences – they don’t implement them soon enough, the consequence doesn’t match up to the behavior, or the parent uses the consequence as a way to shame the child. A much better option is to use natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences are those that occur inevitably as a result of a child’s behaviors or actions (i.e. if a child refuses to eat, she’ll feel hungry), while logical consequences are designed to help children replace poor behaviors with more appropriate ones (i.e. if a child fails a test, he or she is required to spend more time studying). Natural consequences tend to be more effective, but since they don’t always occur as a result of poor behaviors, logical consequences are an excellent positive parenting technique to use. We’ve written a whole post about natural and logical consequences along with some great ideas to help inspire you, which you can read here.
Schedule regular quality time with your child. When it comes to figuring out how to discipline a child without yelling, my last tip is perhaps the most surprising, yet it’s also the most effective: spend more quality time with your child. I was first given this advice when my daughter entered the Terrible Twos, and every single time I notice a spike in poor behaviors, the first thing I do is evaluate how much solid one-on-one time we are spending together. Keep in mind that spending quality time together doesn’t need to be an olympic event where you try to recreate crafts you see on Pinterest – it just needs to be deliberate and intentional. Turn off your computer and put your smartphone away and give your child the undivided attention he or she craves (and deserves!). Play a game, read a book, go out for ice cream, or just sit and talk for 20 minutes. There are so many simple ways you can squeeze quality time into your day, and we have 75 ideas to inspire you right here!
PHEW! That was a lot of information, but I hope this collection of positive parenting techniques and strategies proves useful to you in your quest to try and figure out how to discipline a child without yelling. Remember to be clear about your rules and expectations, opt for positive over negative reinforcement, use natural and logical consequences wherever possible, and get down on the floor and have FUN with your child.
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