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2 Av 5763 - July 31, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Extremely Effective Ways to Discipline Small Children
by Elisheva Leah Nadler

Many parents and teachers of small children would be surprised and relieved to learn that undesirable behaviors can often be prevented by asking ourselves, "Has this child slept enough, eaten well, and had enough to drink?" Or even, "Is s/he dressed appropriately for the weather?" Let's look more closely at ways to create positive experiences with the children around us.

SLEEP is critical in determining how well a child behaves. Often, the younger children in large families do not get the sleep they need because they want to be part of all the evening activities. These curious youngsters benefit from an afternoon nap or learning to submit to a soothing bedtime routine at an age-appropriate hour. One set of parents I know solves this problem by having one parent settle the younger child(ren) down to sleep at six or seven while the other parent looks after the older set. If an overtired child misbehaves in a preschool setting, letting him rest is often the most effective discipline technique.

Some children need to EAT at frequent intervals -- more frequent than their household or school schedule allows for. Try to arrange for an extra-nutritious snack about half an hour to an hour before the regular meal times. I have seen this simple trick make drastic improvements in a child's behavior! The same goes for DRINKING, especially in warm weather or dry climates. Children often do not feel thirsty. However, if you offer a drink of water or juice in between regular meal times on a hot or dry day, you will notice that everyone is more relaxed and agreeable than usual! Being OVER-or UNDERDRESSED is also a cause of uneasiness and irritability. Even children who are old enough to speak cannot always articulate their needs and it's our job to assess the situation. So don't just wait for a toddler or preschooler to tell you he's hot or chilly. Count the layers he's wearing and think how you would feel. Then ask if he wants a layer added or removed.

Having considered these relatively easy ways to help children behave their best, we must consider that sometimes children suffer EMOTIONAL STRESS. New siblings, new homes, absence of a loved one, conflict within the family or divorce all take their toll on children. Many people underestimate children's ability to perceive the emotional tenor of their environment. This is a mistake, for children are affected by every nuance. Bear this in mind when assessing a child's behavior and deciding how to respond. It is appropriate to overlook a certain amount of misbehavior if a child is in an adjustment phase. In addition, and equally important, remember to give extra attention and affection to a child who is undergoing any kind of stress! More frequent smiles, pats on the head, eye contact and quick hugs can smooth over the bumps of childhood, and these ways of giving take almost no time at all. If you can work it into your schedule, giving your child or student `time alone' with a beloved can work wonders. Just taking your little one into a closed room alone and having a chat or sharing an activity or treat for five minutes or even three are effective. Try it!

If you think or know a child is pressured or troubled in some way, sometimes it's extremely helpful to discuss the situation with the child. Usually, it's enough to just state the problem in a simple way, such as, "It's hard to get used to a new group of friends, isn't it?" and then provide some kind of reassurance that things will be alright. "Some things take a little time! A sweet child like you is sure to have friends soon!"

If you bring up the stress subject, your child may feel tremendous relief in being able to share his worries. One girl, whose father travels frequently, was not looking forward to his next absence. Her mother casually mentioned that it was hard for the family to be apart, and immediately, her daughter asked, "Who will make Kiddush for us?" After the discussion, everyone felt better.

Another common cause of misbehavior is BOREDOM. We should always ask ourselves if a child's difficult phase is due to lack of stimulation. Presenting the child with more challenging books, puzzles, household chores or playmates can prevent problems from arising.

Interestingly enough, when a child does not act as we would like, our own inner state and thoughts are critical in determining the outcome of the situation. Even if you can manage to control what you say and do not lash out verbally, if you are angry or feel hostile towards your children or students, they will know it. Do not deceive yourself! Angry and hostile thoughts in themselves hurt our child and damage our relationship with him!

Instead, it is critical to follow the advice of the Mishna, "Judge the whole person (including all the extenuating circumstances as discussed above) favorably." Then, you can avoid the pitfall of anger and remain calm. Remember; if you are calm, outwardly and inwardly, your charges will be calm, also. Speak softly, as the Rambam recommends. This sets a loving tone. In such an atmosphere, children will be able to hear your words of guidance and gentle rebuke and remain calm themselves.

On the other hand, children spoken to out of anger react negatively. Either they become incapacitated by anxiety or turn a deaf ear out of boredom or disrespect. If you still feel your anger rising, remember: this is a test from Hashem . Recall your list of extenuating circumstances. Imagine your child or student as a tender newborn, or imagine that your actions right now are determining the future of the world. On a more mundane level, simply turn your tape deck on to `Record' during your most difficult time of day. Just knowing that your words are being recorded (even in this world) can have a very powerful effect.

We must bear in mind that if we vent our anger upon our children or students, they will learn to do just the same to us! Is this what we wish to accomplish? Of course not! True discipline should convey to our children that we believe in their abilities to be good, to improve and grow. They must believe that we object to inappropriate behaviors, but we love them. True discipline means helping children develop self discipline and problem solving techniques that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Bearing these thoughts in mind, here are some techniques that will help you guide your child's behavior in a most constructive way:

* REPHRASE IT! If your child/student demands something in a less than mannerly fashion such as "WATER!" when he is thirsty, try rephrasing the request or comment immediately, as you would have liked to have heard it. "Please may I have a drink?" This can work between children also. If you hear an angry, "It's MY turn," chime in, "Please could I have a turn with that, too, soon?" in your sweetest voice, as if you were the child. This works because it keeps you from using a harsh tone of voice in reprimand, doesn't put the child on the spot, and at the same time, teaches the right way for the child to get what he needs. Try it!

* Sometimes you can adapt this technique by getting the children to `rerun' the scenario using polite expressions and effective problem solving methods. You might have to provide the script by saying, "H-m-m! How could we say that nicely?" Or suggesting enthusiastically, "Let's ask nicely for that toy instead of grabbing."

* VERBALIZE IT. If you can tune in to what an angry or upset child is feeling, verbalize what you think the child is trying to express through his bad behavior. This relieves tension and makes the child feel understood. For instance, "If I had lost my favorite book, I would also be upset. Maybe instead of sulking, we could write that incident down and make a story out of it."

* Speaking of WRITING, writing things down is a wonderful way to alleviate unhappiness of all sorts. If your children are too young to write, offer to let them dictate their thoughts to you. Watching you write distracts them from disruptive behavior. This gives you relief and a chance to reestablish a positive tone. Continue this by reading the story back to the children, and then letting them `read' it whenever the need arises. Perhaps your group could illustrate the story! Make copies for all interested parties.

* Don't forget to use the mildest forms of discipline first. Establish EYE CONTACT with the mischief maker. Sometimes a sensitive child needs merely a raised eyebrow to bring him back into line. Physical proximity to parent or teacher can help many children remember to behave. Avoid calling out commands from a distance; get close and speak softly instead. "You forgot!" is so much kinder and less accusatory than, "How many times..." "Haven't I told you..." etc.

* One of the best mild forms of discipline is PREEMPTIVE DISCIPLINE. If you know a certain child has a regular pattern of misbehavior, find a quiet moment before the pattern sets in for that day and discuss your expectations in a friendly manner with your child or student. This works wonders! By saying something like, "Today, when you feel like teasing your sister, try getting some attention by saying, `Please could you read me a book?' or something like that. O.K.?" As you speak, smile and put your arm around his shoulder. You are programming him for good behavior.

* Follow up! After all the effort you've put in to improving your interactions with the children in your life, always remember to compliment positive behavior, even if it only lasts for five minutes. The more you notice good behavior, the more it will recur.


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