Does this sound familiar? It’s Saturday morning. You wake up with all sorts of hope and excitement about the day ahead of you. Walking into your toddler’s room, he gives you the sweetest hug as you get him out of bed. You make your coffee, maybe turn on the news and your child starts playing nicely. Fast forward a few hours and the baby has spit up on you three times, the dogs won’t stop barking at every. single. snowflake. And your toddler has decided that throwing his toy cars is much more fun than playing with them. You think about how to handle the situation and start by giving him choices, “ Would you like to put the cars away on your own? Or would you like me to help you?” He looks at you, smiles, and throws another car past your head. Before you know it, you’ve shouted, your child is crying, and you wonder how positive discipline failed you again. You aren’t alone in this hard journey of parenting.
Not only am I am Montessori teacher, but I have gone through two years of intense schooling that involved studying children, researching the science behind education and positive discipline, and putting that knowledge into practice over 40 hours a week with 25+ children. By any standard, positive discipline and everything that goes with it should be a piece of cake for me. So why does it seem like everything I learned goes right out the window as soon as I get home to my own, spirited child?
Positive discipline isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires patience, dedication, and a commitment to trying again and again each and every time you feel like you’ve failed. But I am here to tell you that it is the times when you mess it up that you learn the most about yourself and your child. Children may be capable of big emotions, but they are also capable of the strongest and deepest forgiveness, so it is important not to be too hard on yourself as you learn how to work together with your child. As I started questioning why I was having such a hard time with positive discipline at home when it seems to work so well in the Montessori classroom, I quickly realized I forgot to factor in the parent element.
From the years 0 to 6, children are going through an incredible period of growth; physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Part of this growth involves figuring out where they fit in this world and what their limits are. In a classroom full of other children, they often test their limits with each other. This allows them to explore relationships and they often resolve conflict on their own without the intervention of an adult. At home, however, this limit pushing can manifest itself in different ways. Our house is often not set up to cater 100% to our children like a Montessori Classroom is, nor should it be. Add that to the fact that your child feels most comfortable with you and before you know it, that car is zooming past your head.
I’m not here to teach you how to use positive discipline, there are some incredible books out there that can help you with that. I’m here to help you form a habit that you can follow when you’ve reached that fork in the road during a frustrating moment with your child and just want to give up. I want to help you put things into perspective so you are able to continue using positive discipline, even at your most frustrated. Here are the 4 steps you can take to avoid that next blow up and continue practicing positive disciple, an acronym referred to as, S.A.S.S.
Don’t say the first thing that comes to your head! When we are frustrated it is easy to fall back into the style of discipline we encountered as children. More often than not, this falls into the authoritative category of discipline and quickly leads us to raising our voices or sending our child to a time out. Not only has this been proven scientifically ineffective in changing your child’s behavior over the long term, but it begins a pattern that makes everyone feel more frustrated. So before you go down that rabbit hole, stop and breathe. PICK YOUR BATTLES and remember that your child is expected to test their limits at this age and this behavior is completely developmentally appropriate.
Next, analyze the situation and think about WHY your child is acting the way they are. It is important to first rule out any physical needs as these are also the easiest to solve. Are they hungry? Are they tired? Once you have ruled these factors out, address the emotional state of your child. What are YOU doing at the time of this outburst? Are you on your phone? Are you tending to a sibling? While it’s not always possible to immediately resolve the emotional conflict your child is experiencing, it is important to address that you understand their frustration and find a solution that works for both of you. Which brings us to step 3…
- Find a SOLUTION
Once you have analyzed the situation and determined the root cause, work on finding a solution to their problem together, “I see that you would like to spend time with me but I am feeding the baby right now. Would you like to climb on my lap and read a book while he is eating or play until I am done?” Contrary to what many adults believe, this is not “giving into your child’s tantrum.” Calmly helping them solve their problem is setting a good example of how they can begin to recognize how they are feeling and self-regulate by finding a positive solution. You are simply expanding their emotional tool box and giving them a strong foundation for dealing with their emotions in the future.
Even with the best intentions, your child may have reached the point in which they are beyond reasoning, which is also to be expected at this age. If this is the case, find a way to take some space, which is very different from putting your child in a time out. Instead of punishing your child by making them sit in a corner, you are moving beyond giving them choices, to physically helping them make the right decision. Most commonly, this would involve helping your child through physically moving their body to another place in the room. If you need to do this, make sure you continue to respect your child and their body by explaining, “I see you are having trouble listening, but I need you to stop pulling the dog’s tail so I am going to move you into the living room with me to help you make the right decision.” Space could also mean separating yourself from the situation to calm down. Another great option is to create a dedicated place in your living area that promotes a calm environment. In our classrooms, we call this the peace corner and it is a peaceful place for the children to learn how to regulate their emotions. It often includes smooth rocks to play with, a mindfulness book, beautiful pictures, calming smells or fidgets. Eventually, children begin to recognize when they need space and will choose to use this area on their own. Janet Lansbury goes more in-depth in this particular piece of positive discipline here (https://www.janetlansbury.com/2018/06/child-not-listening-positive-approach-doesnt-seem-work/)
Positive discipline takes work, but it is worth it. So the next time you find yourself getting frustrated and feel like you are about to go down the wrong path when your spirited child displays their determined personality, remember to show your own S.A.S.S. and continue to build strong relationships with your family.