3 Golden Rules for Great Behavior
We cut to the chase and tell you what you really need to know to have a well-behaved kid.
Sometimes desperation is the mother of invention. At least it was for me when I finally figured out how to get my son to stop his terrifying habit of bolting from the safety of my clutches in the parking lot. Our struggles had been epic: I'd reach for his hand, his shoulder -- or even his jacket hood. And he'd wriggle free and run ahead like a fugitive; the chase would end with a semi-hysterical mom (that would be me) half carrying a crying, squirmy boy. Harrowing, to say the least.
Then I had a moment of clarity about how to make hand-holding more agreeable: Channeling The Black Eyed Peas, I'd sing, "I gotta feeling... that today you're gonna hold my hand...," while grabbing his little fingers and swinging them to the beat. Corny even by my low standards, but hey, it worked. Cranking up the silliness factor to avoid a battle of wills is one trick. But with so much advice out there, your toddler could be a tween before you've sorted through it all. There is, however, something of a secret: Although there's no playbook, most experts stand behind these three rock-solid discipline rules.
Stay Calm, Mom
Guide your child toward better behavior using direct language and an even tone of voice. "Little kids, especially those under 6, are still learning how to listen and interpret the meaning behind your words," says Kathleen Cranley Gallagher, Ph.D., director of the Family and Childcare Program at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. So focus on making your point clearly. "Crouch down to your child's eye level and use short statements," says Dr. Gallagher.
If your toddler has just torn her brand-new The Very Hungry Caterpillar pop-up, say something like: "Gentle hands with books." It's much easier for her to understand what you expect when you tell her what you want her to do -- as opposed to what you don't want ("We never rip pages of books"), explains Dr. Gallagher.
If you're feeling a little too fired up to play the role of Mellow Mom, silently count to ten or take a few deep breaths before diving in. It can also help you chill if you remind yourself that most bad behavior isn't born from disrespect. "Kids are supposed to test boundaries -- that's how they learn," says Parents advisor Jenn Berman, Psy.D., author of SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years. There are many reasons why your daughter may have taken all the clothes out of her drawers or that your son decided to use a permanent marker to draw on his younger brother. "Children get lost in the moment of what they're doing; what's motivating them isn't usually a desire to make you angry," says Dr. Berman. "Taking it personally will make it harder for you to be calm."
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