How to Encourage Discipline in Children: Principle #7b

We are discussing principles for encouraging discipline in children. Specifically, principle #7 is to avoid discipline struggles whenever possible. This may sound to some caregivers as though I and other researchers are suggesting that discipline is to be avoided at all costs, which is not the case. Those of us who have struggled with this issue know that sometimes discipline can feel neverending. However, it is sometimes good to avoid the more intense struggles, if at all possible. 

Distraction is an effective discipline technique with younger children

Distraction can be an effective discipline tool for younger children.
Distraction can be an effective discipline tool for younger children.

One way to avoid discipline struggles is to use distraction. This tactic turns the child’s attention away from the source of the difficult or undesired behavior. Distraction works well with younger children, sometimes far into the elementary years.

Simply removing an object from an infant’s immediate space can be an adequate distraction. For older children, distraction can be used when it appears as if siblings are about to quarrel, or when a child becomes bored or overexcited. Distraction can change sad or angry feelings into positive ones, because once initiated, it diverts attention from a problem.

Here are two examples of how distraction may be used:

Louise could tell that her 2- and 4-year-olds were getting tired and irritable. She quickly changed the pace, suggesting a snack, a rest and a trip to the park.  After a few protests the children willingly complied and the day progressed without major problems.

Phyllis heard screams from the family room and found her children, Philip and Michael, who were 1 and 3 years old, pulling at the same toy, both red in the face. She took the toy away calmly and began to sing an action song that the children both loved. Before long they were all laughing together and the struggle of the toy was forgotten.

In both of these incidences, the moms were attuned and aware as to what the consequences would soon be if there were not another set of actions. Louise proactively used distraction to reframe the situation with the children. Phyllis knew her kids well and used a familiar song they loved, which moved their brains into a calm state and transitioned from a negative to a positive situation.

As you can see in the examples, discipline was unnecessary because the parents distracted the children toward another agenda that was just as fun and motivating. Since children are usually easily distracted, adjustment occurred quickly to the new situations and replaced the undesired behaviors with much more positive ones.

It is good to remember that proactive and sensitive distraction can help avoid some of the unpleasant or intense struggles that can occur when a child is bordering on unacceptable behavior. The caregiver needs to intervene and change that behavior prior to escalation.

A little bit of ingenuity and persistence can really make a difference in they way your child responds.

Gerry Vassar,  President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 406.


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