Encouraging Good Behavior

Crying and tantrums are an unavoidable part of being the parent of a toddler. Strong-willed, independently-minded, headstrong. No matter how positively you phrase it, at some time (probably several times), your little treasure will drive you to the limit and smash the calm aura of control you normally exude.

Just as golf is easy in theory - hit a little ball with a stick - so discipline is easy in theory - praise good behavior and punish bad. But if that was all there is too it, parenting would be boring and you wouldn't be reading this. In reality, a golf ball has a mind of its own and, thankfully, so do children. You can read as many books and articles as you like, but there will be times when your child finds your promise of jelly or your threat of the naughty step not as powerful as the pull of the jigsaw puzzle. And no matter how exciting you make tidying up sound, they won't fall for it very often.

Now I'm no psychologist but I do believe there are nevertheless various tactics that can make it a bit easier for us parents to encourage good behavior and still remain friends. So here it is, the DadCafe print-out-and-stick-on-your-fridge guide to discipline:

Helpful tips for encouraging good behavior.
Tactic Comment
Ask requests positively.
E.g. instead of "don't leave your cup on the floor", try "please put your cup on the table".
Makes it more difficult for children to be contrary and awkward.
Instead of asking your child to do something, give them a choice.
E.g. "do you want to wear your red coat or your green one?" rather than "put your coat on please".
This is so often a lifesaver for us as it makes the child feel they're in control and takes their mind off fighting back.
Give your child a count of 3 to do something.This has been used for generations and for good reason - it usually works, unless you resort to 2 and a half, 2 and 3 quarters, etc.
Have a naughty area (corner, step, room) where your child can reflect for 2 minutes when they've been naughty.Always give them a warning and a chance to behave before you enforce this. Also, excessive hugs and kisses when their time is up may lead them to misbehave again purely to repeat the experience.
Children sometimes misbehave to get attention so a strong antidote is just to ignore them (unless they're putting themselves in danger, obviously).Ideally, you should prevent their misbehavior by giving them as much attention as possible in the first place, but that's usually only apparent in hindsight.
Encourage them with rewards for good behavior.In other words, bribery. The disadvantage is that this could encourage children to behave well purely because they stand to profit from it.
Be consistent.This applies to any form of discipline and to anyone caring for the child. Change the rules and you're effectively telling your child they can ignore them.
No matter how exciting you make tidying up sound, they won't fall for it very often.

Of course, no matter what clever behavioral strategies you have up your sleeve, at some point nothing will work and you'll have a screaming child to deal with, probably in a very public place. The best thing to do is remember that somewhere in the world there are doubtless hundreds of parents facing the same nightmare at that particular moment, possibly even more unpleasant. Like you, they'll look back on this and laugh someday. Eventually. And in any case, without the occasional tantrum you wouldn't appreciate the wonderful moments as much, would you?

Incidentally, there may be times when you want to tell your child off but they're not actually doing anything naughty. A recent example for me was working on the computer with my little angel trying to help me press the keys. Being slightly stressed I viewed this as not good behavior and, I'm ashamed to say, made my feelings known. On reflection, I was clearly in the wrong. The model father I'd like to be would have taken a 5 minute break to explain what he was doing and maybe looked at various digital family photos together. Alternatively, I could have let him sit next to me with a calculator to play with. In other words, there are times that I tell him off when all he's doing is being inquisitive or trying to copy what I do, but unfortunately I'm too quick-tempered to realise this at the time. I'm sure one day he'll appreciate the irony that I find it easier to give out advice on promoting good behaviour than to actually follow it.