Using guidance tools
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Tools to encourage thinking
Explain limits (3-18 years). When your child doesn't understand what you expect of him, tell him the reasons for your limits.
Provide a reminder of the rule (all ages). When your child forgets a rule, tell her the rule again as a positive reminder. Explain what will happen if the rule is not followed. Give the reminder once.
Ask for the rule to restated (3-18 years). If your child knows the rule and is acting on impulse, ask him to stop what he is doing and tell you the rule he’s breaking.
Ask for consequences (4-18 years). When your child doesn't seem concerned about the effect of her misbehavior, talk with her about how what she has done has affected you and others.
Ask for solutions (4-18 years). After your child is calm enough to think, ask her how she might solve the problem. Have her think of as many solutions as possible and choose the best one. Be open to her ideas.
Use humor (all ages). When a lighthearted approach might work, use humor to make a point or remind your child of what you expect of him. Avoid ridicule or sarcasm.
Make a polite request (all ages). Ask your child to change a minor misbehavior. Be specific and concise. Tell him what you need and how you feel. If he refuses, ask him to tell you what you said from your point of view.
Use “do” instead of “don’t” (all ages). Children learn more effectively if parents emphasize the positive. When children hear many negative words, the meaning of those words become weaker.
Emphasize positive thinking (3-18 years). When your child feels discouraged, help her to look for positives in what may seem a negative situation.
Tools to show concern
Provide a hearing (all ages). When you are unsure about what happened and who was responsible for a problem, ask your child to describe it. Listen to him without criticizing or blaming. Then determine the extent of his responsibility for the problem.
Affirm feelings and thoughts (all ages). When your child is too emotional to think clearly, tell him the feelings and ideas evident from his actions. Be sympathetic to his feelings and ideas. Don't tell him what he thinks and feels is wrong.
Ask for help to understand (4-18 years). Ask your child to tell you what she thinks is the problem. Talking about the problem may help children think of solutions.
Redirect the child’s thinking (3-18 years). When your child is arguing with you, avoid disagreement by mentally sidestepping the main argument. Gently turn your child’s thinking to a more positive direction.
Help with frustrating tasks (all ages). When your child becomes frustrated to the point of losing control, help her just enough to solve the problem. Give some encouragement along with the help.
Contract (all ages). Let your child do what he wants to do only after finishing what he has to do. The fun activity is the motivator for doing something more difficult.
Compromise (4-18 years). Look for a chance to give your child a partial success when you have to say no to an overall request.
Show the child “how” (all ages). Sometimes children don’t understand what you want or know how to do what you expect. If necessary, show them how to do a chore.
Be consistent (all ages). Limits must be consistently applied and enforced. Children are more likely to respect limits when they realize their parents mean what they say. Consistent limits provide security and direction for children.
Tools to confront the situation
Offer substitutes (2-16 years). When your child is misbehaving with something, give him a similar, but more acceptable, replacement.
Remove the child from situations he or she cannot handle (2-16 years). Gently remove your child from a difficult situation where he is losing self-control.
Say “NO!” (all ages). When your child isn’t sure how serious you are about a rule, get her attention and give a calm but firm sign of your disapproval — sometimes called “the look.”
Ignore irrelevant behavior (all ages). Irrelevant behaviors are things your child does to keep you from enforcing a rule. The behavior is often irritating, but doesn’t actually break the rule. Ignore this behavior (unless it bothers or is harmful to others) while enforcing the rule. Paying attention to irrelevant behavior increases the chance of that behavior happening again.
Physically restrain the child (2-16 years). If your child is in an out-of-control rage, gently but firmly hold her to prevent her harming herself or others. Speak in a reassuring, calm voice. Release your child as soon as the aggressive behavior stops. If you have to use this tool more than rarely with any age child, professional help is needed.
Have the child repeat the action (4-18 years). If your child is careless or not concerned about how he performs your responsible request, have him repeat the action correctly.
Give permission (all ages). When you are not successful at stopping a minor form of misbehavior, ask yourself if you’re expecting too much. You may decide to back off before you make the problem worse.
Tools to care for yourself
Tap into your parenting resources. Imagine the problem situation and how you feel. Identify three feelings, thoughts, or experiences you want to have when the difficulty occurs. For example, you might want to be relaxed, patient, and courageous. When you experience the problem, re-experience the feelings and ideas you have associated with it.
Relax. When you feel overwhelmed by stress, take a moment to release physical tension. Take a deep breath and sigh, smile to yourself, and release your muscle tension as you breathe out.
Take a break. Leave the situation to give yourself a break. Go to the bedroom for a few moments, or take a short walk. Ask a friend to watch your child, if needed.
Seek professional help. When you can’t solve a serious problem on your own, ask for professional assistance. A pediatrician, school counselor, teacher, member of the clergy, or therapist may provide the insight and support you need to deal with a problem. Seeking professional help shows hope, not helplessness.
Put the situation in perspective. It is important for parents to understand why children misbehave. Parents can respond more effectively when they are aware of children's motives and goals.
eXtension.(2019). Basic tips child care providers can use to guide children's behavior.
Galuski, T. (2015). Positive guidance through the ages. NAEYC for Families website.
Smith, C. A. (n.d.). Effective discipline. Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service.
Steinberg, L. (2004). The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.
University of Minnesota Extension. (1997). Positive parenting II: A video-based parent education curriculum. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension. This product is no longer available.