Positive Guidance in Early Childhood

Keeping your cool is tough when your toddler is busy creating beautiful works of art upon the white hallway walls, but using positive guidance to structure your day will help you calmly correct inappropriate behavior and build a system that encourages appropriate behavior. Instead of sneaking markers into hallway art sessions, your toddler will learn that you give out your biggest smiles when that art is on a piece of paper and not on a wall. Additionally, children whose caregivers use positive guidance feel confident, secure and noticed, making them less likely to act out for attention-seeking purposes.

Create a Positive Environment

Set the tone of your day by creating a positive environment from the start and establishing a predictable routine. When your child wakes up, sing a fun good-morning song together. Smile and give your child a hug as you dress and get ready for the day. Then transition smoothly from one activity to another. After breakfast, ask your child, "Are you ready to get cleaned up so we can play together?" Even infants will begin to recognize your words and the routines that accompany them, so speak to him or sing a silly rhyme as you move to a new activity.

Understand Developmental Readiness

Guiding your child according to his developmental readiness is important. It does you no good to correct a toddler's inappropriate behavior with a time-out if he does not yet understand the concept of right and wrong. Be aware of your child's developmental needs. For example, infants are just learning about inappropriate and appropriate behaviors and do best with a firm, "No," and redirection. Toddlers are learning to express feelings of anger, sadness and happiness and experience frustration when they can't adequately do so. They are also developing a sense of independence and may try to test your established rules. Expecting your toddler to remember everything that is allowed or not allowed is not developmentally appropriate for his age. Preschoolers are learning self-control and often want to know why certain rules exist. No matter where your child is developmentally, by tuning in to his needs, you can adjust your guidance appropriately in order for a more effective positive guidance strategy.

Discipline and Reinforcement

Positive guidance focuses more on fostering appropriate behaviors rather than on only punishing inappropriate behaviors. It must remain consistent to avoid confusing your child. You should model appropriate behaviors, such as using manners, to encourage your child to imitate them. Furthermore, you should avoid using harsh words or actions. Reinforce positive behaviors by praising your child any time she does something appropriate. When she says "please" or "thank you," say, "Great job using your manners!" If your child puts her sippy cup on her tray rather than throwing it to the floor at meal times, clap and say, "Yay! Good job for putting your cup there." Discipline for inappropriate behaviors should always be gentle, fair and developmentally appropriate. For an infant, you might firmly say, "No, ma'am," and then redirect her attention to an appropriate activity. This method of diversion works with both younger and older children. Toddlers, who often test the rules, need frequent reminders. If you notice that your toddler is about to draw on the wall, say, "Crayons are for drawing on paper. Would you like a piece of paper to draw on instead?" If your toddler still draws on the wall, a time-out with a simple, gentle explanation is a developmentally appropriate punishment. Preschoolers will often test rules when they do not understand the reasons behind them. Give your preschooler frequent reminders, a warning and an explanation for the rules.

Common Challenges

Aggression is a common challenge for parents, and your child may become especially aggressive during his toddlers years. Be sure that you're not modeling inappropriate aggressive behaviors with your tone or actions, as verbal aggression from you can often result in physical aggression from your child. When your child becomes aggressive, immediately remove him from the situation. Talk to your toddler about the incident. Ask, "What is making you angry?" or "Are you feeling mad?" Give your child words to express his emotions and then provide appropriate outlets for his feelings such as en energetic activity like jumping. Help your child learn a better way to express his anger such as using his words to say, "I don't like that!" Another common challenge you may face is biting. Children who bite are often acting out of teething pain, lack of impulse control or frustration. Closely monitor your child and offer substitutions like a teething ring when he begins to bite. Firmly say, "No. That hurts me," and offer the substitute. Say, "Bite this instead." When your child bites the substitute, reward him with positive reinforcement and praise.

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