4 Foundational Skills Parents Need for Successful Positive Discipline

We want to help children grow, learn necessary social and life skills, and become healthy members of society.

Parents and caregivers have a lot of work when it comes to raising happy and well-adjusted kids. We want to help children grow, learn necessary social and life skills, and become healthy members of society. To do this, one of our crucial jobs is to help shape kids’ behavior in proactive and positive ways. How do we do this? We use discipline.

Most people just think of punishment when they think of the word discipline, however, the act of discipline is to teach and help shape socially acceptable behaviors through both positive and negative actions. Positive Discipline is a child-rearing philosophy that focuses on creating a respectful and encouraging environment in which children grow into productive members of society. There are four fundamental elements that are critical for creating a successful environment for Positive Discipline.

1. Build a strong relationship with the child. We need to keep in mind that good discipline is based on trust and the quality of the relationship between the parent or caregiver and the child. Children often respond better to caregivers who they feel understand them. If a child does not feel that you are invested in their well-being, they are much less likely to respond cooperatively to your directions and questions. Most kids inherently want to do the right thing, and all kids are going to have bad days. If you can start with a mutual foundation of respect, and a genuine goal to understand what the child wants or needs, then problematic situations can often be diffused early.

Strong relationships build respect. Kids often look to their caregivers for cues of how to behave, so it is important to model the behavior you want to teach to the child. If you don’t want them to raise their voices, then you need to keep a calm, quiet voice even in stressful situations. If you want a child to sit at the table during meals and interact with each other instead of their electronics, you must also participate and set aside your electronics. Children are always paying attention and notice how you handle your feelings and social situations. It is important that you remain calm and respectful.

child doing artwork

2. Be prepared to actively listen to the child. When you can accurately identify how a child is feeling, the child feels heard and understood. This helps build a close relationship and it also helps the child build their self-understanding and self-regulation skills, a person or child’s ability to manage their emotions and behaviors. Critical to helping children feel understood and learn to self-regulate are parents are caregivers who can actively listen. Active listening involves focusing on the conversation and being receptive to what is being said.

Active or reflective listening skills help children become more self-aware of how they are feeling, how they react to different situations, and it also builds their feelings vocabulary. To use reflective listening, listen closely not to just the words the child is saying, but also the feeling being expressed verbally and non-verbally. Identify the emotions and feelings the child is expressing. Repeat or reflect those feelings back to the child using their own words or by paraphrasing. This communication skill helps you as a caregiver to better understand what is behind a child’s behavior and how better to intervene, if needed.

woman and child in desert

3. Be clear when talking to children. We cannot assume that kids know what we know or expect when it comes to behaving. Children are not mind-readers and often struggle to pick up cues around them for what is the right thing to do. It is our job to prepare them and teach them what is expected in different situations.

We need to be clear about expectations and desired behavior in advance, especially if it involves a new or potentially stressful situation. Talk to children about what they might see or hear and how you expect them to behave. Allow them to ask questions and give answers as best you can in response.

When giving directions, keep your words clear and simple. Young children cannot follow a long string of requests and so break things down into small steps and make sure they understood before moving on. Kids’ developing brains are easily distracted and they are often not skilled in tuning out multiple distractions. Help the child learn how to focus their attention. It can help to give the instruction, then ask simple and straightforward questions to make sure they understand.

woman doing art with child

4. Choose your words and strategies carefully. As part of our quest to encourage positive behavior, the words we use with our children matter. We tend to use the word ‘no’ quite a bit in attempting to shape behavior. It’s easy and clear. However, using alternative methods such as distraction or redirection techniques can sometimes be more effective than a simple ‘no’. We need to keep in mind a child’s developmental level when shaping our responses and our expectations for their behavior.

It can be helpful to show kids what is okay instead of an undesired behavior or response. Distraction and redirection are two examples of effective strategies as an alternative to just saying “no.” In distraction, a child’s’ attention is diverted to an unrelated item or task from the unwanted behavior. If two children are wanting the same toy, it may be useful to distract one child with a different toy, especially if they are too young to grasp the concept of taking turns. Another example of distraction may be useful when shopping with a younger child. If the child begins to get ‘antsy’ waiting in line at the grocery, the caregiver or parent could utilize storytelling or counting games to distract the child. In redirection, a child’s negative behavior or reaction is steered to more acceptable behavior. For example, if a child is throwing balls or toys at another child’s block tower, they could be encouraged to start throwing the ball into a basket instead.

The above four elements are key when setting up a strong foundation for successful positive discipline. There are additional techniques that can be a part of this process (natural or logical consequences, positive and negative reinforcements) but without the foundational elements above, successful discipline is likely to be challenging. It’s key that we develop and nurture a respectful and trusting relationship with the children in our care. This relationship must include clear communication with the child that involves clear and concise expectations as well as active listening. It’s important to choose your words and techniques carefully to best illustrate the types of behaviors that are desired.

Discipline can be a sensitive topic. It needs to be consistent and age-appropriate – no matter who is caring for the child. If you are childcare provider that is not the parent, it’s very important to have an open and ongoing dialogue with parents about their philosophy on discipline so that you can work together as a team to help set the children in your care up for the best success possible for a positive future.

Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval

To learn more, a Positive Discipline course is available with enrollment in the Basic Childcare program.

About the Author: Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval is a faculty member of Amslee Institute. She is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Durham, NC and has spent over 15 years helping to strengthen children and families.

4 Learning Environments for Children

For children in the early years (ages 1-5), the learning environment plays a critical role in brain development and productivity in later years.

The learning environment is an area that a child lives or plays. Positive learning environments in a home, daycare, or school foster emotional, physical, and academic development as everything from wall color to seating arrangements can affect the way a student learns. For children in the early years (ages 1-5), the learning environment plays a critical role in brain development and productivity in later years.

Children learn best when immersed in an environment that engages the child. There are four primary types of learning environments which include integrated, auditory, visual, and social and emotional. Creating a space that integrates these 4 components provides an environment that is respectful and considers a child’s development regarding their social and emotional well-being, their ability to understand and apply verbal direction and appeals to their sense of curiosity while being developmentally appropriate.

1. Integrated. An integrated environment helps children make connections between their experiences and the world around them by providing young children with activities that foster the development of one or more domains at a time. In this way, new concepts are not taught nor experienced in isolation. A child might engage in learning a specific mathematical concept while also engaging and activating their expressive language skills, hand-eye coordination and social-emotional development.

children playing in sand

An example of an integrated activity across multiple domains is a group of children playing at the sand table with different sizes of buckets and shovels. The goal in this activity is to have the children fill the different sizes of buckets full of sand and discuss which bucket might hold the most sand and which bucket might hold the least amount of sand. While they are engaging in bucket selection, shoveling, and sorting, the children are also learning about volume and weight. This is an example of an activity that has integrated more than one concept or developmental domain in a single activity.

In a home setting, it is important to define separate learning spaces so that quiet activities such as reading, writing and drawing are separate from areas where louder activities occur. It is easy to define smaller learning spaces within a larger space using signs indicating what the space will be used for, such as a bean bag chair in a corner with a sign that says, “reading nook”. It is important to provide visual representations of the learning space and the activities that might take place so that children can begin to make the appropriate connections. Once children become familiar with the defined spaces and their requirements it will become easier to develop the activities that will take place in them.

baby playing with instruments2. Auditory. Auditory learners are children who process information by listening. Thus, an auditory environment helps to strengthen young children’s verbal-linguistic and auditory processing skills. An auditory environment should be rich in dialogue with lots of discussion between caregivers and the child as well as child to child. Auditory learners enjoy listening to stories and engaging in social activities such as dramatic play and role-playing.

Auditory learners can listen and complete activities without visual representation and enjoy stories with repetitive lines. A childhood favorite is the story of The Gingerbread Man. The repetitive line in this story is “Run, Run As Fast As You Can, You Can’t Catch Me I’m The Gingerbread Man”. When reading repetitive lines aloud, children latch onto the pattern and often repeat it with you. These children enjoy listening and creating music as well as hearing stories read aloud and on tape.

visual schedule3. Visual. Visual learners process information using their sight. Providing children with visual representation helps their brain process and store new information. Visual aids also help them retain the information especially when the visuals are left up for the children to access when needed.

Young children should be immersed in a print-rich environment. Providing a picture along with a word helps build their visual memory. Labeling materials and items help children learn new words in print from and help them to understand where to put materials back when they have finished using them.

A visual environment might include pictures, labels (such as door, clock, or math center), and other visual aids such as charts, calendars, poems, alphabet charts, and number charts. Visual cues can also include a daily schedule and instructions with pictures such as how to wash hands properly, how to clean up, and how to put toys in proper places.

The visual environment is important to have in any learning space because children make the connections between printed words and language at a young age. Even before children can formally read, they begin to recognize that printed words have meaning. An example is when children recognize the sign M for McDonald’s or they see and understand the meaning of a stop sign.

baby playing with toy4. Social and Emotional. A responsive caregiver strives to meet the individual needs of all children entrusted in their care. Research shows that the relationship between the caregiver and the child can affect the way in which the child forms relationships later in life. Treating each child as an individual with individual needs is an example of being a responsive caregiver and the social-emotional environment is built upon this mentality. It is important to understand that no two children are alike so responding to their needs, needs to be individualized.

Social and emotional environments for children can vary. An important thing to remember when building the social and emotional learning environment is to always address a child at their eye level whether it be to talk with them directly or to redirect the type of behaviors you are witnessing. Young children do not understand sarcasm, so it is never a good idea to use it when talking with them.

To address negative behaviors, it is a best practice not to call attention to the negative behaviors or reprimand a child in front of everyone. Instead, use a gentle touch on the shoulder and redirect them by quietly stating what it is you want them to do. An example of this might be “Please show me you understand how to share your toys.” When the child complies with your request, give them a positive affirmation by saying, “that was a good choice – thank you”.

Children learn about the world around them in multiple ways. Creating a learning environment based on these 4 areas taps into the different learning styles and ways in which children process information.

To learn more, a Learning Environments course is available with enrollment in the Advanced Childcare program.

About the Author: Annemarie has a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College and a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Fitchburg State University. Annemarie is a published children’s picture book author of How the Finch Got Its Colors and a public-school teacher in Massachusetts. Annemarie is an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute and authored a Learning Environments course for Nannies and Sitters.

Childcare Tips with Dr. Lauren Formy-Duval, Psychologist and Adjunct Faculty Member

Dr. Formy-Duval has worked with children and families for over 15 years in schools, hospitals, community agencies, and is currently in private practice.

Dr. Formy-Duval has worked with children and families for over 15 years in schools, hospitals, community agencies, and is currently in private practice. As an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute, Dr. Formy-Duval is the faculty instructor for the Understanding Children, Positive Discipline, Stress Management, and Self-Regulation courses.

With years of experience in psychology helping children and families, what made you interested in teaching 4 classes at Amslee Institute?

Dr. Formy-Duval: I know how hard it can be to find good nannies as I myself have 2 children and work. I wanted my kids in my home with one person and it was hard to find the right person; we went through several people. I had a hard time finding quality people and when I heard about Amslee, I agreed with the goals of being able to help Nannies have the qualifications families want in order to watch their children. I thought these courses were a good match with my experience and training.

What things should families do with children during the summer when the kids are out of school?

Dr. Formy-Duval: A lot it depends on whether you are a parent who works and has a nanny or one who can stay home with their kids. It also depends on the age of the children. Changing the schedule can be stressful, but summer can be a really fun time to reconnect with your children in a way that is less structured. Children can struggle with the transition of not having the same packed schedule they have in school where they are told where to go and what to do. The free time of summer or summer camps can lead to boredom. The kids complain, and parents feel they need to entertain their kids. But, boredom is developmentally good. Give kids time to be bored and they will creatively fill the time. It may take a few days of enduring the complaining but send them off to play or give them options of what they can do.

What roles do social media, being on the phone, video games, and chat rooms have on their behaviors?

Dr. Formy-Duval: Electronics are embedded in our day to day life and we are welcoming technology in our homes in so many ways. It can be hard to understand how much exposure to technology is too much or if it’s bad. There is a wide spectrum since some families allow unlimited access while others have strict rules. It’s unrealistic to think our children won’t be exposed to and use technology. It can be great for entertaining and web-based education. I think the key is to figure our how social media and electronics can be used as a tool but don’t use it to replace healthy physical and educational activities. It’s a matter of moderation and for older kids, being on the phone is a great way to stay connected through text messaging. I do really caution parents about social media apps like SnapChat, Instagram, and Facebook. A lot of kids can’t manage the social nuances of these apps – that is, arguments and fights can be viewed by 300 people and blown out of proportion. As adults, we struggle with context and have a hard time with it too. I am really cautious with social media and believe they should be limited to older children. However, but messaging and face timing can be a lot of fun at younger ages too.

What are some ideas for parents to re-connect with their kids?

Dr. Formy-Duval: Most of our time with our kids is spent on instructional actions – telling them what to do like brush their teeth and get their shoes on. One of the best ways to reconnect with our kids is sitting down and asking them to tell us about something they are interested in. Now, this might mean that you have a 10-minute conversation about Minecraft or Pokémon or Daniel Tiger or something else you aren’t interested in, but it is worth it. Take the time to put your phone down, make eye contact, and listen to what they are saying. If parents pause and pay attention, it’s a great way to reconnect and only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day. Actively listening really goes a long way.

In our culture, parents and kids are stressed. What can we do to help?

Dr. Formy-Duval: We are a stress society and kids inherently feel the stress from their parents. We need to share stress management tools like helping kids take deep breathes, pausing, counting to 10, and being physically active (running, going up and down stairs, doing jumping jacks, or stomping feet). I really encourage parents to teach our children more ‘feeling’ language (“tell me how that made you feel” and “it sounds like that made you feel frustrated). When we feel stressed there is usually something around us that needs to change. We have to help kids understand what is going on inside of them, so they can use coping skills. We also need to make sure they have really good habits like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, having balanced meals, and getting enough physical activity to proactively manage stress.

If you can share one more thing, what would it be?

Dr. Formy-Duval: In this day and age of 24 hours news and information, I really want to caution parents and childcare providers to remember we have our phones on all the time and often televisions are on in the background. We should focus on allowing our kids to keep their innocence. Children don’t need to know about mass shootings and other adult events on the news. As parents, we are anxious in many ways about the state of the world and many parents are reacting by holding their kids close. Kids need to be allowed to play and to have some freedom. Research shows that our kids are safer today than ever before so let’s shield our young kids from traumatic events that they may not understand. Kids who fear danger at any moment may have anxiety and we want our children to preserve that innocence and enjoy childhood.

Thank you, Lauren, for this session as our first Facebook live video!

To learn more, an Understanding Children course is available with enrollment in the Basic Childcare program.

8 Role Model Behaviors for Nannies and Babysitters

Ensuring children are around positive role models and childcare providers will help them learn a vast array of social skills.

It’s so cute when a 3-year old boy wears a team jersey and cheers for his dad’s team. It’s adorable when a 4-year old girl wears mom’s shoes and carries her purse around the house. Imitating the behaviors of adults and other children is commonplace from infancy through adulthood. It’s amazing how much children learn from watching others. Ensuring children are around positive role models and childcare providers will help them learn a vast array of social skills.

As a nanny, you spend a lot of time with children. These children look to you and will learn from your words, actions, and behaviors. Here are 8 things to consider when you are working with children:

1. Lead by example.

When you are driving and another car cuts you off, it is often tempting to yell at the other driver. If there are children in the car with you, think about the message you are sending to them. You don’t really want them to think it’s okay to shout or say mean things to others. Instead, keep the words of annoyance and frustration in your head. Speak to the children and share that the person driving the other car made a bad choice or a mistake and that you are going to focus on making good choices. This teaches accountability and independent decision making.

2. Listen to children.

Children see the world in wonderful and surprising ways. Because of their curiosity, they often see things that adults overlook. It’s easy as an adult to ‘half-listen’ when a child is sharing something with you. Instead, focus on what the child is saying and ask questions to really understand what the child is thinking or trying to communicate. This teaches children that what they say is important to you. It also teaches them active listening and social skills. Adults can also benefit from this as they often see things from a different, and sometimes a more interesting perspective.

3. Use positive re-enforcement.

Caregivers can get into the habit of saying “No” a lot. Of course, in a situation where the child may get hurt – “No” is important and children must be kept safe. But if you find yourself saying “No” to everything – you may want to rethink your approach. If Johnny wants to go outside and it’s raining – instead of just saying “No’, you may want to say “Johnny, it’s raining so we can’t go outside right now. Would you rather play with your blocks or train set?” If you get down to Johnny’s level with open body language and a pleasant voice – Johnny will most likely choose one of the options and begin to play. If you encourage his selection and comment on how nicely he is playing, everyone has a better day!

child playing with blocks4. Creative and positive outlets.

Everyone has stress in their lives. Having a way to manage stress positively is important for childcare providers and children. When you are feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to show children how you handle it. Let them see you taking a few deep breaths or jogging in place. When you recognize stress in children, help them cope by doing deep breathing exercises with them, or playing soft music, or running with them to let off steam. Children who learn stress coping techniques will fare better at handling adult stresses later in life.

5. Be confident.

Children want to feel safe and secure and if they think an adult is scared or unsure, then they may feel insecure or anxious. In day to day interactions, using a strong voice and clear sentences conveys confidence. If you tend to talk out loud to yourself and you say, “I wonder if we have food for lunch”, it may make a younger child worry about their next meal even if the kitchen is fully stocked. Watch what you say and think about how a child might interpret it. If you are thinking about lunch, ask Sally if she wants a sandwich or chicken for lunch instead of wondering what is available. This provides Sally confidence there is food and empowers Sally in the decision-making process.

6. Be Respectful of others.

Being disrespectful is often easy to see in others but harder to see in ourselves. The grimace on our face when we disagree with someone on the news or the comment about the woman in line who is wearing too much perfume are both behaviors that will be mimicked by children. To teach positive behaviors, we need to exhibit them, so this means saying please, thank you, and excuse me to others. It also means paying attention to our body language. When our words differ from our actions, children get confused.

7. Positive relationships.

Children will learn how to build relationships with family, friends, and future romantic partners based on their relationships as children. If a family hugs and freely shares their feeling, then children will be comfortable with these behaviors. If friends are treated kindly and show understanding and forgiveness, then children will be better able to adopt these traits.

8. Be humble and kind.

Teaching children about charity and kindness can help them see past their daily needs and understand more about our world and the power of working together. Children watch our daily interactions with others and we need to make sure they learn humility and politeness. Holding the door for the next person to enter a building, giving up your seat on a bus or subway car, and smiling at people you meet are all ways to show a child how to be a better person.

While it is incredibility rewarding to work with children, it also has important responsibilities including role model behaviors. As young children learn by watching others, it’s important to demonstrate the behaviors you want children to mimic and learn. If you want children to be patient, then show them how to patiently wait for an appointment to help them learn this skill. From fist-pumping when our favorite football team scores a goal to calming an upset friend, children will mimic you. Take a few minutes to think about how you can use this to your (and their) advantage.

For more information about role model behaviors for childcare providers, a Professionalism course is available within the Basic Childcare Certification from Amslee Institute.

About the Author. Karli Ortmann is a professional nanny with over 8 years of experience and is currently earning a Master of Art in Counseling from Chicago Professional School of Psychology. Karli is also an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute, an organization dedicated to professional training and certification of elite Nannies, Au Pairs, Babysitters, and other childcare providers.