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Do you ever wonder why children do what they do and how you can help them learn from their behaviors. Why did Timmy bite Sasha, and why did Lori knock down Cory's block tower? Would you like to know how you can help children through these kinds of situations?

Discipline is about teaching, not about punishment.

First, it is important to understand the difference between punishment and discipline. By definition, punishment refers to a penalty inflicted for an offense to serve as retribution. Discipline however, is defined as training that develops a skill. WOW, did you know that you have that type of power? Discipline is about teaching, not about punishment.

No one ever says that parenting is easy. This is hard work, and together; using research based information we can help the next generation grow up into successful, compassionate adults by learning how to teach children positive social skills. One approach in helping children develop positive social and emotional skills in children ages birth – 5, is the Pyramid Model Approach, developed by the Center for Social Emotional Foundations For Early Learning (CSEFEL). The "Pyramid Model" is an evidence-based model for "supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children."

There are several ways you can support your child with their social emotional development. Parents should determine the meaning of the behavior, make expectations clear and develop a few simple household or classroom rules. These three steps will help you see how you can best support your child with learning the skills they need to succeed socially and emotionally in the future.

1. Determine the Meaning of the Behavior

Parents should take time to chart behaviors. For an example, let's focus on hitting. What time of the day does your child start hitting? Is it the same, or about the same time every day? What was happening right before they hit? Is it typically the same child or adult that they seek out? Once you have that information you can begin to focus on catching your child being good and reinforcing positive behavior. Building positive relationships is vital in supporting social and emotional development!

2. Make Your Expectations Clear

You appreciate knowing what the consequence is when you make a mistake, right? The same should go for your child. Being positive goes a long way. Think about telling your child what to do, not what not to do. For example: saying "Don't throw your shirt on the floor" is stated in a negative way. Instead try, "Put your shirt in the hamper". If you ask them to put their shirt in the hamper before it gets thrown on the floor you can then follow it up with praise when they do what you asked. "Thank you for putting your shirt in the hamper, that really helps me a lot!" If we can focus on the positive and catch children being good, we can make a difference - a positive difference.

3. Develop Household Rules

You should have only 3-5 rules. Rules should be kept positive and short, stating the behavior you want to see. When possible, it is good to write rules that can be applied to several situations. For example: 

  1. Clean up after yourself
  2. Use words to solve problems
  3. Use an inside voice

Notice that "Clean up after yourself" is a bit vague. This is a good rule because it fits many situations. Clean up after meals, clean up after you play at a friend's, clean up at school…for children to really begin to understand these rules you will need to practice them, especially in the beginning and then occasionally (when children are actively remembering and following home rules) so that they remember them.

With rules, should also come consequences. If a child spills their milk, rather than send them to their room or yell, instruct them to clean up their mess and help them if needed. If a child spits at you remind them they should use words to solve problems. Teach them where it is acceptable to spit – like the bathroom sink. Help them practice this skill by calmly walking them to the bathroom and practicing where to spit.

Often, we adults miss the "why" of what we saw happen. It is important to notice that children are doing the best they can in each situation and to remember that they still need adult guidance when it comes to problem solving. Adults need to remember that someday our children are going to be out in the big world, and we will not be there to protect them. Problem solve with your children, and help them realize that there are consequences to their actions and behaviors. Connect with your child, teach your child, love your child.

You can learn more about The Pyramid Model approach by visiting The Learning Child Website.

The Learning Child Team offers trainings across the state of Nebraska. If you are interested in parent education training, please leave a comment below.

Jaclynn Foged

The UNL Learning Child Team

Jaclynn, is an Extension Educator on The Learning Child Team. Jaci holds a B.S. Degree in Early Childhood Education/Child Development from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane College in Crete, Ne. Jaci provides training to childcare providers and families in the Southeast area of Nebraska. Jaci has over 15 years of experience working with children birth to 8 years of age, including 8 years of center based childcare director experience. ...

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