Some behaviors of our little ones can be very challenging and, unfortunately, it is natural that we, caregivers or parents, end up not handling the behavior in the best way, and many times, we miss the opportunity to teach and direct them correctly. We waste hours and hours saying.

“No, I already said no!”

“Did you hear me saying no?”

“I already told you that you can’t!”

“Do not do that again!”

Sounds familiar?

And you may yell, put them in a time out, punish, bargain a deal … you will invest all of your energy and patience in this ineffective method in which the more we keep saying these words, the less the children seem to hear. Or they may just obey out of fear of threats or your yelling words, stopping that behavior at that moment, just for that reason – fear. Is that really your end goal? For your child to be scared of you? Not to mention, when handling challenging behavior with threats, yelling, punishment, etc, you really miss out on the opportunity to teach the child the true meaning of respect.

The fact is that, in the child’s mind, when we are fighting, it automatically stops listening to us. It is not difficult to imagine why – just put yourself in her shoes. You will see that in a few seconds you will be thinking about something else. It is common for human beings to think about other things or to “freeze,” when they are commanded authoritatively. Not to mention that activating the child’s fight or flight response often, is known to negatively affect the child in the long term. But I know this is not any parents’ intent.

It is worth knowing that, your child, soon, will most likely be questioning themselves: if I cannot do this nor that, then WHAT can I do?

We are not in the habit of directing our little ones to what we allow them to do. As we focus our energy on what they can’t do, we are always in a state of struggle, power play, and constant conflict with our children. We need to understand that children want to explore the world in different ways! Everything is new and needs to be explored; this is part of their development.

Therefore, when they are not allowed to do something, they need to know what is allowed for them to continue discovering their world. Unfortunately, most of the time, we only reinforce what they can’t do. 

Have you ever stopped to think that most people are conditioned to say only what the little ones can’t do? I read a survey from UCLA once that found little kids hear the word “No,” on average, 400 times a day!!!! That is insane and incredibly sad! What if we tried the opposite? Telling them what they * can * do is also a way to discipline and set limits.

Many believe that if the sentence does not have the word “no”, it means that we are not establishing limits. But what would the result be if we remove no from our go-to words and tells the child what they are allowed to do? If that happens, we are actually directing them properly, informing the child about their territory, and guiding them to make better choices: “Your brother is using the yellow marker now. You can use another color, or, this yellow crayon while he finishes it. What do you prefer?” or, “Come with me! We can bounce the ball outside! Inside, we can only roll the smaller balls.”

This is one of the best ways to set boundaries with children. When there are no limits setting or guidance, you can’t blame children for having no clear direction and trying to do anything the way they think is OK. When we direct the behavior of our little ones through a positive attitude, we are establishing important limits in an affectionate, yet, firm way. An example: if we change “don’t hit the puppy” for “be gentle with puppy” while you demonstrate, what “being gentle” means, do you believe that we would be failing to teach the child? 

Obviously, it can still happen that even after that redirection, the child is rough with the puppy again. And it can continue to happen for a while, even after the child may have already learned the better thing to do. They can repeat the behavior because they are still in the process of learning and adapting to this new approach and skill. One way to help them, would be to ask about it, prompt them to remember what was taught, for example: “are you being gentle with the puppy? They love when we’re gentle with them.”

It is certain that in helping to redirect the child’s behavior we are connecting with them and getting used to dialogue instead of nagging or issuing commands. Consequently, it tends to be a little more work, especially, if this is not the way you have been doing things your whole life. It also takes a while for behaviors to change, so don’t expect a drastic improvement right away. It’s a process and incredibly worth it. Once the learning happens and the new behavior is conditioned, the difference really is great and, best of all, it can last a lifetime. If you’re looking for a quick fix for your child, I’m afraid those don’t quite align with positive discipline principles. Positive outcomes from your child will come when you are consistent in better guiding them on this journey. It is a mutual path!

The purpose of positive discipline is to seize on the opportunity to establish connection and guidance to desired behavior; it gives us a unique opportunity to teach our kids how to handle their behavior while also creating and strengthening emotional connections. 

By redirecting your child’s behavior in a positive way, we are helping the child to better solve their problems and, consequently, raising them to be adults who can think creatively instead when adversity appears. 

Parents need to direct their children to desired behavior from an early age in order to develop this life skill. We know that opportunities rise on a daily basis in the challenges we face bringing up children. Let us then practice the positive redirection of behaviors in a respectful and effective way so that we can help our little ones to develop these much-needed skills.