Louis and Shaney Goldenberg, with Zachary, three.
When Zachary doesn't get his way, he typically screams or cries. Shaney's solution is to give him a time-out. "But he just does the same thing ten minutes later," Louis says. Then again, Louis's tactic of ignoring Zachary while he's misbehaving hasn't reduced the outbursts either.
Punishing a small child for bad behavior doesn't teach him the proper way to act, says Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., author of Positive Discipline. In fact, it usually backfires, making a child feel rebellious -- or, worse, inadequate. Instead of giving time-outs or withholding attention, the Goldenbergs should try a hug. "Kids can't talk things out when they're upset," Dr. Nelsen says. "A hug isn't rewarding misbehavior -- it helps the child reach a better state of mind. Once you're both calm, you can help him figure out a better solution."
Three Weeks Later:
Zachary threw a fit when his dad wanted to stop for bagels on their way to a bowling alley. Louis was so annoyed that he drove straight home instead. When Shaney heard what had happened, she held Zachary and spoke gently with him about the incident. "Once he settled down, we were able to discuss what had gone wrong and what he could do differently the next time," she says.
Louis was impressed with how Zachary responded to Shaney, and he decided to try the settle-down-first-then-talk-it-out approach too. "Whenever Zachary got overexcited, I'd sit him on my lap, we'd have a chat, and after a while he'd be fine," he says. The real test came a week later, when Louis took Zachary to a Wiffle-ball batting cage and it was closed. Instead of throwing a tantrum, Zachary readily agreed to go home and play outside. "I never realized that taking a moment to calm down and then speaking kindly to my child when he's misbehaving would make such a difference," says Louis.
Daniel and Margarido Wainraich, with Hope, four, and Danielle, six.
Danielle and Hope never put their toys away. Consequently, the Wainraichs' house is always a mess. "I'm lenient," says Margarida, who picks up after them. Daniel is less forgiving. If the girls ignore his request to clean up, he bags up their toys and threatens to throw them away. "They're old enough to understand consequences," he says.
The girls should learn to pick up after themselves, says Susan Isaacs Kohl, a preschool director in Lafayette, California, and author of The Best Things Parents Do. The Wainraichs can encourage the process by offering an incentive to clean up, such as telling Danielle and Hope they can go to the playground once they're finished. "That's not bribing," Kohl says. Rather, it makes them understand that completing chores makes moving on to other fun activities possible. Eventually, picking up after playing will become a habit.
Kohl's other suggestions: The Wainraichs should set up storage bins so the girls know where each plaything belongs, and they should praise their daughters' progress regularly ("You're really getting good at making a neat pile"). And if the girls don't help out, Margarida and Daniel should calmly explain that they won't be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day.
Three Weeks Later:
"The first time I told Danielle she had to clean up, she thought I was joking," Margarida says. "But I kept saying, 'We're all doing this together,' without getting angry. Eventually, she helped, and Hope did too." Then Daniel tried the same tactic. "I kept it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom would look when we were done," he says. "It worked."
One day, when Danielle and Hope wouldn't cooperate, they didn't get to go to the park. They haven't refused to clean up again. "Now they put their things away before we even have to tell them," Margarida says. "It's great to see them so proud of themselves."