Good Cop, Bad Cop

In some households, one parent is the “nice” one while the other is the “disciplinarian.” Children, of course, tend to prefer the nicer parent. The other parent – the “bad” cop – is often resentful. This parent knows that children need boundaries, limits and guidance and wants to do the best for his or her child. He or she wants support from his or her spouse. When the other parent refuses to offer that support – or worse, supports the child instead of the spouse – the “bad cop” is often extremely resentful and upset. The upset only serves to reinforce how “bad” this adult is in the eyes of the both the spouse and the child. It is no fun being a bad cop!

If you are finding yourself in the position of being the “bad cop” in your parenting team, consider the following tips:

Follow the 80-20 Rule
Each parent needs to be both “nice” and also firm. Each needs to show love and offer appropriate guidance. In other words, each should follow the 80-20 Rule independently, being 80% good-feeling and 20% education-oriented (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for an in-depth explanation of the 80-20 Rule). Unfortunately, one parent cannot make the other follow this ideal ratio. Your spouse may refuse to engage in appropriate discipline and education. However, that needn’t be a problem for you. As long as you remain 80% good-feeling in your interactions with your child, your child will feel a strong and healthy bond with you. Your child will accept your guidance gracefully, because he or she will trust and love you. At the same time, your child will recognize that the lenient parent is a lenient parent – someone without much backbone. They will sense that parent’s weakness and, while maintaining affection, lose some respect.

Working Uphill
Often, lenient parents not only fail to apply rules and limitations, they also try to prevent the other parent from doing so. “Don’t worry that Mom said you had to be in bed by 9 – you’re out with me and we’ll get home whenever we get home” or “I know Daddy said you had to write out lines, but I’ll explain to him that you’re really sorry for what you did and you don’t need to write out anything.” In this case, it is very hard to institute rules, boundaries and consequences. However, don’t give up in despair. As long as you don’t exceed your 20% allowance for unpleasant-feeling communications (which includes, by the way, all instructions and corrections), you will still have tremendous influence over your child. If you give your youngster a punishment and the other parent tells the child he doesn’t have to cooperate with it, you can appeal to the child directly: “You and I both know that I warned you that you would have to go to bed early if you keep chasing your brother. Your father said you could stay up, but you know full well that you have to go to bed early. This isn’t between you and your father. It’s between you and me.” Then, if necessary, use the “jail” form of the 2X-Rule for effective discipline (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for complete information on how to carry out discipline using the 2X-Rule).

Be Aware of the Impact of Your Marriage
Children don’t want their parents to fight, losing feelings of security and respect when they do. Instead of fighting with your too-lenient spouse, aim to perfect your own discipline style, improve your 80-20 Ratio and become an overall excellent parent. At the same time, work on improving yourself as a spouse. This produces the best outcome for kids – far better than ensuring that each parent does the exact same style of parenting.

Why to and How to Stop Yelling

Parents love their kids. So why do they yell at them?

Here are just some of the reasons parents may yell at their children:

• Kids don’t listen when parents speak in a normal tone of voice but do listen when parents yell
• Parents were raised by  parents who yelled at them, so it just comes “naturally”
• Parents are tired & stressed
• Parents don’t realize how much damage is caused by yelling

What Damage is Caused by Yelling?
There are short-term and long-term negative consequences of frequently yelling at kids. Here are some short-term results:

• More misbehavior at home and/or at school
• More nervous habits (bedwetting, thumb-sucking, hair-pulling, etc.)
• More physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, flu’s & colds)
• More academic problems
• More social problems

Here are some long-term results in adults who were frequently yelled at as kids:

• More mental health problems
• More marriage and parenting problems
• More physical health problems
• More difficulties at work
• Sometimes more social issues or criminal issues

Kids who are yelled at frequently by their parents may not have a close relationship with their parents during the teen and/or adult years. Some people don’t ever talk to their parents again or have minimal contact as adults, cutting their parents off from their own children (yelling parents may lose the opportunity to have a close relationship with their own grandchildren).

How Can Parents Avoid Yelling at Their Kids?
Parents who yell must interrupt the neural pathway in their brain that draws a bridge between a provocative child and the parental urge to scream. Neural pathways are physical. When a child misbehaves or doesn’t listen, a pathway is triggered (within milliseconds) and a raised voice pops out of the parent’s mouth. In order to interrupt this pathway, a parent must add a new step. Let’s say the pathway looks like this:

Child provokes — parents yells.

The parent can add a step like this:

Child’s provokes —– parent yells — parent writes out two pages of lines “I always speak softly including those times when I feel very  frustrated.”

This new step of adding an annoying writing assignment actually causes the brain to drop the original pathway. The trick is to increase the negative consequence for each episode of yelling or for each week of yelling. That is, raise the assignment to 3 pages, then 4 pages, then 5 pages and keep going as necessary until all yelling has stopped. It will stop of course, because no one has time to write so many pages after each yelling episode!

Now that the parent is not yelling, he or she must have strategies with which to guide children and gain their cooperation. Not yelling is a good beginning but it is not parenting! A parent must be able to teach a child, correct a child, instruct a child and altogether raise a child! Children can not be raised on praise alone. It is, after all, necessary to assert healthy boundaries and to model the process of boundary assertion for children. However, creating healthy, respectful boundaries and limitations requires skill. Parents can learn this skill by taking parenting courses or by reading parenting books.

Five Parenting Skills That Prevent Parental Anger
The following five parenting skills can completely remove the need to resort to anger in parenting. Parents who use this approach find that their kids behave better. In addition, the techniques facilitate the development of a strong parent-child bond, high self-esteem and increased emotional well-being. Outlined very briefly below, they are explained in detail in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

1.The 80-20 Rule: 80% of parental communication feels good to the child. In this way, the child wants to please the parent. The child exhibits far fewer misbehavior.

2.Emotional Coaching: Parents consistently name a child’s feelings. This technique creates an intimate bond between parent and child, causing the child to have a better understanding of his own feelings and the feelings of others. The result is better mental health, better physical health, better academic performance and better behavior!

3.The CLeaR Method: A good-feeling form of discipline that capitalizes on a child’s positive tendencies. By shaping desirable behavior with pleasant forms of acknowledgment, the child goes from strength to strength. The child has very little need to seek negative attention or to enter power struggles with parents.

4.The 2X-Rule: a firm but respectful form of discipline in which a parent never asks a child to do anything more than two times. By refraining from repetitive requests, the parent saves him or herself from getting angry. The 2X-Rule utilizes mild negative consequences instead of parental rage in order to gain a child’s cooperation.

5.The Relationship Rule: This rule insists on consistently respectful communication in the home from both parents and children. It helps the entire family manage their angry feelings appropriately and keeps the family emotionally safe. The rule states: “I only give and accept respectful communication.”

Is it Really Possible to Raise Kids without Yelling at Them?
Absolutely! The first step is to take the idea that yelling is damaging very seriously. The more yelling occurs, the more damage occurs.

The next step is to punish oneself for yelling. This also must be taken seriously. It is not enough to remember the idea of punishment or to remind oneself that one shouldn’t yell. In order to disrupt the harmful neural pathway, it is essential that the body/brain experiences the punishment. If a parent is willing to punish him or herself, yelling WILL BE cured!

The final step is to have a new set of strategies in place. Parents must never be left helpless. Parents need skills that will create a solid bond with their children because the bond itself increases cooperation (in addition to creating a foundation for mental health and emotional well being!). Parents also need to know how to discipline effectively and respectfully.  The word “discipline” means teach. There are actually good-feeling forms of discipline as well as unpleasant feeling forms. The majority of discipline that occurs in the home should be good-feeling.

Yelling is not part of the discipline process. It is an emotional reaction on the part of a parent, indicating upset, lack of control and helpless rage. Parents are entitled to their feelings. However, feelings need attention and calming. They are not parenting tools. Parenting tools require some study and thought whereas the expression of negative emotion occurs impulsively, without thought. However, the time it takes to think and plan parenting interventions is well worth it. The positive results of this kind of thinking endure for a lifetime.

Name-Calling in the Family

When children feel upset, they may express their feelings in less than ideal ways. As adults, we can express our feelings maturely and without conflict (there are exceptions though!). However, as children are children, they can resort to insults and name-calling when they feel slighted, without any regard to the feelings of other people.

If name-calling is a problem in your family, consider the following tips:

What is Name-Calling?
Children often use words like “stupid,” “baby,” “idiot,” “moron,” and so on when addressing their siblings in anger. While parents do not generally “name-call” in the traditional way, the use of negative labels can have a similar effect. When a parent calls a child’s behavior “babyish,” “silly,” “mean,” “rude,” or “selfish,” he or she is in effect, also name-calling. Parents may not even realize that they are name-calling when they use these negative labels. They can innocently put these words into many simple, appropriate-sounding sentences – such as those below:

  • “You are being so rude.”
  • “What you are saying is rude.”
  • “Don’t be so rude.”
  • “That was so rude.”

Whatever grammatical structure is used, the negative label rude will be absorbed by the child. Parents cannot minimize the effects of a negative label by trying to hide it in various sentence structures. If the label is used anywhere in a sentence, it will be felt as an insult by the child. Of course the parent is simply trying to educate the child and not trying to insult him or her, but the child does not necessarily understand that.

Negative Effects of Name-Calling
Any negative label or insult has the potential to hurt a child’s feelings. Children who are frequently insulted by their siblings often remember the experience with pain even in adulthood. Children who have been insulted by their parents (i.e. being called “stupid,” “selfish,” “bad,” “good-for-nothing” etc.) also often retain the pain throughout adulthood.

However, remembered pain is not the worst consequence of name-calling. Far worse is the impact name-calling can have on personality development. Even fully grown adults who are subjected to regular insults (verbal abuse) are eventually affected by it: they come to feel less adequate, less competent and less lovable the more they experience being insulted. This effect is much much more powerful in childhood when a youngster’s sense of self is not yet fully formed. At this point, being called names can leave the child truly believing that he or she is damaged, worthless, useless, bad and defective, as well as unlovable. Once a child entertains such notions about him/herself, the child tends to act in ways that are consistent with that poor self-image. So a child who is regularly called a particular negative label, comes to believe that he IS that label. The label can be crippling, causing him to give up trying or project negative judgments onto others for the rest of his life (“I know no one really likes me”). Of course the negative labels used regularly by parents tend to be much more damaging than those used only by siblings, but the effects of sibling-abuse must not be underestimated.

Model Appropriate Behavior
Parents can help their kids learn to use positive words instead of negative labels. The first step is providing a model. This means that parents never call children names – they never use negative label or insulting language. Many people wonder how it is possible to correct a child without using a negative label. The secret is this: whenever you want to use a negative label to accurately describe a child’s behavior (i.e. “rude”), replace the label with the exact opposite word. For example, instead of saying to Junior, “You are being rude,” you can say, “You need to be polite when speaking to me.”  Always use the desired label instead of the offensive label. In this way, your children only hear your target words (your goals for them) throughout their 20 years growing up with you. This helps program their brains to remember your goals. Positive labels encourage positive growth whereas negative labels work the opposite way. If all your children hear is “stupid,” “lazy,” “selfish,” “wild” and so on, they will associate those words with their identity and all they are capable of being.

A few more examples of label switching are below:

  • messy becomes clean and tidy
  • disorganized becomes organized
  • selfish becomes generous
  • careless becomes careful

Your sentence then changes from, “You’re acting like a baby” to “I know that you know how to be mature. Please act that way now.”  Similarly, you can change “You’re being nasty to your brother,” to “Please be kind to your brother.”

Direct Teaching Techniques
Now that you have provided the model (and by the way, this also means that you don’t call your spouse or other people names), you are ready to teach your children. The following process can be used:

  1. Explain to your children that name-calling hurts and is harmful. Tell them that they must express their annoyance, frustration or upset simply by naming their feelings without adding insults. For example, it is fine to say to a sibling, “I disagree,” or “I don’t like what you did,” or “I don’t like your idea,” “Stop doing that” and so on.
  2. Make a clear consequence for name-calling. Whenever someone insults another person, they will have receive a previously established consequence of your choice. Tell the child what consequence he will receive for name-calling in the future and then give him that consequence after subsequent name-calling. For a complete list of appropriate negative consequences and the exact way in which they should be applied for name-calling, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.
  3. Apply the selected consequence EVERY TIME you hear name-calling.  If improvement doesn’t happen over a few weeks, select a different consequence and try again.

Ridding your house of name-calling is a service to your family and even to your grandchildren, as the inter-generational chain of verbal abuse stops with your new programme. Good luck!

Conflict and Competition Between Siblings

Siblings fight. They compete, they argue and they love each other too. In fact, siblings often have complicated relationships. Unfortunately, parents cannot control how siblings will feel about each other, much as they wish that they could. Just like kids hate to see their parents fighting, parents hate to see their kids fighting; everyone’s ideal is a home filled with harmony and love. Although it’s not practical to expect perfection, parents can certainly do their best to help foster a civil, respectful and even caring relationship between siblings.

To help minimize conflict and encourage a cooperative and pleasant family atmosphere, consider the following tips:

It’s Normal for Kids to Fight
Kids are not born mature. They are likely to fight over toys, clothing and other belongings, as well as property and space. Fighting involves yelling, name-calling, pushing, grabbing and other aggressive or unpleasant communication strategies. It’s up to parents to gradually teach kids to express themselves in more civilized and polite ways: speak in a normal tone of voice, use normal language, ask for what you want, negotiate respectfully. Expect kids to fight and expect to have to TEACH them how to resolve conflict respectfully.

Teach in a Teaching Moment
Provide education only when everyone is calm. Have a curriculum and present it in “teaching moments” – times when you and the kids are not upset or roused up. When the kids are fighting, your first goal is to end the fight. Break them up, send them to different rooms, ask them to calm down. When they’re feeling a bit better, help them resolve the particular issue they’ve been fighting about. Later that day or even the next day, sit them down to teach them how to resolve conflict. Choose a time when everyone is alert but calm – right after a meal for example.

Give Them a Strategy
Lay down the rules: no name-calling, no violence, no rough stuff. Yes normal tone of voice, yes listening to each other, yes asking for what you want.

Offer a strategy for stopping a fight in mid-air. For instance, if one child is yelling or name-calling, show how the other one can help turn the volume back down to normal by speaking calmly and slowly in response instead of responding in the same hostile and emotionally volatile way. Show that them that each child has the power to determine the “flavor” of the communication – each one has the power to set the tone.

When they’re calm enough, they can begin the problem-solving process. Teach the kids to take turns listening to each other’s point of view. Teach them to negotiate – work out a deal that brings some benefit to each of them (i.e yes you can use the computer now if you give me 15 extra minutes later tonight). You might look at some negotiating books yourself in order to get some good ideas for the kids. If they’re old enough, ask them to read up on negotiating skills and then discuss what they’re learning at the dinner table each night for a couple of weeks. It can be a fun discussion for everyone. You can also look at marriage books to get ideas, since you are likely to find rules for fair fighting and constructive negotiating in those books as well.

Be sure to let them know that if they get stuck in their problem-solving attempts, they can call parents for assistance.

Encourage and Carry Through
After teaching children how to negotiate and cooperate, you can reinforce positive sibling behaviors using the CLeaR Method (for details, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The letters C, L, and R stand for comment, label and reward. When you see the kids getting along, working out details, sharing nicely and engaging in other desirable sibling behaviors, make sure to comment on this. “You guys figured that out really nicely,” “I like the way you two are playing together,” “You spoke in a very respectful way – good for you!” Tell them what KIND of behavior they did, using a label: “That was very cooperative/respectful/patient” and so on. Once in awhile, actually reward the behavior: “I think you both deserve an extra story at bedtime for that.”

Use positive attention only for the first while after you’ve taught the kids how to get along. However, if fighting is still going on after some time, use discipline as well, in the form of the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice). Tell the kids that name-calling, hitting, yelling and other unacceptable behaviors will be penalized with a negative consequence each time they occur. You don’t care WHY they occurred – you’ll look into that AFTER the consequence is finished. Your rule will be “there is no excuse or justifiable reason for abusive behavior in this house.” After the consequence has been given, you can certainly sit down with the kids to see what went wrong with their negotiations and try to improve your protocols so that the problem can be avoided in the future. For instance, maybe you forgot to include instructions as to what to do when a sibling starts getting physical. Add in the new considerations (i.e. call Mommy or Daddy/leave the room quickly/call for help).

Be a Role Model
Show them how mature people resolve disputes! Don’t let your kids see, hear or discover that you and your spouse are fighting destructively. They are likely to copy your style. Instead, disagree respectfully and negotiate fairly. Show your kids what you want them to do in similar situations.

Celebrate Each Child
When each child in the family feels seen, loved and appreciated, there tends to be a little less sibling conflict. Highlight the special qualities of each child out loud, helping the whole family to recognize the special strengths of each member. Try calling the kids by the family last name to reinforce positive group identity (i.e. “Calling all little Goldhars for dinner!”).

Teach Your Kids to Support Each Other
When a child has succeeded in some undertaking, encourage the whole family to celebrate (“Let’s all take Ginger out for dinner for getting that great mark on her difficult science test!”). When every child benefits from the other child’s success, competition is reduced. Instead each one is genuinely happy for the accomplishments of the other. “How about making a card for your brother to tell him how proud you are of his winning team!”

In addition, when a child is in need of support, encourage the others to give it. “Cindy isn’t feeling well. Would you like to make her some cookies to cheer her up?” “Brian is feeling sad after losing the game; would you like to cheer him up with a game of chess?”

Although it’s not fully within the control of parents to determine how siblings get along, parents can encourage, teach and facilitate skills for healthy sibling relationships.

Dealing with Jealous Feelings

There are always people who have more than us – just like there are always those who have less. Unfortunately, instead of feeling grateful for having more than others do, it is all too easy for children, teens and even adults to feel jealous of those who have more. Jealous feelings are not only unpleasant to experience, but also potentially destructive; the emotion can transform otherwise well-behaved youngsters into “green-eyed monsters” who behave very badly. “Why does HE have more! It isn’t fair!” can be followed by grabbing whatever it is out of the child’s hand. Older kids may react by snubbing or mocking others – or worse. It’s important then that parents teach their children how to manage jealousy and envy from an early age.

If your child experiences jealousy feelings, consider the following tips:

Be “Fair” not “Equal”
In your home, make it a priority to meet the individual needs of family members. If one child needs new shoes, he or she gets them – but there is no need to get shoes for another child in the family who does not currently need them. Getting both children shoes would be trying to make things “equal” whereas getting each child shoes when they’re needed is “fair.” When the child asks “Why does SHE get new shoes and I don’t?” you can answer “because SHE needs shoes now and you don’t.  When YOU need shoes, you’ll be getting them – I promise!” In other words, everyone will get what they need at the right time.

When serving dessert, refrain from taking out the ruler to make sure everyone gets the exact same size piece of cake. “He has a bigger piece!” can be answered with “It all works out in the end – sometimes his piece is a bit bigger and sometimes yours is the bigger one.” Your relaxed attitude and your refusal to try to make things equal can help a child learn that equality is not really necessary.

Easy & Difficult Children
Most parents do not have difficulty treating their kids approximately the same – giving each approximately (not exactly!) the same kind of wardrobe, the same types of privileges and so on. Where parents might experience a greater challenge would be in the way they treat favored and not-favored children. For instance, it is just easier to smile at, joke around with and complement easy-going, cooperative children. More challenging children tend to earn themselves more criticism, complaint and negativity. Treating the “easy” child and the “difficult” child the same is quite a challenge – but try to do it anyway. Children are VERY sensitive. The difficult child doesn’t want to be difficult (no matter what it looks like to you); he or she is suffering from some internal challenge. The child can easily see that you like a sibling more and the subsequent jealousy and hurt can be very destructive. It’s O.K. to ACT more loving than you feel; care less about the risk of possible deception and more about the devastating effects of parental rejection. And, of course, it is essential to avoid making comparisons between the children. Each one needs to be celebrated according to his or her OWN milestones and accomplishments.

Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem
As much as you can, emphasize, acknowledge and celebrate each of your children’s strengths — let them know that they are people of worth and value. Show them everyday how much they matter to you. Furthermore, communicate that everyone is unique, with their own gifts and charisms. A sibling may be a better singer, but it doesn’t mean that one is inferior or lacking. Perhaps one’s talent lies elsewhere! Having cute nicknames that highlight each child’s strength and unique identity can help – only if the child identifies positively with his or her nickname. For instance, in one family, we might have “Canary Carol” or sings so beautifully and “Hammer Henry” who is a very competent young handyman. Avoid potentially insulting labels like “Brainy Ben” – the brains in the family and his less bright sister “Beautiful Betty” – it is much more important to highlight Betty’s strongpoints in skill, talent and personality than just her exterior looks. Everyone has some speciality – finding one of your child’s many strong points highlights this fact and reduces insecurity and jealousy.

Most importantly, encourage your child to celebrate the sibling’s successes and strengths. Help your kids to feel the joy of pride in a sibling’s accomplishment – whether it is the building of a tall block tower or winning on the debating team. Encourage a family feeling of group identification: “You little Rosses are all adorable!” (or brilliant, super, thoughtful, etc.). Also encourage each child to bring gifts for the others in the family – “Did you get candy when you went to see Grandma today? Why don’t you offer some to your brother?” Follow up with the CLeaR Method (comment, label reward – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details). “You shared so nicely. That was so generous of you! I think you both deserve to go to the park with Mommy this afternoon.”

Name and Accept Feelings
When your child expresses a jealous feeling, refrain from reprimanding him. A feeling is just a feeling – just name it:  “Yes, I understand that you’d like new shoes now too. It’s hard to wait. It doesn’t seem fair.”  Without using the word “but” make a new sentence to continue your thoughts: “You’ll be getting new shoes when you need them. Remember how you got shoes in the summer but no one else in the family did? That’s because YOU needed them and they didn’t. Everyone gets shoes when they need them.”

Discipline Misbehavior
While feelings are all acceptable, behaviors may not be. If your jealous child lashes out at you or a sibling, the misbehavior needs correction. “I understand that you wanted his toy. You cannot grab it from him – you need to wait your turn. From now on, when you grab things away from him, you won’t get your turn at all that day.” (See the 2X-Rule of discipline in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.)

Consider Bach Flower Therapy
The Bach Flower Remedy called “Holly” can help ease jealous and angry feelings. This harmless, water-based remedy can help “turn off” the tendency to fall into jealousy (learn more about Bach Flowers in “Bach Flower Remedies” on this site).

Consider Professional Help
If your child is really suffering jealous feelings and your interventions are not helping, do consult a mental health professional for further guidance.

Anger and Conflict During Discipline

Discipline is hard for parents and kids alike. Tempers can flare on both sides. Angry kids are challenging to deal with, but angry parents can actually cause trauma in their children. Indeed, much accidental psychological damage is done during disciplinary episodes. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look at what causes anger during discipline and see what we can do to prevent it.

Discipline is Education
Offering children guidance and a good parental model is very important. For instance, telling children that they need to refrain from talking with their mouth full of food and also showing them through the parental model that this is how people conduct themselves is the best way to begin to the education process. However, this “one-two punch” is not always completely sufficient to get the point across. For instance, you may be a very responsible person who always comes home on time or at least calls to say when you’ll be late. The fact that you behave this way AND that you’ve explained to your 16 year old daughter how important it is to conduct oneself this way, does not guarantee that your daughter will conduct herself that way. You may have to do more to get the lesson across in a way that affects her behavior. Sometimes “more” involves giving positive attention or even positive rewards for appropriate behavior in order to reinforce that behavior. However, sometimes “more” involves giving negative consequences in order to discourage unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. Negative consequences are TOOLS in a system of discipline.

Discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is a form of education. As such, it has nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. A parent has about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. It is fine to wait hours, days, or sometimes even longer (the older the child the longer it’s possible to wait).

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. Angry feels can seriously interfere with the thinking process.  In anger, the parent might choose a negative consequence that is too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent is likely to communicate in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Arguments and Conflict
A cycle occurs: the child’s upset triggers parental upset that triggers more upset in the child and so on. As the child gets more and more out of control, he is likely to show less and less respect to the parent. The child’s rudeness causes the parent to become more and more offended, insulted, enraged and punitive, which causes the child to feel more offended, insulted, enraged and vengeful.

The one to break the cycle of anger and conflict during discipline is the PARENT. No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see the full explanation of the 2X Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule (also described in full in Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice).

When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching children how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset. The consistent parental model is very, very important in making the lessons stick!

Professional Resources
If children or parents get so out of control during episodes of discipline that they have trouble calming themselves down, professional help can be enlisted to help restore a sense of control and inner discipline. Mental health professionals can offer strategies and interventions that can directly target upset and angry feelings, helping parent and/or child to feel calmer and happier in general, as well as during moments of discipline!

Child Gets Angry During Discipline

Parenting experts agree that the goal of discipline is not reprimand or punish, but to help children learn what is expected of them with regards to healthy, safe, and socially and morally appropriate behavior. This is the reason why anger really has no place in discipline; anger has nothing to do with teaching. But what if it’s your child who can’t control his or her anger during moments of discipline? Even a calm and patient parent will often be challenged by a child seething with rage.

If your child tends to get very angry when you discipline him or her, consider the following tips:

Call For a Time-Out
There is no law that discipline must happen in the moment of misbehavior – in fact, when a child is too upset to be receptive, discipline can be counterproductive – not only useless, but possibly even destructive. It is essential that neither parent nor child be upset at the time of discipline. Instead, let the discipline wait until an appropriate “teaching moment” – a time when everyone is calm. It doesn’t matter if this teaching moment occurs minutes or hours or even days after the original misconduct. Your goal is to be effective, not prompt.

If you sense that your child is too angry to listen to anything that you have to say, or too emotional to process his or her own behavior, you can call for a time out. “I can see that you are very upset right now. Why don’t we take a break to calm down? We can talk about this tomorrow.”  Waiting can be a wiser choice that forcing an issue right away. Who knows, your child’s perspective about an event can change with a good night’s rest! He might wake up in the morning seeing it YOUR way even before you approach him.

Practice De-Escalation Techniques
In some cases, you will be able to help your child de-escalate in the upset moment. There are many calming techniques that parents can use in situations when kids become very angry. One way is to use “emotional coaching” – name and accept the child’s anger, and open the floor for venting. Consider the following:

Child: You never let me have any fun! Other kids get to go to the playground today. You’re the only one who said no. You’re so mean!

Parent: I can see that you’re very angry about this. And I understand – it’s very upsetting if you think everyone is going to the park except you. You’re mad at Mommy.

Allowing kids to have their feelings is a good way to help them process and release anger before trying to talk about misbehavior. Another de-escalation technique is to speak slowly in a soft and gentle tone, helping to draw the child’s emotional wavelength to a quieter, calmer place. A different kind of de-escalation technique altogether is to use the Bach Flower mixture called Rescue Remedy (you can find more information about Bach Flower Remedies and Rescue Remedy online and throughout this site). When a child is out-of-control with rage, spraying a bit of Rescue Remedy every couple of minutes on his arm or even right into his mouth can rapidly help restore him to calm. If you decide to use Rescue Remedy, only employ it if you have already explained its use to your child in a calm moment so that it won’t feel like some sort of “attack!”  If you want, you can also experiment with a technique that some parents have found helpful – use this one only if you and your child are used to joking around in better times – throw yourself down on the floor and do a good imitation of what the child is doing; many children will stop their tantrum and laugh at the antics of the parent.

Know Your Child’s Triggers
Sometimes a parent’s behavior actually TRIGGERS a child’s rage. It might be worthwhile to consider your own words and actions during moments of discipline. For instance, your own shouting might trigger a disrespectful comeback from the child. Perhaps your words are taunting or provocative. Perhaps you are steamrolling – frustrating and overwhelming your youngster with your verbiage. Maybe you are being stubborn, close-minded or unreasonable. Maybe your punishments are unfair or outrageous. Ask your spouse, other kids or a professional to help you figure this out.

Teach Your Child How to Express Upset Properly
Keep in mind that a child is entitled to feel unhappy during discipline. What’s important is that he or she knows how to express upset and anger appropriately – safely and respectfully. You can permit your child to express frustration and upset – just be sure to teach him or her how to do it. Teach your child what you expect of him or her, following the steps outlined in “The Relationship Rule” in the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

How to Discipline without Anger

Parents frequently feel angry at their kids – especially when those kids engage in behavior that is destructive, dangerous, mean, foolish, messy, illegal, immoral, thoughtless, selfish and otherwise… childish.  But given that unrestrained displays of anger can traumatize children, parents have to learn how to discipline without rage, upset or even irritation. While anger is an emotion, it is NOT a parenting tool. Discipline is a parenting tool and it has nothing to do with anger. In fact, discipline is related to the word “disciple” – student. When the parent offers discipline to the child, it is nothing more than a form of teaching. As such, it should have nothing to do with emotions like anger or behaviors like yelling. A good disciplinarian is simply a good teacher.

The following are some tips on how parents can keep the big A in check during discipline:

Don’t Discipline “In the Moment”
There is no reason to discipline the moment some inappropriate behavior occurs. Both you and your child must be in a calm frame of mind in order for discipline to be effective. Therefore, step back and allow YOURSELF to calm down (this also gives your child time to re-boot!). Start thinking about what the child did incorrectly and what you want him or her to do instead in the future. Do some research, if necessary” talk about your child’s behavior to your spouse, a friend or a professional counselor. Take the time to think things through and make a plan to prevent misbehavior in the future. Check out parenting resources on the internet and in books in order to see how others have dealt with similar situations. Taking the time to do your homework will pay off in the long term. Instead of quickly releasing destructive anger, you’ll be able to develop a constructive, effective intervention.

The Teaching Moment
Since discipline is nothing more than teaching, it is important to choose an appropriate time and place for any lesson that you wish to impart. This is called “the teaching moment.” A teaching moment is usually fairly private (never in front of guests). It is a moment in which the child is calm. It is also a moment in which the parent is calm. If these conditions are not met, the parent should wait before attempting to discipline. We have about 20 years to raise a child – there is no “emergency” (unless the child is standing in traffic). In general, wait until you are both calm and you have an appropriate location in which you can speak. If either of you is upset, just wait longer. Hours, days, or in very rare cases – even longer – are fine.

Most of what goes wrong during discipline happens because the parent did not choose a “teaching moment.” Instead, the parent felt upset and punished the child while still angry. This causes the parent to use emotion instead of appropriate negative consequences, to try to teach the lesson. Since the parent is upset, his or her ability to choose an appropriate negative consequence is severely compromised. In anger, the parent might choose something too harsh, too long or otherwise too unreasonable. Moreover, the chances of the parent being able to explain what he or she wants and doesn’t want from the child are fairly slim, due to the parent’s intense upset. Instead of communicating in such a way that the child would be able to hear or want to hear, the parent communicates in a way that infuriates the child or shuts him down. The parent may use escalatory language and say hurtful things. This, of course, makes the child very upset and he may then lash out in kind or more so. When the parent “loses it” the child is much more inclined to lose it as well. Now we have a shouting match instead of “discipline.”

Follow a Structure for Discipline
No matter how rude, wild or out-of-control the child is, the parent must stay calm, collected and adult throughout any communication. The parent can use the Two Times Rule – 2X Rule – to carry out discipline (see details in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). The parent says something once, says it again with a warning of a consequence, and then gives the consequence if necessary. The parent stays calm and quiet throughout. The consequence has been chosen earlier, when the parent was thinking about the child’s behavioral lapses. If the child argues, a similar structure of communication is used to stop it: the parent follows the “I-Do-Not-Argue-With-You” rule as described in the book.

Speak Softly and Slowly
A simple way to reduce anger during discipline is to force ourselves to speak in a low, quiet, even tone. Use non-inflammatory language: talk about the behavior but NOT about your child’s character traits! Refrain from using any negative label, even if the label fits perfectly (i.e. don’t call your child a “liar” even if he clearly is one!). Instead, just talk about the fact that he sometimes lies. If speaking in a normal tone of voice is too difficult at the moment, then it’s time to take a break. Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something hurtful.

Provide a Model of Self-Control
When children see that their parents can actually stay perfectly calm, respectful, caring and reasonable during moments of intense stress, they will use the model as one of the valuable tools they’ll have for learning how it is done. Moreover, parents can use discipline itself to help teach children that it is fine to feel anger, but it is not fine to just express it any old way, without regard to people’s feelings. The Relationship Rule is a step-by-step process for teaching kids how to express themselves politely, even when feeling upset (like in a moment of discipline!). The consistent parental model is very, very important in making lessons stick!

Take Specific Steps to Calm Yourself Down
If you notice that you are feeling very angry at any point in the discipline process, take specific steps to calm down your nervous system. For instance, take a break – tell the child that you are feeling too upset to continue and that you’re going to go calm yourself down. The child will have a chance to SEE how a person is supposed to manage angry feelings. Take some space. SIT DOWN and DRINK WATER SLOWLY. Or, like Grandma said, take 10 slow, deep breaths. This will help you turn off adrenaline. Learn EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique – a form of acupressure that can turn your anger off in a couple of minutes. Try Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower Remedy used to help turn off adrenaline, panic and rage – available online and at health food stores everywhere) – put a few drops in water or drop it straight on your pulse points.

Discipline YOURSELF for Losing Control
Wanting to not use anger is a good beginning, but not enough. Follow up your good intentions with actual negative consequences for “losing it.” For instance, if you express anger, send a certain amount of money to charity (make it large enough to discourage future blow-ups). Or, discipline yourself by having to write out an essay after an explosion, outlining the extremely destructive effects of parental rage. Or, make yourself do a large number of push-ups or other physically taxing exercise. Ask a family member to video you in the midst of your rage and then sit down and watch it over and over again – you’re not going to like what you see. If these measures don’t completely cure your tendency to express anger in the home after a three month period, get professional help. Your children deserve it. Plus, you’ll be happier as well!

Use Stress Management Tools Regularly
Parenting is hard and frustrating work. Most parents experience plenty of stress, anger and rage along the way. However, when parents have a good support system, a stress-reduction routine, a balanced lifestyle and a terrific sense of humor, they survive it all in good health. Do what you can to stress-proof your life. Be nice to yourself every single day. Try to get the right amount of sleep, exercise, quality nutrition, fun and other mood-boosters that can help you take parenting in stride. Consider giving yourself little breaks throughout the day.

Use Anger-Management Strategies
If you’re a person who is prone to anger, whether at home or at work, perhaps it’s best to look inwards first. Your children aren’t the cause of your anger; they simply trigger the anger that is always close to the surface. Use self-help and/or professional help to reduce your own build up of stress and anger. Techniques and interventions like psychotherapy, EFT (emotional freedom technique), Bach Flower Remedies, anger management courses, psychotropic (antidepressant) medication and bi-lateral stimulation tapes are all effective ways to help reduce chronic irritability, negativity and rage.

Arguments and Arguing

Everyone has an opinion: the toddler thinks she should stay up late while Mom thinks she should be in bed early. The 10 year-old thinks ketchup belongs on every food while the parents think not. One spouse thinks dishes can dry in the drainer while the other thinks they belong in the cupboard. Sometimes, we just don’t agree.

What happens when people disagree with each other? In some households, disagreements bring people to the verge of hysteria (and sometimes beyond). There can be shouting, pushing, throwing and other aggressive or even violent displays of opinion. In some homes, there is endless argument and debate, a verbal repartee that wears everyone down. In some homes, disagreements melt silently into the atmosphere; they are barely detectable, politely expressed as a difference of opinion. What’s it like in your home?

Arguments Hurt
Respectful disagreements are a necessary part of family life. However, arguments are not. Arguments cause stress, exhaustion and bad feelings. If they are frequent, they harm relationships. It is essential that people who live together learn to communicate without arguing. A peaceful home is not one in which everyone agrees about everything all the time; it is one in which people can make their point, be heard, be flexible, give-in, compromise, move-on and work together. It is one in which everyone’s needs are considered and respected.

Teaching Kids Not to Argue
Parents can help their children learn to handle differences peacefully. They do this in two ways – by modelling and teaching appropriate behavior.

Parents who argue with each other or with others teach their children to argue. These kids are likely to grow up to argue with their spouses and their own children. It will not be possible to teach your kids to handle conflict respectfully if you don’t do it yourself.

If you are providing a good model of respectful conflict resolution, you still have to TEACH the children how to handle their own negotiations in a respectful way. The combination of the parental model and parental instruction gives the child the best opportunity to acquire this skill. However, the child’s nature is also an important factor. Some people are born to argue! Their temperament is rigid and controlling. Other people are flexible and easy-going from birth. Whatever the inborn difference in their children, parents who provide the proper model and education are doing all that is in their power to help their kids enjoy peaceful and loving relationships. The desire to argue occurs frequently when a parent must deny a child or teen something that is requested. The answer “no” often leads directly to arguments. Let’s look at the “I Don’t Argue Rule” to see how parents can help children learn to accept this inevitable part of life without argument (you can learn about this rule in more detail in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.)

The “I Don’t Argue Rule”
The “I Don’t Argue Rule”  helps prevent escalation of conflict by ending combative conversations quickly. The entire conflict lasts only two rounds. For instance, a child wants to put ketchup on everything but the parent doesn’t want him to. The child enters “round 1” saying, “Can I put ketchup on my peas?” The parent enters “round 1” saying, “no” and offering one brief reason. For example, the parent might say, “No. It’s not healthy for you to put ketchup on all your food.” This reason is not meant to be a solid all-encompassing defense. The reason is a courtesy, to help the child understand that the parent is not simply a stubborn, mean dictator. When the parent usually answers “yes” the occasional, well-considered “no” must learn to be tolerated and respected by a child, not debated. (The child should have ample room to expand his mind in active debate at the dinner table over thought-provoking discussions about life, politics, religion and any other subject of interest: his creativity and intelligence will not be stifled by the “I Don’t Argue Rule”). In order to teach the “I Don’t Argue Rule,” parents must be reasonable people who are flexible and compassionate. They must be “yes” people, rather than “no” people. Unfortunately, “no” parents actually create the conditions under which children MUST argue in order to survive.

The child then starts “round 2” with a variation on the theme (i.e whining, repeating the request louder, giving logical arguments or whatever). For instance, the child says, “PLEASE!! I WANT KETCHUP! PLEASE?” The parent pauses to think carefully on “round 2” then either changes his or her mind OR repeats the original reply. If the parent repeats the original reply, he or she adds the words, “and that’s the end of the conversation.”  For instance, the parent now says, “I’ve thought about it and I don’t want you to have ketchup on your peas – and that’s the end of the conversation.”  The child does “round 3, 4, 5 etc.” alone, whining, begging, protesting, threatening or whatever without any response from the parent. In fact, the parent does not continue the discussion in any form, but rather gets involved in some other activity. When this approach is used consistently, children soon learn that they might as well stop talking after “round 2” because nothing they say will make a difference. They therefore stop arguing completely.

While using the “I Don’t Argue” Rule, parents ignore the unpleasant tactics of their kids. The rule is meant to teach children only one point: do not go on and on and on. Debate can be fun at the right time (i.e. on the debating team!) but is stressful when it occurs in the course of normal family communication. By teaching children this important point, parents give them a skill that will help them maintain pleasant relationships throughout their lives. When parents focus on giving and accepting only respectful communication, they help their children guard their tongues and their happiness. Differences of opinion exist; fighting and arguing doesn’t have to.

Help Your Child Manage Anger

Anger is one of the most destructive emotions; people who have difficulty managing their anger can end up hurting others and themselves. As adults, they can destroy their most important relationships – those with spouses and children. Parents can help their kids have lifelong satisfying relationships by helping them to find healthy ways to deal with anger. In addition, when parents provide their kids with anger management tools, parenting itself becomes easier and more pleasant. On the other hand, when free range is given to angry outbursts, temper tantrums and rage, family life becomes very stressful. Moreover, children who are allowed to vent their rage not only scare their siblings and their parents, but they also frighten themselves. Their out-of-control behavior leaves them feeling emotionally out of control as well. For all these reasons, parents will want to help their kids deal effectively with inevitable provocative and upsetting situations.

The following are some tips on how parents can help children manage their anger:

Anger is Not Always Loud
It’s important that parents know how to recognize anger. Some expressions of anger are obvious and easy to spot. For example, raising one’s voice, banging hands on a table, and kicking the trash can are external and explosive ways of dealing with anger. But there are also more hidden and subtle expressions of the emotion. Passive-aggressiveness, depression and sarcasm can be signs of anger that are more internalized. If parents know how their child expresses his or her anger, then they can shape their interventions appropriately.

Model How to Handle Anger Well
Parents are in the best position to teach kids about anger during discipline. When offering negative feedback, correction or any type of guidance to a child (including giving negative consequences for misbehavior), show that you have control of your anger — even if you are really upset. If children can see that there are assertive (polite yet firm) ways of expressing anger, they will use them themselves. When you find yourself getting angry at a child, model the entire process of calming yourself down. For instance, tell the child, “I am getting frustrated. I need to calm myself down before I say anything more about this. I’m going to the kitchen to get a big glass of water and I’m going to sit down and drink it slowly until I feel better. Then I’m going to start thinking about what I need to do to about your behavior so that this problem doesn’t happen again.”

Take Ownership
Never blame the child for your anger. This teaches the child to blame others (like his siblings, friends and you!). In other words, don’t say things like “You’re making me mad” or “If you do that again, I’m going to get mad.” Instead, just take ownership: “I’m starting to get mad.” Remember, you may be getting mad because you are sleep-deprived, stressed, and hungry. You might feel helpless with this child, not knowing how to gain his cooperation. None of these reasons has to do with the child. All kids misbehave. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn how to handle misbehavior without anger.

Don’t Accept Excuses
Similarly, don’t excuse your child’s angry behavior. Teach your youngster that “He broke my castle” is not a good reason for hurting a toddler. It’s an opportunity to use words “You’re not allowed to break my castle! I’m not playing with you now.” Even if the child is angry for really good reasons such as the fact that parents are going through a difficult divorce, or the child himself is challenged by illness or whatever – angry behavior cannot be excused or condoned. You understand, of course, that the child is very stressed. However, as a parent you want to teach the child that he still has control over his mouth and body. He can choose his behavior. Choosing to be hurtful or destructive is only one option. A stressed person can choose to remain sensitive to others even though he himself is suffering emotional pain. 

Don’t Accept Abusive Behavior
Anger is a feeling. Behaving hurtfully or destructively is a behavior that is abusive to others or to the environmnent. Slamming doors, yelling, swearing, throwing things, hanging up – all of these aggressive behaviors are abusive to those on the receiving end. Punching holes in walls, smashing furniture, and so on, are also acts of abuse in that they terrorize the household. Use negative consequences for abusive behavior: “You cannot say or do hurtful things like that every again. From now on, when you choose to yell, swear (etc), such & such consequence will occur.” (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a detailed approach to discipline).

Teach Your Child Safe Ways to Release Anger
Parents can help their children deal with anger by teaching them how to use their words effectively. The most powerful tool for this is the parental model. Saying to your child, “I am really upset about this” teaches the child to use those same words when she is feeling upset. In addition, actually teach the child to use such words. “It’s not O.K. to call someone names. Instead, just tell them how you feel. For instance, when you’re mad at me, don’t say ‘you’re the worst mother in the world’ but instead say ‘I’m really really upset about this.'” Equivalent phrases include “I’m not happy about this,” “I’m not happy with you right now,” “I’m really frustrated,” “I resent what you did,” “I’m extremely displeased,” “I am furious,” “I am angry.” Sometimes a child will be so angry that she’ll want to throw something or break something. Such behavior is destructive and cannot be permitted. However, you can teach your child to rip paper into shreds (an exercise that makes a good ‘ripping’ sound and uses a fair amount of physical energy), or let out a silent scream (just open her mouth and imagine screaming at the top of her lungs) or pull and twist a folded towel (which releases excess physical energy). Punching a pillow or punching bag is NOT recommended as this activity actually stimulates more anger rather than releases energy. Another good way to release fury is to sit down with pen and paper and write really fast, pouring out all the wrath in words onto the page. The page should be thrown out afterward. Younger children can be offered a big black ‘mad’ crayon to scribble pictures and feelings onto paper. Teenagers can be encouraged to release angry energy by engaging in intense physical activity like lifting weights, doing push-ups or riding the exercise bike.

Give Examples of Destructive Anger
Your child need not learn through the school of irreparable mistakes. They can learn through the mistakes of other people. When you hear stories in the news of people committing angry crimes, talk about it to your children. Let them know that anger is a dangerous emotion when it is not controlled and expressed in healthy ways. Show them that you value communication and the skill of calming down.

Consider Bach Flowers
Bach flower remedies may help your child feel less angry. The remedy Vine can help reduce an angry nature. The remedy Holly can help children who are easily offended or prone to jealousy. Impatiens can help those with a short fuse. (These remedies can help adults too!) For more information on the Bach Flower Remedies, look online, in books and throughout this site.

Point Out Positive Role Models
Similarly, when you see or learn about people who handled a difficult situation gracefully, be sure to talk about it with your kids. Emphasize that people always have control and can make the choice to maintain their dignity and the dignity of others even in very stressful situations.

Seek Professional Help
If you have tried all of these interventions and your child is still easily anger, aggressive, or verbally abusive, consider making an appointment with a child psychologist. A mental health professional can provide effective treatments to reduce anger.