Q: My 3-year-old is the exact opposite of his older sister. I thought I had a system for discipline based on reinforcing positive behaviors, but nothing is working. Can you recommend some discipline techniques?
A: Our children often have different temperaments and personalities, so we have to tweak our approaches. I recommend that you spend a few minutes thinking about your son and the times his behavior is not what you want it to be. It may be that his energy level and attention span are different than your daughter’s and some adjustments to your normal routine may reduce any unwanted behaviors. For example, he may need to be physically active in the morning and in the afternoon. I also encourage you to spend time reviewing the daily schedule. Is it too full without enough unstructured time for a 3-year- old or the opposite – too much free time?
In terms of other techniques, I definitely recommend keeping a positive approach. If reinforcing positive behaviors is not enough, try an immediate consequence when you see a negative behavior. At 3, a three minute time-out is appropriate followed up with a short conversation about why he was placed in time-out. Another technique may be a loss of a privilege for a short time. The key is consistency so that in the future, your son knows that you mean what you say. The more logical the consequence, the quicker your son will learn appropriate behaviors and improve his self-control. A sticker chart with simple rewards may also help improve his behavior.
And along with the new techniques, keep up all of the positive reinforcement. Praise good behavior when you see it, provide lots of positive attention and affection and use humor and love to make every day more positive than negative.
Q: Our family is looking at some big changes. My husband has taken a pay cut and I’m going back to college. We simply won’t be able to do things like eat out or buy unnecessary clothing. Should we discuss this with our kids? They’re 8, 11, and 15.
A: I absolutely think you should talk to your children – the sooner the better! Children are attuned to their family’s dynamics. If there are going to be some changes in typical functioning, your children will know it. They will be left wondering why the changes are happening, and the answers they piece together may be far scarier than the truth.
Your children are of an age where they can learn money management skills from this change. I recommend calling a family meeting immediately and being as honest as you can. It is very important that you and your husband are on the same page and delivering the same message. Mixed messages are confusing and scary to children. Have your meeting and frame the conversation as positively as you can. Be honest and listen to any concerns they may have. Check in with them frequently (individually and as a family) to make sure they are adjusting well and ask them for suggestions as to what they want to do. Be creative and your family will thrive during this time of change.