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Tool: Use time-outs and time-ins
Age: 2 to 4 years
How it works:
is one of the best-known discipline tactics, but it's also somewhat controversial. Some experts think time-outs don't work well, are overused, and feel too punitive — especially for young preschoolers. "When we say 'Go to your room,' we're teaching them we're in control, when we really want them to learn to control themselves," says expert Kathryn Kvols.
In fact, for some kids time-outs can be so upsetting that they trigger tantrums, something you want to prevent. To avoid this, treat time-outs as a brief cooling-off period for both of you. (One minute or less is probably long enough for a 2-year-old. Don't start using the one-minute-per-year guideline until your child's at least 3.)
Let your little one know that you need the time as much as he does by saying, "We're both really mad right now and we need to calm down." Designate an area of your house as a self-calming place for your child (preferably this won't be in your child's room, which should have only positive associations), and direct him to go there for a few minutes while you go to your own corner.
Another possibility: Take time-outs together by sitting down side by side. You can also balance the impact of time-outs by instituting "time-ins" — moments of big hugs, cuddles, and praise to celebrate occasions when your child behaves well.
Real-life application: You said no dessert tonight, triggering a tantrum, and now your child's screams for a cookie are only slightly louder than yours. Explain that it's not okay for either of you to scream at the other, so you both need to calm down. Lead her to her self-calming space (Kvols says the only thing that worked for her daughter was to go outside into the garden), and then sit down nearby yourself.
When a few minutes have passed and the anger has subsided, explain that it's not okay to throw a fit to get what she wants and that you're sorry she's disappointed. (Hint: On a future night when a treat is okay, give her one and praise the fact that she's stopped fussing to get dessert.)
Tool: Try reverse rewards
Age: 3 to 8 years
How it works: Take a page from teachers everywhere — kids respond much better to positive reinforcement than to reproach and punishment. And they also like structure and clear expectations. Ruth Peters, the clinical psychologist in Clearwater, Florida, advises parents to take advantage of these qualities by setting up a system of rewards. You can make this system even more effective by reversing the usual rules — instead of giving rewards for good behavior, take them away for bad behavior.
Real-life application: Put a few things your child loves — these could be a Hershey's kiss, a new colored pencil, and a card good for an extra bedtime story — in a jar or box as the day's rewards. Then draw three smiley faces on a piece of paper and tape it to the jar. If your child breaks a rule or otherwise misbehaves, you cross out a smiley face and one treat disappears from the jar. An hour or so before bedtime, you give your child everything that remains.