Positive Guidance: A Well-Stocked Toolbox

Imagine we’re all going into business together.  You, me, and those other cyberfriends out there.  We’re starting a fix-it shop and we’re about to open our doors.  We will handle all kinds of problems: broken windows, leaky pipes, squeaky doors….You name it, we can fix it!  We’re about to start fielding phone calls from frantic home owners with all kinds of  problems, and we need to make sure everyone has their tools ready.  So we all check out our toolboxes.  In each toolbox is one, solitary hammer.  It’s shiny and new, and handy in many different situations, but is it really enough to get us through every situation?

My husband is a pretty handy guy to have around.  He has a toolbox that is so heavy, just hefting it from it’s spot on the shelf to the worksite could lead to a series of chiropractic appointments.  He has hammers to be sure: sledge hammers, small hammers, rubber mallets.  But he also has pliers and drills and 42 thousand different types of screwdrivers.  He has a zip saw and  a chalk line and even a tool designed for shoeing horses.  And we don’t own any horses.

The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t approach every job with the same tool.  Just as you can’t use a hammer for every household problem, you can’t approach every behavior challenge with the same technique.  It’s like trying to get a screw to go in by hitting it with a hammer.  So often you hear people say, “But it worked with ‘this child’ or in ‘this situation’, why doesn’t it work now?”  Or you find people responding to every undesired behavior with a time out.  Consistent….sure.  Effective…not necessarily.

Positive Guidance Techniques

Here is a quick run down of the positive guidance techniques I teach as part of the Children’s Center’s training.  Many will be familiar, some will require some more discussion.  (Of course, those discussions will be linked back to this page.)   The objective is to get familiar with the different methods, learn how to use them and when to use them, and then implement them in your own situations.  As you begin to approach behavior with a well-stocked toolbox, you’ll find those challenges a bit easier to handle.  Here are the tools you should have at your disposal.  Sometimes you’ll use one tool, sometimes the other, and often a combination of tools.

Encouragement– Specific encouragement, recognizing progress, not just accomplishment.

Positive Reinforcement Call attention to the desired behavior and ignore the undesired behavior.

Modeling As an adult, you are always a model for children, whether intentional or not.  Explicitly model desired behavior, particularly social skills.

Ignoring Behavior– Particularly if the behavior is simply annoying or an attention-getting device, ignore it.

Validate and Reflect Feelings– The emotion is OK even when the behavior is not.

Peer Feedback– Encourage other children who have been affected by the behavior to describe how they feel.

Adult Feedback– Describe the child’s behavior and its consequences for others, particularly when the actual victim can’t or won’t speak for himself.

Natural Consequences These are consequences that naturally happen as a result of the child’s choice.  Example: If he chooses not to wear a coat, he will get cold.  You must decide whether the natural consequence is appropriate to allow to happen, but without intervention, it will happen on its own.

Problem Solving– Involve the children in the problem-solving process, coaching them through rather than doing it for them.

Humor– Great for de-escalating the situation.

Choices Help children realize what appropriate choices they can select from.  Also clarify which behaviors are not acceptible choices, offering alternatives.

Speak Positively – Describe What You Want – Phrase directions without using “No” and “Don’t” whenever possible.  Give children a clear picture of what to do instead of just what not to do.

Gentle Reminders– Gently coach children through challenging situations.

Logical ConsequencesConsequence is related to the behavior.  For example, if the child dumps out the puzzles, he needs to pick them up.

Disengage- Particularly good response to arguing.  Simply stop feeding the argument.  My favorite line is, “I love you too much to argue,” from Love and Logic, I believe.

Redirection- Replace the negative behavior with a similar, acceptable behavior.  Example: Instead of climbing furniture, the child is redirected to the outdoor playground equipment.

Positive Time Out – Other Alternatives to the Traditional Time Out Instead of focusing on punishment, focus on helping the child regain self-control.

Physical Restraint – This is the most extreme, but is sometimes necessary to prevent harm to the child or to others.

Top photo by thiagofest.



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