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4 Ideas To Avoid Punishing Young Children But Still Teach Self-Control

I write about the science of empathy. I've studied it and practiced it for over 40 years in many different early childhood settings.

To build empathy, we need to look at the first few years of the developing child's life. The Center On the Developing Child at Harvard has done extensive research and has developed a series of videos aimed at parents and early childhood educators. They are simply amazing and they are available in many different languages.

Harvard has generously allowed me to use many of those videos in my online empathy training for parents and teachers. I get the feeling that they want to share their extensive knowledge of early childhood in a way that works for people like us, who actually care for children.

Over the years, I've had some epiphanies about guiding behavior. When you study and then you apply what you study in an actual early childhood setting, you're bound to have a few ah-ha moments that stick in your brain. I still spend time every week caring for infants and toddlers. I also talk with many teachers and parents about their concerns. Guidance is always a hot topic.

Writing about and endorsing guidance methods doesn't do any good unless the writer has figured out how to apply those methods and practices in many real-life situations.

Here are the top 4 ideas that inform the decisions I make when offering guidance to very young children:

Epiphany #1

Tip the balance of attention and you've got a start. Everyone wants to be noticed, everyone wants to matter. We need to make sure we give them more attention for what they do right rather than what they do wrong. Here's an article I wrote a while back about whining that you may find helpful.

Epiphany # 2

Verb first. Change the way you speak and you just may change the world. Here are some examples of how putting the verb first in your sentences can make a difference.

  • Be gentle.

  • Ask for a turn.

  • Find a way to include them.

  • Help your friend.

  • Talk about it, I'll help you.

  • Pick up all the yellow toys.

If you want more ideas on exactly how to phrase things to make it easier for children's brains to accept your guidance, join our community here. When you do you get my free ebook, Magic Words. It gives you the best words and phrases in a short, easy-to-use format.

Epiphany # 3

One of the best trainings I've received over my 40+ year career in early childhood education has been the pyramid training for family child care. One thing I learned through the training was that there is a huge difference between rules and limits. Rules are steadfast while limits may change with the age of the child or the environment they're in.

We were encouraged to come up with just a few rules that matter the most to us. This is what I came up with. Feel free to use or print my ideas or decide on a few rules that are the most important to you.

Epiphany # 4

A Guide to Discipline by Jeanette Galambos Stone

OK, I realize the word discipline has gone out of style but the concepts in this book never will. Let's just pretend it says "Guidance" and take a look at some quotes from her work

This is a book about teaching children to respect themselves and others and to show that respect.
It is not a book about punishment of children although it does talk about control.
It is a book about having control of children in a variety of settings or in their homes and about teaching children to take over this control for themselves. -Jeanette Galambos Stone

To be honest, in the past, I've had a few nightmares about losing control of my class or my children.

I know that when early childhood teachers and parents don't get the support they need, the children they care for won't either. I hope to offer a little bit of that support to you.

Have a great day, you deserve it!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY!  (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She has presented at statewide and nationwide conferences. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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