We all want our children to avoid risky behaviors, especially as they enter the scary teen years. Alcohol use in our town begins as early as 11. Heroin and other opiate use has reached epidemic proportions all over the U.S. Telling children to “just say no” has not worked. The things that are learned through Positive Discipline have good potential for preventing some of these risky behaviors.
Research has shown that the more developmental assets teens feel they have, the less likely they are to engage in ATOD (alcohol use, binge drinking, drinking and driving, cigarette use, smokeless tobacco use, marijuana, and other illicit drugs) behaviors. The developmental assets include eight categories: support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.*
Positive Discipline helps adults in all of these categories. Here are some examples of tools and strategies in each of the asset categories.
• Support – Family meetings are a great example of support, where everyone has a voice, and the family works together to solve problems.
• Empowerment – Believing that mistakes are opportunities to learn is empowering. Sharing your own mistakes and what you learned from them is modeling this, helping children be more comfortable to share their mistakes.
• Boundaries and expectations – Being kind and firm at the same time – “I know that you are having fun playing video games, and it is time to set the table” – is a respectful way to have boundaries. Another way is to have a discussion and reach an agreement upfront, and then following through.
• Constructive use of time – Helping children learn to develop routines encourages organization, and empowers them to manage their time.
• Commitment to learning – Taking a parenting class demonstrates your commitment to learning.
• Positive Values – Caring, social interest and responsibility are all learned in a Positive Discipline home. Getting together to create a list of household jobs, and having each person take responsibility for some is one example.
• Social Competencies – Peaceful conflict resolution is learned through problem solving activities.
• Positive Identity – By using encouragement rather than praise, we help children look within themselves, and feel capable. A few encouraging examples of statements include, “I have faith in you to solve this problem, or “How do you feel about your project?”
Understanding and Expressing Feelings – One of the Positive Discipline Strategies
Many of us were raised to hold our feelings inside, and not express them. Feelings are really important to share and help us express love, danger, and problem solving. They are one of the things that make us human.
Feelings can be expressed in just one word…more than one word is a thought.
Many of us don’t know how to recognize our feelings, nor can we express them in a respectable way. Too often, when we finally share feelings, it is done explosively, shared with anger and rage. Some people bury their feelings, or turn to drinking or drugs to ease the pain. However you deal with your negative feelings can probably be improved. This is not about feeling blame, shame or pain. It is about improving how we are as people.
Taking the time to understand how you are feeling inside and out is the first step to self-regulation and control. Learning to express feelings when calm, in an appropriate way, are important next steps. And it all begins with you, the parent, modeling the behavior you want in your children. “I feel mad.” “I feel happy.” “I feel scared.” “I feel sad.” Begin to share how you are feeling.
You will be giving your children a huge gift if you can then help them learn to express their feelings in a healthy way. Imagine if your child has an “anger management” issue, and you can help them learn to say “I am FURIOUS!” instead of punching a hole in the wall. Imagine if your child is afraid of spiders, and you can help them learn to say, “I am SCARED!” instead of running in the other room screaming horribly at the top of their lungs. Imagine if your child learns to share their joy, by being able to say “I am HAPPY!” and “I LOVE YOU”. Wow!
Here is a way to explore feelings by yourself, and then with your children. Come up with a list of other words for the four basic feeling words of mad, sad, scared and glad. This is an important step in learning self-regulation, because if you can name it, you can control it. Next, think about what is happening within your body as different feelings begin. So when beginning to get mad, what is happening within the body? For example, when becoming mad, some clench their teeth, turn red, or have hearts beat faster. This is another important step in learning self-regulation, because if you can recognize the signals your body is giving you before you react, you can control it even earlier.
We can then learn to express feelings in an appropriate way,
so that others can hear you. I feel ____________ when __________________ and I wish ______________.
“I feel furious when I’m not listened to, and I wish others would respond when I talk.”
We can also learn to calm ourselves down. Taking slow, deep breaths in and out is one technique that can be used anywhere. Another is to walk away when upset, and do something that calms you down. Some have a ‘calm down’ space for each person in the household, with all of their favorite things. It’s each person’s choice when to walk away.
We can ask someone if they’d like to go to their ‘calm down’ space but we never make them go there because that is likely to feel like punishment and cause the situation to escalate. When we are all calm again, we can get back together to talk about what happened, and come up with ideas to solve the problem.
We learn and practice these tools and strategies in Positive Discipline parenting classes, and Positive Discipline in the Classroom workshops. Whether starting with young children or teens, it may just be the best prevention for risky behaviors! They also help build relationships in homes, schools and communities.
*SOURCE: The Search Institute 1999-2000 aggregate dataset of 217,277 6th-12th grade youth, www.search-institute-org.
Carol Dores is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, and has worked with hundreds of parents, teachers, school staff and camp counselors of all aged children, from prenatal to adult. She is President and Co-Founder of Positive Discipline of Connecticut, and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the international Positive Discipline Association. She believes that Positive Discipline can help build a more peaceful, compassionate world, one person at a time. Carol can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.positivedisciplinect.org, or www.facebook.com/PositiveDisciplineOfConnecticut/.