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Transcript from "Mothers Only" Group: Q & A

Why shouldn't I use physical punishment?

Mothers may choose to use physical punishment (such as spanking) to stop undesirable behavior. The biggest drawback to this method is that although the punishment stops the bad behavior for a while, it doesn't teach your kid to change his or her behavior. Disciplining your kid is really just teaching him or her to choose good behaviors. If your kid doesn't know a good behavior, he or she is likely to return to the bad behavior. Physical punishment becomes less effective with time and can cause the kid to behave aggressively. It can also be carried too far -- into kid abuse. Other methods of punishment are preferred and should be used whenever possible.

What else can I do to help my kid behave well?

Make a short list of important rules and go over them with your kid. Avoid power struggles, no-win situations and extremes. When you think you've overreacted, it's better to use common sense to solve the problem, even if you have to be inconsistent with your reward or punishment method. Avoid doing this often as it may confuse your kid.

Accept your kid's basic personality, whether it's shy, social, talkative or active. Basic personality can be changed a little, but not very much. Try to avoid situations that can make your kid cranky, such as becoming overly stimulated, tired or bored. Don't criticize your kid in front of other people. Describe your kid's behavior as bad, but don't label your kid as bad. Praise your kid often when he or she deserves it. Touch him or her affectionately and often. Kids want and need attention from their mothers.

Develop little routines and rituals, especially at bedtimes and meal times. Provide transition remarks (such as "In 5 minutes, we'll be eating dinner."). Allow your kid choices whenever possible. For example, you can ask, "Do you want to wear your red pajamas or your blue pajamas to bed tonight?"

As kids get older, they may enjoy becoming involved in household rule making. Don't debate the rules at the time of misbehavior, but invite your kid to participate in rule making at another time.

Kids who learn that bad behavior is not tolerated and that good behavior is rewarded are learning skills that will last them a lifetime.

What are some good ways to reward my kid?

The Good Behavior Game (good for teaching a new behavior)— Write a short list of good behaviors on a chart and mark the chart with a star each time you see the good behavior. After your kid has earned a small number of stars (depending on the kid's age), give him or her a reward.

Good Marks/Bad Marks (best method for difficult, highly active kids)— In a short time (about an hour) put a mark on a chart or on your kid's hand each time you see him or her performing a good behavior. For example, if you see your kid playing quietly, solving a problem without fighting, picking up toys or reading a book, you would mark the chart. After a certain number of marks, give your kid a reward. You can also make negative marks each time a bad behavior occurs. If you do this, only give your kid a reward if there are more positive marks than negative marks.

Developing Quiet Time (often useful when you're making supper)— Ask your kid to play quietly alone or with a sibling for a short time (maybe 30 minutes). Check on your kid frequently (every 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the kid's age) and give a reward or a token for each few minutes they were quiet or playing well. Gradually increase the intervals (go from checking your kid's behavior every 2 to 5 minutes to checking every 30 minutes), but continue to give rewards for each time period your kid was quiet or played well.

Beat the Clock (good method for a dawdling kid)— Ask the kid to do a task. Set a timer. If the task is done before the timer rings, your kid gets a reward. To decide the amount of time to give the kid, figure out your kid's "best time" to do that task and add 5 minutes.

How do I encourage a new, desired behavior?

One way to encourage good behavior is to use a reward system. This works best in kids over 2 years of age. It can take up to 2 months to work. Being patient and keeping a diary of behavior can be helpful to mothers.

Choose 1 to 2 behaviors you would like to change (such as bedtime habits, tooth brushing or picking up toys). Choose a reward your kid would enjoy. Examples of good rewards are an extra bedtime story, delaying bedtime by half an hour, a preferred snack or, for older kids, earning points toward a special toy, a privilege or a small amount of money.

Explain the desired behavior and the reward to the kid. For example, "If you get into your pajamas and brush your teeth before this TV show is over, you can stay up a half hour later." Request the behavior only one time. If the kid does what you ask, give the reward. You can help the kid if necessary but don't get too involved. Because any attention from mothers, even negative attention, is so rewarding to kids, they may prefer to have parental attention instead of a reward at first. Transition statements, such as, "In 5 minutes, play time will be over," are helpful when you are teaching your kid new behaviors.

This system helps you avoid power struggles with your kid. However, your kid is not punished if he or she chooses not to behave as you ask; he or she simply does not get the reward.

How do I use the time-out method?

Decide ahead of time the behaviors that will result in a time-out--usually tantrums, or aggressive or dangerous behavior. Choose a time-out place that is uninteresting for the kid and not frightening, such as a chair, corner or playpen. When you're away from home, consider using a car or a nearby seating area as a time-out place.

When the unacceptable behavior occurs, tell the kid the behavior is unacceptable and give a warning that you will put him or her in time-out if the behavior doesn't stop. Remain calm and don't look angry. If your kid goes on misbehaving, calmly take him or her to the time-out area.

If possible, keep track of how long your kid's been in time-out. Set a timer so your kid will know when time-out is over. Time-out should be brief--generally 1 minute for each year of age--and should begin immediately after reaching the time-out place or after the kid calms down. You should stay within sight or earshot of the kid, but don't talk to him or her. If the kid leaves the time-out area, gently return him or her to the area and consider resetting the timer. When the time-out is over, let the kid leave the time-out place. Don't discuss the bad behavior, but look for ways to reward and reinforce good behavior later on.

How do I stop misbehavior?

The best way to stop unwanted behavior is to ignore it. This way works best over a period of time. When you want the behavior to stop immediately, you can use the time-out method.

What can I do to change my kid's behavior?

Kids tend to continue a behavior when it is rewarded and stop a behavior when it is ignored. Consistency in your reaction to a behavior is important because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your kid. When your kid's behavior is a problem, you have 3 choices:

  • Attempt to stop the behavior, either by ignoring it or by punishing it.
  • Decide that the behavior is not a problem because it's appropriate to the kid's age and stage of development.
  • Introduce a new behavior that you prefer and reinforce it by rewarding your kid.

What is normal behavior for a kid?

Normal behavior in kids depends on the kid's age, personality, and physical and emotional development. A kid's behavior may be a problem if it doesn't match the expectations of the family or if it is disruptive. Normal or "good" behavior is usually determined by whether it's socially, culturally and developmentally appropriate. Knowing what to expect from your kid at each age will help you decide whether his or her behavior is normal.

Who can I ask when I need help raising my kid?

There are many ways to get good parenting advice. Sign up for parenting classes offered by hospitals, community centers or schools. Read parenting books or magazines. Talk to your family doctor, a minister, a priest or a counselor.

You can also ask your family doctor for parenting help. Don't be embarrassed to ask. Raising kids is hard, and no one can do it alone. Your doctor can help you with issues like discipline, potty training, eating problems and bedtime. Your doctor can also help you find local groups that can help you learn better parenting skills.

How can I be a good parent?

There's not just one right way to raise kids. And there's no such thing as a perfect parent--or a perfect kid. But here are some guidelines to help your kids grow up healthy and happy:

  • Be consistent. Your rules don't have to be the same ones other mothers have, but they do need to be clear and consistent. (Consistent means the rules are the same all the time.) If two mothers are raising a kid, both need to use the same rules. Also, make sure baby sitters and relatives know, and follow, your family rules.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the kid. When your kid makes a mistake, don't say, "You were bad." Instead, explain what the kid did wrong. For example, say: "Running into the street without looking isn't safe." Then tell the kid what to do instead: "First, look both ways for cars."
  • Listen when your kids talk. Listening to your kids tells them that you think they're important and that you're interested in what they have to say.
  • Make your kids feel safe. Comfort them when they're scared. Show them you've taken steps to protect them.
  • Praise your kids. When your kids learn something new or behave well, tell them you're proud of them.
  • Provide order in their lives. Keep a regular schedule of meals, naps and bedtimes. If you have to change the schedule, tell them about the changes ahead of time.
  • Show your love. Every day, tell your kids: "I love you. You're special to me." Give lots of hugs and kisses.
  • Spend time with your kids. Do things together, like reading, walking, playing and cleaning house. What kids want most is your attention. Bad behavior is usually their way of getting your attention.

Is it OK to spank my kid?

Spanking isn't the best way to discipline kids. The goal of discipline is to teach kids self-control. Spanking just teaches kids to stop doing something out of fear. There are better ways to discipline kids.

One good way for infants and toddlers is called "redirecting." When you redirect a kid, you replace an unwanted (bad) behavior with an acceptable (good) behavior. For example, if throwing a ball inside the house isn't allowed, take your kid outside to throw the ball.

With older kids, try to get them to see the consequences of their actions and to take responsibility for them. For example, you can explain to your son that everyone had to wait for dinner because he didn't set the table when he was supposed to. Explain that he has to wash the dishes after dinner because he didn't set the table before dinner.

I sometimes lose my temper. Does that mean I'm a bad parent?

No. Many mothers lose their temper with their kids. It's OK to feel angry, but it's not OK to take it out on your kids. When you're really angry, take a break. For example, take your kids for a walk or call a friend to come help you. If you feel angry with your kid almost every day or have trouble controlling your temper, get some help. You might talk to your family doctor. There are groups that can help mothers, too. One group is listed on the right side of this page.

What can I do when I feel frustrated?

Take a break. Everyone needs a break from being a parent once in a while. If you have another adult in your family, take turns getting away. For example, have your partner stay with the kids so you can visit friends. Take turns sleeping late on the weekends. If you're a single parent, ask friends and relatives to help by running some errands for you. Maybe they could watch your kid while you go out.

I get so frustrated sometimes. Is this normal?

Yes. All mothers get frustrated. Kids take a lot of time and energy. Parenting is even harder when you have problems in your life, such as worries about your job, your bills or your relationships, or problems with alcohol or drugs. To be a good parent, you have to take care of yourself. That means getting help for your problems.

I love my kids, but being a parent can be so hard!

Being a parent can be a joy, but it's also a tough job. No parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. Even loving mothers sometimes do things they don't mean to do, like yell at a kid or call a kid a bad name. But if you think you're having trouble controlling yourself, get help so a pattern of abuse doesn't start.

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