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3 Discipline Tricks to Stop Bribing Your Toddler to Behave
  • One of the biggest challenges for any parent is getting their child to listen and do as they say. You try to sweet talk your toddler into following your directions, promising a treat if she follows, but all you hear in return is, “Ayaw!” And so, you switch gears and threaten to take away her screen time. Still, she says, “You can’t make me.” Sigh, why is she suddenly so defiant?

    Defiance is a part of a child’s typical development. “Kids this age are realizing they can assert themselves and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence,” child psychiatrist Dr. John Sargent tells Parents. In other words, he’s exercising his independence or autonomy.

    One of the ways to make your child more disciplined is through motivation — her desire to act and move toward a goal. Motivation might be intrinsic, where inspiration comes from within the person, or extrinsic, where inspiration comes from other people, say, a child’s parents, for example.

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    According to psychologist Elizabeth Elizardi in her column for Psychology Today, motivation, when used properly, can help a person’s psychological well-being and help her function better.

    “Motivating a child is not a question of how much or how little motivation a child has, so a parent can’t just add more elixir to spark her inner motivation,” explains Elizardi. Instead, parents needs to shift their motivating style from controlling to autonomous.

    If you find that you need to resort to bargaining or coercing your child to behave each time, you may be guilty of having a controlled motivation style. On the other hand, autonomous motivation style is when parents listen to their child, exercise patience, and welcome their thoughts, feelings, and actions, which then motivates their child to behave better.

    According to Dr. Elizardi, people who experience autonomous motivation show greater persistence, more flexibility and creativity, independence, and more interest and enjoyment. Those who experience controlled motivation are more compliant but have rigid thinking and are disaffected.

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    How to motivate your child to behave

    1. Make your child realize how accomplishments feel good.

    Instead of resorting to goodies, sticker charts (where you reward good behavior with a sticker), or giving extra screen time, build on your child’s interests and preferences. “When a child learns to ride a bike, he’s usually so thrilled with his new skill and eager to do it, it can be hard to persuade him to stop. That feeling of mastery is tremendously motivating,” psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore tells Parents.

    Encourage your child to follow the lead of what makes her feel good inside, like learning a new skill or being told that she did a job well done.

    2. Use non-controlling language.

    Controlling language pressures a child to act a certain way and offers rigid instructions. Examples are directions that contain the words, “must,” “should,” and “have to.” Try saying, “I need you,” “I see that you,” and, “I notice you,” to relieve the stress a child feels from your instructions.

    None of us likes to feel controlled, and you can expect the same from your children. They want to believe that what they are doing is their choice, instead of an obligation.

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    3. Accept and acknowledge resistance.

    Your toddler is still young, so you can’t expect that he’ll always like your rules, boundaries, and requests. You will encounter conflicts between limits and demands and your child’s preferences, says Dr. Elizardi.

    Embrace your child’s negative emotions and counter it with a little empathy. If your child refuses to clean up her toys, ask him if she wants some help (but don’t do it all for her!). “It puts the parent and the child on the same side against the problematic behavior, rather than setting up a battle,” says Dr. Kenny Moore.

    Remember that characteristics like good behavior and self-control don’t just appear out of nowhere — these are things you teach your child as he grows up. And as parents, it is our responsibility to influence our child’s development.

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