Creative Strategies to Help Children Meet Expectations

If you understand the stage of development your child is in, your expectations will be consistent with his or her capabilities. Parental techniques work at particular stages. For example:

With toddlers:

  • Use environmental control. Childproof your house and yard so you don't have to constantly say "no."

  • Try distraction. A toddler's attention span is very short. Instead of admonishing, replace the offending stimulus with something more appropriate.

  • Be very specific. If your child is nearing a hot stove, stop him but make sure you say "hot" so he knows why.

  • Catch your child being good and praise him often. Say, "You hung up your coat. What a good boy!"

With young children:

  • Don't argue. Let them experience the natural consequences of their behavior. If your daughter won't put her shoes on, you can say, "It is too cold to go outside without shoes. If you don't put on your shoes, we can't go outside."

  • Set reasonable limits or boundaries and consistently stick to them gently but firmly. If you don't want your child to hit another child, an adult, or a pet, you must make it clear and try not to waver. By doing so you will help your child develop inner control. While children may not be old enough to control their feelings, they can begin to control their actions. If your child is hitting, you might try to hold his or her hands and say, "I know you are mad, but it is not okay to hit."

  • Reinforce each small step toward the ultimate goal; don't wait until your child achieves the objective. For example, if you want your child to dress himself, praise him for getting his shirt on, even if he doesn't make it to his socks and sneakers.

With early and late adolescents:

  • Do not openly criticize unpleasant habits--nagging limits your effectiveness. Be firm but choose your battles. Some bad habits will go away on their own.

  • Do not lecture. Lecturing usually makes a child feel ashamed, inadequate and resentful. It is more effective to be alert for praiseworthy behavior.

  • Give your child a voice in decisions that affect him or her. If the decision seems wrong to you, try to focus on the feelings behind it.