In addition to disciplining young children (such as setting rules and consequences and using time-outs) so as to help teach them how to make good decisions and choices, there's another important way parents can provide children with constructive guidance. Parents can also develop a relationship with their children in which open honest communication flourishes. Parents can do this by getting into the habit of asking children about their daily activities, challenges, and problems, and by showing real interest in what children have to say about their lives. Fostering open communication with children at a young age teaches them to be honest and upfront with their parents. As time goes on and children's minds become more sophisticated, parents can expand upon this open relationship to teach their children how thoughts, feelings and actions are connected and intertwined.
Parents can encourage children to share their experiences by listening patiently to what children have to say. Then, rather than jumping in to solve the problem for the child, parents can think about what the children has said, connect it to a feeling, and reflect that feeling back to the child. For example, if Jenni says, "Suzie didn't jump rope with me at recess. She played with Lisa instead!" Grandpa could say, "Suzie, wow, that must have made you feel sad and lonely that Suzie didn't play with you today." Grandpa's decision to make an empathic reflective statement of this type back to Jenni serves several purposes. First, the statement tells Jenni that Grandpa is listening to her and deeply cares about what is happening to her. By identifying a feeling with a situation, Grandpa's statement also helps Jenni to start learning how to label feelings with words; an important skill necessary for the development of her emotional intelligence. Finally, by not telling Jenni what she should do right away, Grandpa has offered Jenni the space and opportunity she needs to start brainstorming solutions to her problem and evaluate her own different ideas. Helping children to understand themselves more deeply and to learn how to solve their own problems is a far more valuable gift to those children than is solving problems for them.
Parents of young children have many strategies and techniques available to them which can help ensure children's good behavior while simultaneously helping them learn how to make good decisions for themselves, to regulate their own emotions, and to solve their own problems. The foundation of discipline strategies is effective communication. Most primarily, parents can use clear, firm, and positive language to express unconditional love, to explain house rules and expectations, to redirect misbehavior, to give praise, to coordinate with other parents, and to openly talk about problems with their children. Parents can prevent some misbehavior before it happens by setting and communicating age-appropriate house rules; providing immediate positive reinforcements through praise, sticker charts, and other small incentives; offering children a limited number of choices; and by being realistic about children's limits and needs.