When we continue to do things for our children that they could do for themselves, we rob them of opportunities to become self-reliant and confident.
Our main job as parents is to transfer the values, skills and, habits that are important.
The more we try to make children do things our way, the more we annoy our children and cause them to resent us and resist us.
The Five Big Ideas
- Notice and describe what your child does that pleases use using Descriptive Praise
- Help your child remember and follow rules and routines using Think-Throughs
- Helps your child move through their uncomfortable feelings using Reflective Listening
- Invite your children to cooperate ninety percent of the time, the first time you give an instruction using the Never Ask Twice method
- Have a child replay a scenario without misbehaving using Action Replays.
Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Key Concepts
Teaching results in a child knowing how to do something. Training gets a child into the habit of doing something, without you needing to remind them.
Self-reliance is the stepping stone to confidence.
Superlative Praise is vague, exaggerated and ineffective. Descriptive Praise is specific, true and motivating. More, it improves behavior and is easy to grasp. Notice a little thing that your child is doing that is right—or even the smallest step in the right direction. Then, tell your child exactly what you notice and describe the behavior in detail.
When you Descriptively Praise the absence of an annoying behaviour, you’ll soon see less of that behaviour.
Adding ‘qualities’ to your praise helps your child absorb your values.
Focus on planning so that things go right, rather than reacting after things go wrong.
Ask, don’t tell. When your children tell you what they need to do, they are much more likely to remember to do it. But when you tell them, often they’re barely listening.
Special Time. One parent with one child doing something you both enjoy that doesn’t cost money, that’s not in front of a screen, predictable daily, if possible, for at least ten minutes.
Special Time reduces attention-seeking.
Reflective Listening helps defuse your child’s upsets.
Squabbling and telling tales soon lose their appeal when we don’t get involved. Show you care by imagining how they are feeling, and don’t try to solve the problem.
The more we are willing to repeat ourselves, the more times we’ll have to repeat ourselves.
Start behaviour: Your child is not misbehaving but needs to transition to the next activity. Stop behaviour: Your child is doing something wrong or something annoying, and you want her to stop.
Waiting is powerful. It shows intentionality—that you mean what you say.
If consequences on their own were effective, our prisons would be empty.
When you follow through, your children will take what you say more seriously.
You can do action replays for any type of misbehavior, major or minor.
Action replays end all discipline on a positive note.
Taking away a privilege for misbehavior seems unfair to children and generates resentment. Allowing your child to earn a privilege through good behavior is positive and motivating. You’ll see behavior improve sooner than you can imagine.
It’s never too late to guide our children into better mealtime habits.
Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Summary
The basic premise of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting is that our main job as parents is to transfer the values, skills and habits that are important.
Over the years, Noël has asked parents from around the globe what values, skills and habits they want their children to develop. Regardless of geographical location, culture, religion or socioeconomic differences, these same five qualities are always mentioned:
Cooperation. Doing what we tell them to do, the first time we tell them, and without a fuss.
Confidence. Knowing and appreciating and using their talents, abilities, and strengths; knowing and accepting and being willing to improve on their weaknesses.
Motivation. The willingness to start, and to keep on doing, all the steps needed to reach a goal, even though they may not enjoy all those steps.
Self-reliance. Doing for themselves everything that they are capable of doing for themselves, rather than expecting or demanding or waiting for someone else to do it for them.
Consideration. Caring about other people’s feelings and understanding how their own actions affect others.
The first of these five foundation habits—cooperation—is the gateway into the other four habits.
Until children are cooperating, they won’t be willing to do things for themselves (self-reliance) or to be polite most of the time (consideration) or to try new things (confidence) or to stick at a task even when it’s difficult (motivation).
It’s our job to teach our children how to do many things, and then, over time and with enough practice, the skills became habits.
The more we try to make children do things our way, the more we annoy our children and cause them to resent us and resist us.
In all her years of working with families, Noël has found Descriptive Praise to be the single most powerful strategy for motivating children to want to cooperate and do their best.
Descriptive Praise means noticing and then specifically describing what your child has done that pleases you.
What is effective for increasing motivation and the willingness to take on challenges is focusing praise on the child’s effort, on what the child has done, not on an ability he can’t control or on the final result. (Carol Dweck discusses this at length in her book, Mindset).
Descriptive Praise is about noticing and commenting on exactly what your child has done that is right or just okay, or even what he hasn’t done wrong.
Examples of Descriptive Praise for small steps in the right direction:
You’ve already got your underwear and one sock on! You’re almost halfway dressed.
I told you it was time to clean your teeth, and you took a step towards the sink.
You put one of your sweet wrappers in the recycling bin.
Start noticing whenever your child is not doing the annoying habit, and Descriptively Praise the absence of that negative behavior.
A useful strategy when your child does something annoying is to wait a few seconds. As soon as your child stops, or even pauses for breath, jump in with Descriptive Praise.
For total positive effect, turn your Descriptive Praise sentences into paragraphs.
Descriptive Praise becomes even more powerful when you can summarise what you have noticed by mentioning a quality.
A useful way to start a Descriptive Praise sentence is with the words, “I notice…” Children perk their ears up when they hear us saying “I notice…” because that’s not the language we generally use when we are correcting or reprimanding. So when we say ‘I notice’ they soon expect to hear something nice about themselves, and it motivates them to listen.
Focus most of your Descriptive Praise on the habits your children haven’t mastered yet.
How to motivate your child so that you see more of the behavior you want and less of the annoying behavior:
Choose two annoying behaviours you’d like your child to improve, and write them down.
For each behaviour, notice and Descriptively Praise every time your child does it right or just OK or even just a bit better than before.
Notice and mention when your child isn’t doing the annoying behaviour.
Make a goal of Descriptively Praising some aspect of the improved behaviour at least ten times a day.
Be sure to address your child’s whingey, impatient or disrespectful tone of voice, even if the words he is saying are reasonable.
Preparing for Success
A think-through is a powerful technique for helping our children remember and follow our rules and routines. It maximises the likelihood of your child cooperating by fixing the expectation or rule in his long-term memory.
A think-through is different from a reminder in two important ways: A think-through happens before the misbehavior occurs. In a think-through, your child is the one doing the talking, not you.
Here are the basic think-through steps for helping your child remember and take seriously an existing rule or routine. Instead of waiting until your child breaks or ignores the rule, we need to be proactive and address the issue with a think-through earlier in the day.
Choose a neutral time to do the think-through.
Ask, don’t tell.
Your child answers in detail, telling you what he should do.
Tips for effective think-throughs:
Spend no more than a minute on each think-through.
Do think-throughs with each child separately, even if you want to reinforce the same rule for more than one child.
Remember to Descriptively Praise as your child answers the think-through questions.
An ongoing problem needs an ongoing solution. So be willing to do several think-throughs a day for a week or so, especially if you have a child who is often uncooperative or who has a more inflexible temperament.
Examples of think-through questions:
When we get home from football practice, what’s the first thing you need to do?
Where should you put your equipment bag?
What should you do with your clean clothes?
What do you need to do as soon as you climb into the car?
Who buckles your car seat?
Where should your arms be so Daddy and I can buckle you in?
When can you get out of your car seat?
To prevent problems, do think-throughs about the right way to behave. Do the think-throughs at neutral times, long before anything has had a chance to go wrong.
Having clear rules and expectations is another key aspect of Preparing for Success.
Before you can make a new rule to address a family problem, the first step is to get clear within ourselves exactly what we want the new rule to be.
If you have a partner, you need to become a United Front. You both need to agree about what the rules will be and we call this becoming a United Front.
You can change rules any time you need to.
Using think-throughs to establish a new rule:
Choose a neutral time and sit down with your child for one minute, just as you would when doing a think-through to revive an existing rule.
Start the think-through by saying, “The new rule is…” or words to that effect.
Once you or your partner have stated the new rule, stop talking!
Instead of explaining the reasons for the new rule, respond with, “That’s a good question. Why do you think we’re making this new rule?”
If your child repeats that he doesn’t know the reason for the new rule, ask him to take a guess.
One important way we can Prepare for Success is to put some time, thought and action into preparing our children’s environment.
Having a list or chart that you can point to is an effective way of preparing the environment to help children remember the rules and routines. Visual reminders can keep you from falling into the trap of repeating yourself.
In her seminars, Noël tells parents that there are four things she wants them to never again say to their children. Those four things are: “Come on,” “Hurry up,” “Let’s go,” “We’ll be late.”
Special Time is most effective when it is frequent and predictable and labeled as that so that your child can expect it. One-on-one Special Time helps your child want to cooperate. It also awakens in your child the desire to imitate the positive habits and qualities and values of that parent.
No matter how busy or stressed you are, you need to set aside even ten minutes a day for Special Time with your child.
The most basic aspect of a United Front is not arguing in front of the children.
Whenever there is a new routine or habit you would like your child to develop, there are many crucial questions to ask yourself about the Preparing for Success techniques. Each question refers to a separate technique.
United Front: ‘Do my partner and I agree about what the rule or expectation is?’
Clear rules and expectations: ‘Have I told my child what the rule is?’
‘Are we doing some think-throughs about this every day, asking several “W” questions about this rule and having the child answer in her own words?’
Preparing the environment: ‘How can I make it easier for my child to follow the rule?’
Visual reminders: ‘How can I avoid repeating myself day after day?’
Plan realistically: ‘Am I leaving enough time in the bedtime routine for laying out clothes?’
Special Time: ‘Are we spending frequent, predictable one-on-one time with each child?’
Descriptive Praise: ‘Am I noticing and mentioning every time my child remembers the rule or takes even a small step in the right direction?’
Reflective Listening, or empathic listening as it is sometimes called, helps children move through their uncomfortable feelings more quickly and easily, towards acceptance or towards problem-solving.
The Four Steps of Reflective Listening:
Put your own emotions and wishes to one side temporarily.
Stop whatever you’re doing, look at your child and listen.
Imagine what your child is feeling, and reflect that back to your child in words.
Give your child his wishes in fantasy (optional).
Here’s a way that has helped a lot of parents to stay calmer and more positive: visualize yourself scooping up your anger or worry or disappointment with both hands and placing that uncomfortable emotion at the side of the room. Picturing this can clear your mind. And your feeling will still be there, waiting for you, if you want it back later.
Ask yourself what feeling might be driving your child to do what he’s doing or to say what he’s saying.
Tips for success in Step Three:
Resist the temptation to reassure, reason, justify or lecture. Instead, imagine what your child might be feeling at that moment.
Don’t repeat back exactly what your child has said. Reflective Listening is not about repeating back to the child what she has said to you.
Be tentative. We can never know for sure what someone else is feeling or thinking. So, we need to be quite tentative with most of our Reflective Listening in order for it to be effective.
Giving our children their wishes in fantasy shows that we don’t only care about their behavior. We also care about their feelings.
There is an important difference between children feeling upset and children feeling unhappy.
Here are some effective ways you might phrase a Reflective Listening sentence:
You look as if you’re feeling…
You seem to be feeling…
You probably feel…
You might be feeling…
You may feel…
It looks like…
Seems like you’re…
It sounds like you’re…
I can see/hear/tell from your face that…
Maybe you’re feeling…
I guess this feels…
I imagine you’re feeling…
It can feel [emotion] when you…
To help a child move beyond the natural human tendency to blame others, we need to make sure that we discipline ourselves so that we ourselves rarely give in to the temptation to blame, accuse, tell off and threaten. We need to lead by example.
Never Ask Twice
The Never Ask Twice method is a simple and effective six-step strategy for getting your children to cooperate ninety percent of the time, the first time you give an instruction and without a fuss.
You can use the Never Ask Twice method whenever you would like your child to stop doing one thing and start doing something else.
Overview of The Six Steps:
Stop what you are doing, go to where your child is, and stand and look at him.
Wait until your child stops what he is doing and looks at you.
Give your child the instruction—clearly, simply and only once.
Ask your child to repeat the instruction back to you – accurately, thoroughly and in his own words.
Stand and wait.
While you are standing and waiting, Descriptively Praise every step in the right direction, no matter how small, and Reflectively Listen to how your child might be feeling.
Give a countdown whenever you sense that your child will resist your instruction.
How to Stop Misbehavior in Its Tracks
If your child asks you, “Why do I have to?” it is rarely a genuine request for information and most likely a diversionary tactic. If your instruction is a sensible one, your child will usually understand why he should do it, or he can easily figure it out for himself.
Keep it friendly. Practise speaking in a low, calm voice, even if you are feeling stressed or annoyed.
Find something to Descriptively Praise. This is often enough to get kids back on track.
Get close. If your child is still misbehaving after you have Descriptively Praised him, immediately stop whatever you are doing and go to where he is and stand close to him. You may find that your close presence, standing, is enough to get your child behaving again.
Give clues. Instead of giving a direct instruction to a child who seems unlikely to comply, you can give a little clue to help your child figure out what to do.
Offer alternatives. When we need to stop our children’s fun, it is often helpful to offer an alternative activity.
Make it a rule for everyone. It can also help if we depersonalise our instruction by stating it as a family rule that applies to all family members.
Empathise. Another effective way to help our children want to cooperate is to show them that we understand how frustrated and annoyed they feel when we interrupt their fun.
Offer limited choices. Give your child an element of choice whenever possible. To simplify your life, limit the choices to two.
Phrase it in the positive. It is far more motivating for children to hear what they should do, phrasing it in the positive, rather than what they should not do.
Model the behaviour you want to see. It also helps if you can show the appropriate behaviour while you are telling them what to do.
Get united. A United Front sends children a clear message that both parents agree about the behaviour expected and that both parents care enough to enforce it.
Always follow through with action. Following through consistently results in our children knowing that we mean what we say.
Rewards and Consequences
Consequences on their own will not motivate children to want to behave well or to remember to behave well.
Following through is all about what we do after a child does something.
The best rewards are those that are easy and quick and cost nothing.
The easiest, quickest and most effective rewards are our positive reactions to every little step in the right direction: our frequent use of Descriptive Praise.
Another easy, quick reward that reinforces the values and skills that we want our children to develop is smiling and hugging.
Here are ten examples of small rewards that work well to motivate children to improve all aspects of a child’s behaviour and schoolwork:
An extra story or song at bedtime
An extra five minutes of rough-and-tumble with a parent
An outing with a parent without the siblings
Playing a board game with a parent
An extra fifteen minutes of screen time
Choosing the menu for a meal
Trying on Mum’s jewellery or Dad’s ties
An adult activity with a parent, such as baking
Camping out or having a picnic in the garden
Sleeping in the sitting room.
You can use money to reward good behaviour and good work habits.
Noël’s experience has taught her that children and teenagers who have to earn most of the extras in their life become more motivated, more appreciative and more responsible.
Noël’s recommendation is that children need to earn all or most of their pocket money.
If you choose to use pocket money as an incentive, Noël recommends giving the reward daily by marking on a chart each day the amount of money that they have earned, even if you only hand over the money once a week.
Tips for effective Rewards and Consequences
Once your child has earned a reward, it’s hers and you can’t take it away.
It’s important not to let your child choose a reward that requires you to do something for him that is his responsibility, such as setting the table or feeding the cat.
Similarly, a reward shouldn’t let a child get out of doing something you think is important but that she finds uncomfortable, such as music practice or sharing.
Do not expect rewards by themselves to motivate a child who is quite reluctant, impulsive or angry. A reward is a tool, something that makes it somewhat easier for your child to develop the habits of cooperation and self-reliance. Rewards are not a substitute for motivating with Descriptive Praise and Special Time or for minimising and preventing problems by Preparing for Success and Reflective Listening.
When your child does not manage to earn the rewards, make a point of sounding disappointed, rather than angry or blaming. You could say, ‘Oh, what a shame. I was hoping we could have that extra story tonight.’ This is empathetic, not adversarial. It shows you’re on their side, and it’s far more motivating than if you were to say, ‘It’s your own fault, you know, for wasting time by arguing when you should have been getting on with your homework.’
In addition to the rewards that your child knows in advance are available, it is also motivating for you to occasionally surprise her with rewards that she was not expecting. This achieves two purposes. First, it helps her to see herself in a new light, as a person who can delight and impress the parent. It also models a generous, giving attitude, which she will, over time, absorb and imitate.
It’s important not to use food as a reward. Food is too emotive an issue, too linked with love and acceptance. It’s much better not to tie food to anything that has to do with approval or disapproval.
An action replay consists of you and your child replaying the scenario, but this time he does the right thing straight away, without any misbehavior or fuss.
Do action replays after any misbehavior, large or small, to give your child practice at doing the right thing.
Another effective consequence is what Noël calls sitting apart. Sitting apart is similar in some ways to a time-out, but is much more manageable.
What is the same about sitting apart and a time-out is that your child has to stay sitting in one place. His freedom of movement is temporarily curtailed. What is different between sitting apart and a time-out is that the sitting apart happens in the same room where you are.
Sitting apart is an effective consequence because children do not want to have to stay in one place.
The usual guideline is a minute for each year of the child’s age.
If the misbehavior for which you want to do a sitting apart happens in public, you can wait and do the sitting apart as soon as you get home. Or you can take your child to the car temporarily, and do the sitting apart right there.
If your young child keeps getting up from whichever part of the room you have designated as the sitting apart place, keep putting her back immediately and Descriptively Praise her a lot whenever she stays there, even for a few seconds.
Once your child has completed the sitting apart by sitting quietly until the timer goes ding, he has to tell you in his own words and in a full sentence why you gave him a sitting apart.
Remember to Descriptively Praise something about his reply.
If after the timer goes ding, your child is still so angry that he is not yet willing to speak sensibly or to do the action replay properly, just set the timer for another minute or two of sitting apart.
Getting Ready in The Mornings
If your child frequently makes a fuss about what to wear, have a rule that clothes need to be chosen and laid out the night before.
Children who are able to dress themselves need to dress themselves, every single day, even when you are in a hurry and even when they are whingeing about it.
Everyone has to be completely dressed, hair brushed, beds made, pets fed, pajamas put away and school bags near the door before breakfast is served.
No screen time before school.
Children’s breakfasts need to be healthy.
Together, do everything you possibly can the evening before.
Give everyone more time in the morning by waking the family up ten to twenty minutes earlier.
Invite everyone to help before and after meals.
All family members who are at home need to sit together for the meal, even if they are not hungry.
Everyone comes to the table as soon as they are called.
Start the meal with a short ritual, maybe giving thanks.
No one can start eating until the whole family is at the table and until a parent has said everyone may begin.
Avoid screen time, toys, books, mobile phones or earphones at the table.
Serve everyone the same meal.
Wipe your fingers and your mouth on your napkin.
Only ask for seconds when you’ve finished everything on your plate.
Ask for something to be passed to you, instead of reaching across someone.
Sit up straight with your legs down, and elbows off the table.
Children stay at the table until excused by an adult.
Avoid a rule about children finishing everything on their plate.
Offer children a healthy snack between breakfast and lunch and another between lunch and dinner.
To help children eat more healthily, avoid keeping foods that are not good for them.
Make sure there is always a napkin at each table setting to train children not to wipe their mouths on their sleeves.
Serve children small portions.
Give children cutlery that is the right size for them so it is easy to use.
Provide children with chairs that are the right size and the right height.
Plan your day realistically so the family has enough time to enjoy each meal without feeling rushed
Any child who is hungry will eat her fill in fifteen minutes. Do not drag out mealtimes.
Start each meal for all family members with a First Plate, on which you will put tiny amounts of five to eight different foods that your child has been known to eat on occasion but does not like. The amount of each food needs to be so tiny (for example a quarter of a pea) that it has no discernible taste! Only after your child has eaten everything on his First Plate will you then give him his second plate, which is a smallish amount of whatever you have made for dinner that your child does like.
Make a rule for yourself that when one child comes to you complaining about the other, you will stay out of it.
Give your children, especially boys, many opportunities to play-fight.
Give your older child a few special privileges.
Have each of the children play alone for some time every day (not in front of a screen), even when a sibling is home.
If you are worried about a child’s safety, move in close.
If you are not worried about safety, stay out of their conflict, even if one of the children is crying or complaining.
Instead of intervening, find something to Descriptively Praise.
Have a ‘squabbling place’.
Birth to three years old: Screens aren’t recommended. Three to eight years old: Up to half an hour a day in front of a screen. From eight years old through to adulthood: One hour daily of leisure screen time (except on special occasions, eg. going to the cinema or watching a football match on television).
Allow leisure screen use only on certain days.
Have children earn screen time.
Have children ask first before switching on a screen.
Limit screen time during playdates at your house.
Prohibit screens on school day mornings.
Avoid screens on short car journeys.
Prohibit screen time during meals.
Turn off screens without a fuss today to earn tomorrow’s screen time.
Require children to get plenty of exercise.
Be clear about exactly what will happen when the time limit for screens is almost up.
Have a sacred homework time every day (except Sundays).
On non-school days, set the homework time for early in the day to make sure it happens.
Only allow your child to spend the amount of time on homework that the school recommends.
Do homework when fresh.
Work before play.
Build in realistic breaks.
To prevent overload, make a rule that your child has an active break (not in front of a screen) every fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on his current ability to concentrate on academic work. Decide in advance when your child can have breaks.
Teach and train children to do their best.
Give your child high-quality fuel to do high-quality work.
Supervise the use of computers for homework and projects.
To help children get the maximum benefit from their homework, divide each homework task into three distinct stages:
Help your child think about how to do the task well so that he will learn whatever there is to be learned from the activity. Even for simple pieces of work, ask your child to tell you exactly what he needs to do and how and where and why. Ask leading questions to guide him to think carefully about any aspects of the task that he may be unaware of or that he tends to overlook.
Let your child does his homework, without any help.
Guide your child to improve his attention to detail, his thoroughness, his editing and his proofreading skills.
Tidying Up and Looking After Belongings
Have five minutes of tidying-up time before dinner.
Put away any toy or game, art project, etc. that has been taken out before beginning the next activity.
Have a rule where any toys or clothes left lying around the house will be removed by the parent and need to be earned back.
With your child, sort through his belongings, and weed out all the unnecessary duplicates, as well as all the outgrown or broken equipment, books, games and toys.
Remove from your child’s room all the toys and equipment that can’t easily be put away.
Designate a specific, easily accessible place for all your child’s belongings.
For a child who seems to be disorganised and distractible by temperament, take a photograph of each part of her room after it has been tidied to your satisfaction.
Keep enticing or potentially messy games up high.
Set aside the same time every day (straight after dinner works best for most families) when all family members spend ten or fifteen minutes together doing some household task.
Offer your child two choices so she doesn’t feel bossed about.
For particularly unpopular tasks, require only five or ten minutes at first.
Let children take it in turns to do certain tasks.
All day long, whatever household task you are involved in, think about which parts of the task you could start teaching your child to do.
Take advantage of the times when your child wants you to play with her. Develop a routine where first she helps you with a part of what you’re doing; then you play with her.
Designate a place where your child will play on her own.
Help your children make a list of activities they might enjoy doing independently.
Lead by example—enjoy your own pursuits.
Bedtimes and Sleep
Decide with your partner what the right bedtime should be for your children, and make this the rule.
Allow older children and teenagers to read or draw in bed if they are not yet tired, but only if they are in bed at the time you have set.
Have flexibility on non-school nights.
Allow older children and teenagers to stay up a maximum of one hour later than their usual bedtime, and for younger children a maximum of half an hour later.
Stagger bedtimes so that younger children are getting to bed earlier so they get the rest they need.
Limit snacks after dinner is over including milk.
If your child feels attached to a special blanket or cuddly toy, make sure that it always stays on the bed and that he is not allowed to carry it around.
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