Positive Parenting

What Every Parent Needs to Know About “No”

What Every Parent Needs to Know About “No”


Dr. Tom Reimers

Have you ever said “No” to your child? Of course you have. The use of “No” certainly has its place, but only if it’s used effectively. The problem is, “No” is just a word. Likewise, a tornado siren is just a sound and a traffic signal is just a light until they are associated with something that is meaningful to us. We take action when we see a traffic light turn red or hear a tornado siren because we know they are associated with important events. If your child is going to respond to you when you say “No,” then he needs to know that there will be some meaningful action associated with it.

Here are a few things to consider when helping your child learn the meaning of “No.”


“No” is not a suggestion.
When you say “No,” it means “Stop.”  Providing immediate consequences, consistently and frequently, will help your child learn this.


Volume is not the solution.
If you say “No” and your child ignores you, repeating it multiple times as loud as you possibly can is not going to help her understand the meaning of “No.” It will just result in her putting her hands over her ears or becoming very good at tuning you out. Just as a stoplight does not get brighter when it turns red, there is no need to make your “No” louder.


Action is the key.
After you have issued one “No”, your child needs to receive feedback from you. If he stopped and complied when you said “No,” praise him. If he ignores you, respond in the most appropriate manner necessary to help him understand that “No” is not a suggestion, it’s a demand. Saying “No” multiple times, with no meaningful consequence, teaches your child that it’s a demand that can be ignored. This, in turn, reduces your authority as a parent and increases the likelihood your child will learn to ignore future requests. On the other hand, providing immediate and meaningful consequences after you have issued a “No” will help your child find meaning in your command and will serve as a future cue that he needs to pay attention when he hears “No.”


This article is an excerpt from the newly published book Help! There’s a Toddler in the House! by Thomas M. Reimers, Ph.D. Reimers is Director of Boys Town’s Behavioral Health Clinic, which provides outpatient services and counseling to youth and families. Order the book today!

Good Parenting Takes Time!

The professionals at Boys Town believe that a child’s behavior – good or bad – is learned. Therefore, the child’s behavior can be unlearned. Parents should not lose heart when behavior changes don’t occur overnight. Think about this: Learned behavior takes a lot of practice and modeling to acquire, and change doesn’t happen by waving a magic wand over children and – “abracadabra” – they act the way you want.

It is the wise parent who knows that anything worth teaching a child takes effort and, often, hard work! So what should you take into consideration when you want to change your child’s behavior?

  1. How much TIME you spend teaching your children what you don’t want instead of what you do want.

    DON’T waste time telling children what you don’t want them to do or threatening them with a consequence you may not give.

    DO show and describe behavior you want to see and give a reasonable consequence. For example, you might start by saying, “What I want you to do is sit calmly… and because you are teasing your sister… you earned this… as a consequence.”

  2. Examine how you communicate with your child most of the TIME and decide if your communication is changing your child’s behavior for the better.

    DON’T waste time using vague parenting skills that are hard for you to back-up and even harder for your child to understand.

    DO say what you mean and mean what you say. Use a serious but calm tone when correcting behavior. For example, you might say, “I know it’s hard, but right now I want you to stop talking and take a deep breath.”

  3. Review whether the consequences you are using are actually changing your child’s behavior over TIME.

    DON’T always pay your child off with money, gifts, snacks, etc., for good behavior. You will end up creating a “give-me-junkie.”

    DO use non-tangible consequences such as encouragement, attention and time spent together as motivators for good behavior. Most children by age 5 have more toys then they can play with and more than their parents can house. Motivate your children by spending time with them. The memories you make will never break or fade. For instance, spend time fishing with your 6-year-old the next time he comes home with a positive report from school.

    DON’T over-use one particular consequence – positive or negative; it may backfire on you. If you always send your child to his or her room as a punishment, but the problem continues, switch your consequences. The over-use of any consequence can render it useless.

    DO use a variety of consequences to keep your child interested and energized about changing his or her behavior.

REMEMBER: Slow, consistent change is the best kind because it is often more lasting.

Effective Praise: Applaud the Effort, Not Just the Outcome

All children carry unique pictures of themselves, shaped in large measure by messages communicated by significant people, especially parents. A child is not born with a self-image; a self-image is learned through experiences beginning from birth.

Applaud effort, not just outcome.

If your child does not make the team, or win the spelling bee, or play the lead in the school play, pat your youngster on the back for trying. While victories are certainly cause for celebration, less obvious achievements should also be noted. Even though your child may not be “first” or “best” or “perfect” in a particular event or activity, he or she should be praised for improving or making an attempt in the first place.

On the other hand, do not overindulge your child with empty compliments. At times, you must make negative or corrective statements. When you do need to correct your child’s behavior, be sure to focus on the behavior itself.

For example, instead of saying, “You’re lazy!” say, “I’m concerned about your grade in science. What can you do to improve it?” Instead of, “You are a complete slob!” say, “Your room needs to be tidied.” Go from there to deliver specific instructions.

Respect your child’s unique qualities.

Think about the expectations your parents had for you as a child. Consider whether you are placing the same expectations on your child, even though your youngster has a different array of needs and talents.

Your child is unlike all others and should be loved unconditionally for the separate person he or she is. It is unhealthy to compare your child with friends, siblings, or you as a child. Encourage independence, and respect your child’s right to fulfill personal potential. You might be surprised at just how wonderful that potential turns out to be.

Fairness: Defining Character

A person of character is fair and just. He/she tries to be impartial and is open to differing viewpoints.

Consider the following examples of “do’s and don’ts:”


  • Treat people equally and give everyone a chance.
  • Be open-minded to what others have to say.
  • Follow and play by the rules.


  • Take advantage of others.
  • Blame others carelessly or unfairly.
  • Use favoritism in rewarding or punishing others.
  • Take more than your fair share of anything.


  • Play by the rules.
  • Take turns and share.
  • Be open-minded; listen to others.
  • Don’t blame others carelessly.

Don’t Confuse Assertiveness With Aggressiveness

Being assertive takes a lot of guts, courage…and heart. For many teens, it’s a difficult skill to master. But if your teen lacks assertiveness, he or she runs the risk of being taken advantage of by those who confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness.a

Here’s an example of being non-assertive:

A telemarketer phones you and begins some lengthy promotional spiel for a product “absolutely guaranteed to make you rich.” You know you don’t want the product, but you don’t interrupt or hang up. Or you timidly say, “I don’t think that I need your product.” Then the telemarketer comes back with a pushy sales pitch, and you sit and wonder how you’re going to get rid of this person.

The assertive thing to do is to say politely and firmly, “I’m really not interested. Please don’t call again,” and then hang up. This isn’t done enough. If it were, telemarketing wouldn’t be so successful. Too many people have trouble saying no.

On the other hand, there are aggressive people who push their way through life. They’re insensitive to others’ needs. They blame, criticize and bully to get their way. When aggressive people express themselves, it’s at the expense of others.

An assertive person will not only communicate his or her needs but will also show respect and concern for the needs of others. Here are three simple strategies you can share with teens to help them be more assertive:

  1. Start being more assertive with friends and family members. (By expressing your positive feelings to the people closest to you, you can learn to be more assertive in other relationships as well.)
  2. Learn how to begin a conversation (Be the first one to ask a question or make a statement. It’s a great icebreaker and will likely generate a response.)
  3. Make “I” statements. (When you have an opinion that you think is worthwhile, be assertive enough to say, “I think…”)

Teenagers are at a point in their lives where they expect more independence, and you expect them to be more responsible. If you want your teen to have a stronger sense of self, you may want to share with him or her the self-help book Who’s in the Mirror? Finding the Real Me. The book tells teens that they have more control over their lives than they often think. It also gives advice about how they can work to improve their interpersonal skills.

Wait! Before You Begin Toilet Training


By Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D. – Boys Town Behavioral Health Services

Many parents get nervous when they think about toilet training their young child. The folklore about toilet training may have a lot to do with their anxiety. For example, parents hear stories about children being toilet trained at six months of age. Those kinds of stories are ridiculous; a child who can’t walk cannot possibly go to the toilet without help, which is what being toilet trained means. Or, a mother hears from relatives that as a child, she was easily trained and then never had an accident – day or night. Such folklore makes parents think there is some simple way – if only they knew it – to toilet train a child once and for all. No wonder parents question whether they or their child is up to the task of toilet training.

We’d like to help you get past these myths and misconceptions and give you some practical, common sense information that can help make potty training your child a more pleasant and satisfying experience.

Forget the Folklore

You can toilet train your child effectively and efficiently if you keep in mind some basic guidelines. Do these four things before you get started with potty training:

Relax. Toilet training is often the first task that parents take a strong stand on. Sure, it is important to you, but adding tension and pressure to the process will not make it any easier for you or your child. Remember, unlike eating, sleeping, and playing, there is no natural, immediate payoff for your child when he or she uses the toilet. Your child may not always cooperate with you during toilet training, but your tension will just make things worse. You know your child eventually will learn to use the toilet, so don’t make it a contest of wills. Be calm and patient, and allow your child some time to get the idea.

Wait. Most children are toilet trained when they are 2, 3, or 4 years old. A few children are ready earlier, but just to be on the safe side, wait until your child is at least 2 years old.

Make sure you are ready. Do you really want to find out where the bathroom is in every store and restaurant you go to and on every highway and street you drive? Are you ready for potty interruptions all day long? Have the grandparents let up on their pressure about toilet training? (Remember, toilet training need not be a community affair. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to mention your child’s efforts to anyone else, even grandparents.) Has the crisis at work passed? Is the household relatively stable now, and will it continue to be so for a few weeks? (Having other parts of your life running smoothly will help ease the chore of toilet training.)

Make sure your child is ready. If you are really ready to toilet train, see if your child is ready. Parents and others (grandma, aunt, friends) sometimes push toilet training before there are clear signs that the child is ready. Your child is not ready:

  • Just because he’s told you he wants to wear “big boy” pants.
  • Just because she wants the Big Wheel you promised as a reward.
  • Just because he or she has had some dry days playing on the potty chair. (Many children do this around 18 months of age.)

What Is Readiness?

  • Age: Your child should be at least 20 months old and preferably 2 years old or older.
  • Physical readiness: Your child should be able to pick up objects, lower and raise his or her pants, and walk from room to room easily.
  • Bladder readiness: Your child should already be staying dry for several hours at a time, urinating about four to six times a day, and completely emptying his or her bladder. If your child is still wetting a small amount frequently (7 to 10 times a day), you should wait.
  • Language readiness: Your child should understand your toileting words, words like “wet,” “dry,” “pants,” and “bathroom.” If your child does not understand what you are talking about, you should wait.
  • Instructional readiness: Your child should be able to understand simple instructions, such as “Come here, please” and “Sit down.” Just as important, your child should be following the reasonable instructions you give. If your child opposes you much of the time and has frequent temper tantrums, you will probably have problems with toilet training.
  • Bladder and bowel awareness: Your child may indicate that he or she is aware of the need to void or eliminate. Children usually indicate this awareness not through words but through actions – making a face, assuming a special posture like squatting, or going to a certain location when they feel the urge to urinate or defecate. This may be a positive sign that your child is ready to begin toilet training.

Getting Your Child Ready

You can take some steps now that will help your child when, at some time in the future, you begin toilet training.

Let your child watch you. Your child can learn a lot about how to use the toilet correctly by watching a parent. Frequently let your child come with you when you go to the bathroom. Use simple words to explain what you are doing (for example, “Mommy is going peepee in the potty.”).

Teach your child to raise and lower his or her pants. You can do this gradually when you are dressing or undressing your child. With your daughter, for example, you can first pull down her pants with little or no help from her. Then, do less pulling and let her do more. This process may take many weeks, but it is worthwhile. Later, when you begin toilet training, you will be glad that your child already knows how to pull down his or her pants and that you don’t have to tackle that learning task in addition to toilet training.

Help your child learn to follow your instructions. Make sure you have your child’s attention when you give an instruction. Immediately praise your child if he or she does what you ask. If your child does not follow your instruction right away, gently guide him or her through what should be done, and do not give another instruction until the first one has been followed. If your child starts to cry, ignore the crying. When your child has calmed down, repeat your instruction. If you often have trouble getting your child to follow your instructions, ask your health care provider for guidelines on managing your child’s behavior, or search the Boys Town Web site for valuable help.

Set out a potty chair. A few weeks, or even months, before you think you will start toilet training, make a potty chair available to your child so that he or she can get used to it. Put it in the bathroom or in another room so your child has a chance to investigate it. Let your child get used to sitting on it, with clothes on. Encourage your son to sit on the potty (instead of standing in front of it) so that he will be used to sitting when you start toilet training. (Later on, when he is well past being toilet trained, he can stand.)

Praise your child. Every time your child does something the right way, be sure to let him or her know. Praise your child with words that are brief and to the point, such as “You did a good job pulling down your pants.” Or, give your child a smile, a hug, or a kiss. This attention is how you teach your child what behavior pleases you.


By forgetting the folklore, following a few guidelines, getting yourself and your child ready, and preparing, toilet training should be easier for everyone involved. Just remember the things you can do before beginning to potty train:

  • Frequently let your child watch you go to the bathroom.
  • Teach your child to raise and lower his or her pants.
  • Teach your child to follow your instructions.
  • Make sure you are ready before you try to toilet train your child.
  • Make sure your child is ready.
  • Wait until your child is at least 2 years old.
  • Set out a potty chair so your child can get used to it.
  • Relax.
  • Praise your child every time he or she does any part of toileting behavior correctly.

Recommended Reading

Christophersen, E.R. (1988) Little people: Guidelines for common sense child-rearing.
Shawnee Mission, KS: Overland Press. (See especially Chapter 16, “Toilet Training,” pp. 107-113.)

Berk, L.B., & Friman, P.C. (1990). Epidemiologic aspects of toilet training. Clinical Pediatrics, 29, 278-282.

Starting Toilet Training: The 7 P Plan

Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D. – Boys Town Behavioral Health Services

The first step in toilet training is to make sure both you and your child are ready. Okay, I realize no one is ever really totally ready for toilet training. But your child should be at least developmentally and behaviorally ready. That means your heretofore untrained child should be at least 2 years old and be able to do such things as walk from room to room, raise and lower his or her own pants, sit independently, and follow a few one-step commands without raising a big fuss.

Children also should have some awareness of the need to urinate. So if they’re acting like they have ants in their pants but don’t, that’s usually a good sign they know, on some level, that they need to go. They should show the need only about five or six times a day. Your home life also should be fairly stable at this time (e.g., no home construction going on, in-laws who stay more than three days, major marital disputes, or other distractions).

Next, get a potty chair. Or, if you choose not to use a potty chair, get a stool your child can use while on the toilet. If you want to know why this is necessary, I suggest you try having a bowel movement while your feet are dangling above the bathroom floor. Much will be made clear to you. Comfort is a commodity that is hard to overrate when the task at hand involves having a bowel movement (regardless of the age of the bowel mover), and it’s hard to be comfortable when the person engaging in that task does not have good support for his or her feet. You also might consider purchasing an adaptor for the toilet seat that makes the seat child‑sized. One new adaptor on the market even has a stepladder attached. It is a relatively easy way for children to move up in the world.

Parents often are worried that their child will be afraid of falling in the toilet. There are no factual accounts of children (or adults) falling in. No one has ever admitted falling in. No one knows of someone who has fallen in. But the fear survives, resistant to history, facts, and outright logic. Let’s deal with it this way: It’s a parent fear, not a child fear (at least until it spreads from the parent to the child; it’s a very catchy fear). So it’s good to suppress this fear and remember that children are actually naturally curious about the toilet. They also usually enjoy flushing it over and over, which can lead to a different and more realistic fear for parents.

Also, be aware that long after your child is toilet trained, daytime wetting and soiling accidents will happen from time to time – and that’s the good news. The bad news is that bedwetting accidents are common all the way up to age 7, especially in boys. These continued accidents are merely God’s way of reminding you that procreative activity (i.e., sex) was supposed to be about having children and not having fun. They also can provide just the right amount of humility for your child. It’s hard to be too full of yourself when your pants are full of poop. If accidents do become a frequent problem, you should probably ask your child’s doctor about them. In general, try and remember that a child who is learning to use the toilet has to master many different skills and success does not come all at once. So give your child time and expect some accidents. After all, wouldn’t you rather be surprised than disappointed? Finally, try to remain calm and patient.

Now let’s get down to business. The letter P will figure powerfully in our plan. In fact, let’s call it:

The Seven P Potty Problem Prevention Plan

  1. Parent modeling. Frequently allow your child to go with either you or your spouse to the bathroom. It’s like anything else; a smart kid can learn a lot by watching an expert. If you have some modesty about this, please park it for a while. After all, its just you and your child, and both of you have seen all there is to see, so to speak.
  2. Potty chair. Give your child a chance to get used to and comfortable with the potty chair. Set it out and let your child sit on it, name it, put stickers on it, and pound his or her brother or sister for trying to sit on it.
  3. Practice. Let your child practice using the potty chair. This practice should be “play” practice, with clothes on. Just remember to be prepared for what you might call “method acting.” In theatre, method acting involves actors actually experiencing the emotion they are trying to portray in the performance. In potty training, method acting involves actually eliminating during practice. True, there will be a mess, but hey, you’ve seen hundreds just like it and this one is a sign of good things to come. The next part may be difficult for some dads, but it’s only temporary, trust me. In the beginning, boys should be trained to sit on the potty chair or the toilet, for two reasons. First, sitting encourages bowel movements and so you might get a “twofer,” which is a bowel movement and urination during the same sitting. Second, sitting will help avoid what one might call the “garden hose” effect. Untrained boys have not yet had to stand, urinate, and aim all at the same time and may (will) accidentally spray the room (missing the potty or the toilet). So, if you can stand it, so to speak, boys should sit. Later, when toilet training is well established, they can stand.
  4. Pampers and Pull-ups. Unfortunately for your child (but fortunately for your budget), to make the program work, your child must go “cold turkey” on Pampers and Pull-ups, except at bedtime. (Daytime and nighttime training programs should be separate, and while you are working on daytime training, it is fine to keep kids in Pampers or Pull-ups at night.) The reason for the cold-turkey approach is simple: Pampers and Pull-ups are actually wearable toilets, and your child is unlikely to see much need for using the one in your home when he or she can much more easily use the one he or she is wearing.
  5. Prompting (Tell, don’t ask). As discussed in P #3, practice is important. Unfortunately, its importance will be much more apparent to you than to your child. In fact, let’s tell it like it is – he or she could probably care less. So you will need to prompt your child to go to the bathroom and sit for a few minutes multiple times a day. Tell, don’t ask. Asking very young children if they have to go to the bathroom is sort of like enrolling them in lying school. They will routinely say no, even if they are about to burst. But look at it from their point of view. When we ask, what children actually hear is something like, “Would you like to go and sit on a large, cold porcelain receptacle that is full of potty water and into which mommy and daddy are afraid you might fall?” You can see how the logical answer to this question is “no.” So instead of asking, just tell them it is time to go and then take them and have them sit. Then refer to P #6.
  6. Praise. MCs at concerts often say something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for (name of the star, band, or act)” when urging a crowd to show its approval and excitement. Well, in a sense, I am the MC for toilet training, and I want to urge you to give it up for your little trainee. In the early stages of a training program, toileting behaviors are like little sprouts in a spring garden: Both need something to help them grow. For little sprouts, its water and fertilizer (so to speak). For toileting behaviors, praise and approval are the water and fertilizer that help them grow and blossom. So come on and give it up for the little poopers and pee-ers. Said differently, every time your child does any toileting behavior correctly – pulls down his or her pants, sits on the potty, whatever – be sure to praise him or her. Do this even when your child is having more accidents than successes. Remember, as children enter into the training phase, the training is likely to be way more important to you than it is to them. But if they get the idea that pooping and peeing into the potty is a way for them to get their names in lights, the importance of training will quickly increase for them, along with their cooperation. You can take this a step further and use rewards. One method I often use is to wrap little items – stickers, tiny toys, beads, gum, etc. – in tin foil and put them in jar near the bathroom. When the child achieves a success at any level, he or she gets to grab one prize (not one handful) from the jar. Praise and rewards make the training experience fulfilling, and make it more likely that children will repeat the positive toilet behaviors.
  7. Postpone. Here in P #7 we have some really good news. You can always postpone. You can always put them back in Pampers or Pull-ups, declare a moratorium on any discussion about toileting for a few weeks or even months, and then start again. They will ultimately be motivated to be trained, possibly by something other than your prompting. For example, the rules of social life in childhood weigh heavily against toileting accidents in school-aged kids. In fact, research shows that having an accident in school is the third greatest child fear, behind the death of a parent and going blind. (And I know that high school kids frown on their peers who wear Pampers or Pull-ups.) So the point of P #7 is that if training is going badly, for whatever reason, you can use the time-honored method for winning a war that is being lost – declare victory and retreat.


  1. Wait until your child is at least 2 years old.
  2. Frequently allow your child to watch you go to the bathroom.
  3. Make sure both you and your child are ready.
  4. Let your child practice on a potty chair, with clothes on.
  5. Prompt your child – tell, don’t ask
  6. Postpone toilet training for a few weeks if it isn’t going well or if you are getting tense about it.
  7. Expect accidents.
  8. If your child has a lot of accidents or if you must use intensive toilet training, ask your health care provider for the guidelines on positive practice.
  9. Praise your child every time he or she does any part of toileting behavior correctly.

Recommended Reading

Berk, L.B., & Friman, P.C. (1990).  Epidemiologic aspects of toilet training.  Clinical Pediatrics, 29, 278-282.

Christophersen, E.R., & Friman, P.C. (2004).  Elimination disorders.  In R. Brown (Ed.), Handbook of pediatric psychology in school settings (pp. 467-488).  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Friman, P.C. (2003).  Encopresis.  In W. Odonohue, S. Hayes, and J. Fisher (Eds.), Empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy (pp. 51-58).  New York:  Wiley.

Friman, P.C., & Jones, K.M. (2005).  Behavioral treatment for nocturnal enuresis.  Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention, 2, 259-267.

Friman, P.C., Hofstadter, K.L., & Jones, K.M. (2006).  A biobehavioral approach to the treatment of functional encopresis in children.  Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Interventions, 3, 263-272.

Positive Practice for Toileting Accidents

By Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D. – Boys Town Behavioral Health Services

Sometimes, good preparation, faithfully following the 7 P’s of Toilet Training plan, and even intensive toilet training are not enough to accomplish full continence in young children. That is when we really need to get serious, resorting to measures like having our kids watch the video of their live delivery – in reverse. (Kids get really quiet after this. They also get really compliant and become accident free.)

Okay, just kidding about that. But such times do call for a different, more serious approach. One of the best is called positive practice. Positive practice involves working with the child in an intensive practice of what he or she should have done – the positive alternative – instead of having an accident. It requires the child to practice going to the toilet 10 times immediately after an accident, every time one occurs. Because positive practice is really boring and takes a lot of time and effort, children become motivated fairly quickly to avoid it. Of course, the best way for them to do that is to poop or pee in the toilet instead of their clothing.

While your child will be in charge of much of this activity, you, as a parent, can make positive practice work by remembering several important points:

  • Check your child for clean pants frequently, every half hour or so. If his or her pants are clean, give lots of kisses and hugs. If they are wet or soiled, let your child know that in just a few words.
  • Don’t get angry; it won’t help your child learn to go to the bathroom. Remember, you will teach your child to use the toilet by having him or her practice. Guide your child gently through the 10 practices if necessary, but with little discussion.
  • Remain calm during the practices. Don’t nag or threaten. Talk as little as possible.
  • Accept the fact that your child will wet or soil his or her pants and will have go through positive practice several times before the problem is solved. In fact, the more often your child goes through these practices, the more quickly you will get results.

The Positive Practice Procedure

  1. When you find that your child has soiled or wet pants, say so in a matter-of-fact tone of voice and tell your child that he or she will now have to practice using the toilet. Ask your child, “Where do you go to the potty?” If your child does not answer right away, say, “You go to the bathroom.”
  2. Tell your child that before practicing, he or she will have to change into clean pants. Go with your child to change pants and help him or her if necessary. Do not talk about the wetting accident. Begin the positive practice immediately after the child has changed.
  3. Start by going either to the scene of the accident (when known) or where your child was when you discovered the wet pants. Use this spot as your starting point. Take your child by the hand and calmly lead him or her to the bathroom. Help your child lower his or her pants, sit down on the toilet, get up, and pull the pants up. Then head back to the starting point.
  4. Repeat this procedure until the child has made the trip from the starting point to the toilet 10 times. Try not to talk with your child during positive practice. You may, however, keep count of the practices by saying something like, “Now do Practice Number Seven.”
  5. If your child gets angry or refuses to follow your directions, use your usual discipline to get him or her to complete the positive practice. (See “Time-out Guidelines for Parents”.) If this approach doesn’t work, contact the health professional who is working with you to stop your child’s wetting accidents. That person should be able to provide some effective ways to deal with a child who resists positive practice. If you decide to use time-out to discipline your child, resume positive practice when the time-out is over. If your child resists again, merely return him or her to time-out. Then let your child know that his or her choices are to be in time-out or finish the positive practice.
  6. Don’t give in. Try to do 10 practices every time you find your child has wet or soiled pants. Almost every parent who has tried the positive practice procedure has been tempted to cut the number of practices to five or six. But the procedure is effective only if you do the full number every time.
  7. Whenever your child does use the toilet (instead of wetting his or her pants), be sure to give him or her lots of praise and possibly a small reward.


  1. Check for dry pants frequently (every 30 minutes or so).
  2. If pants are clean, give kisses and hugs; if pants are wet or soiled, have child tell you where he or she goes potty.
  3. Change to dry pants.
  4. Return to scene of accident.
  5. Have child go to bathroom, take down pants, sit on toilet, get up, pull up pants, and return to scene of accident.
  6. Repeat this practice 10 times.
  7. Guide your child through the practice, if necessary.
  8. Talk as little as possible during the procedure.
  9. Praise your child whenever he or she uses the bathroom.

Is It Too Early To Teach My Toddler and Preschooler Responsibility?

There are plenty of small responsibilities tailor-made for the little hands of your toddler or preschooler.

  • It wouldn’t be unreasonable for your toddler to have the responsibility of throwing away his or her disposable diaper after you’ve secured it.
  • There is no rule against having your bed-wetting five-year-old help with clean-up, including removing the sheets from the bed and putting them in the hamper.
  • Your four-year-old would probably be very proud to have the grown-up responsibility of placing the spoons on the dinner table for the family meal.

It is better to give children responsibility gradually, when they are still young so they don’t take on the attitude that such jobs are your duty. Some of the opportunities and advantages of giving toddlers and preschoolers age-appropriate responsibilities include the following:

  • It’s 7 a.m., and four-year-old Timmy is still sitting in the middle of his bedroom floor with his shoes in front of him. After a few threats from Mom, he begins to whine that he cannot put on his shoes this morning. “You do it Mommy!” he demands. Mom could take over the responsibility of putting on her son’s shoes, but instead she takes the time to teach him that it is his responsibility. He can ask Mom, without whining or demanding, to knot the laces. Mom says, “Timmy, I’m going to set the timer. When it goes off, I expect you to try to put on your own shoes.” She quickly leaves the room to finish other morning chores. Now, whether Timmy follows this instruction or not, Mom has given him a reasonable and clear responsibility to put on his shoes. If he tries, she can encourage and praise him. If he does not, she can give him more time in the car to try to put on his shoes before being allowed to play with his favorite traveling toy. In the long run, his struggle is worth it.
  • Lisa is 5, and she has learned that it is her responsibility to answer the phone by saying, “Hello, this is the Smith home. Please wait. I will get my mom or dad.” She then lays the phone down quietly and quickly finds an adult to take the call. Her parents practiced with her for several weeks before she was allowed to answer the phone for real. Along the way, they praised and encouraged her attempts, progress and accomplishments. For Lisa, this responsibility also served as a reward.
  • Tami learned that good health is a must. That’s why her mom made her responsible for getting everyone to brush their teeth before bedtime. Tami’s job is to show Mom, Dad and siblings the proper way to take care of teeth. She receives a star on her daily chart every night for this and earns a surprise of her choice when she gets three stars.

Here are a few tips to develop your child’s sense of responsibility:

  • Be aware. Know whether your child is developmentally ready to do the task.
  • Show and tell. Talk to your child, and show him or her how to do what’s expected.
  • Work with him or her. Assist your child when he or she first begins learning what you want.
  • Be consistent but flexible. Remember: It’s your child’s job, not yours, even when you help.
  • Support the struggle. Don’t rescue your child right away. Even if he or she fails in the beginning, your child will be more confident when the responsibility is finally mastered.
  • Show encouragement. Praise your child for the attempts, improvements and completion of tasks.
  • Break it down. Separate a large task into smaller parts based on your child’s ability.
  • Be patient. You may have to redo parts of the job until your child gets better at it. However, do not let your child see you go back over something!
  • Keep track. Chart your child’s progress to show what he or she is learning.

How to Be Caring

As parents, we want our children to be thoughtful and caring toward family, friends, neighbors, teachers and strangers. But how exactly do you help your child express caring feelings? Rather than wait and hope it comes naturally, teach your child what it means to be a caring individual.

To be a person who cares means that you are kind and compassionate to others. You express your gratitude. You forgive others and help those in need. These may be too abstract for your child to understand, but you can teach him or her very specific behaviors that embody the concept. For example, you can teach your son to accept apologies from others by teaching him to do the following:

  • Look at the person who is apologizing.
  • Listen to what he or she is saying.
  • Remain calm. Do not respond with sarcastic statements.
  • Thank the person for apologizing. Say, “Thanks for saying ‘I’m sorry'” or “That’s OK.”

As another example, you can teach your daughter how to offer help when a classmate has dropped her books:

  • Ask your classmate if you may help pick up his books and papers.
  • Listen to what your classmate needs, such as help finding a certain homework paper.
  • Agree to help find the paper and to pick up the rest of the books.
  • Stay with your classmate until all his books are picked up.

When you put the abstract into concrete behavioral steps, it’s much easier for children to understand. And remember: If you want your children to be caring individuals, it’s imperative that you be one yourself.

Two great resources you can use to learn about the behavioral steps associated with social skills include Teaching Social Skills to Youth and Basic Social Skills for Youth.


Is cleanliness next to intelligence? It sounds a little far-fetched, but there may be some truth in the idea. We are not saying that your child’s impeccable hygiene means that he or she will graduate at the top of the preschool or kindergarten class. Still, if sloppy habits and atrocious organizational skills plague your young child’s every move, these poor practices may hinder him or her in an education setting.

You may want to invest in decreasing future learning problems by using practical methods to improve your preschooler’s organizational and thought-processing skills. These skills will help him or her to stay on-task, avoid distractions and remember routine instructions.

Here are some practical and fun ways to help clean up your child’s messy organizational skills.

Clean up your communication:

  • Clear the area of any distractions (TV-watching, game-playing, vacuuming) while you are talking with your child. Get your child in the practice of paying attention to you by setting the stage, modeling what you want and consistently setting clear expectations.
  • Get on your child’s eye level when you are speaking to him or her.
  • Look and listen to your child’s body language. If he or she is fidgeting, frowning, slumping, sighing, whining, etc., clean up the behavior so he or she can listen.

Listening skills are a must in any school environment. The above subtle behaviors may seem minor at home but, if done frequently in school, they could hinder your child’s ability to learn.

If your child is too fidgety, angry or distracted to follow instructions, do one or more of the following:

  • Take a break.
    • Example: “Sit here for a minute. We’ll try it again when you can be still.”
  • Remove your child from the distraction.
    • Example: “Come with me to the other room. I want to show you something.”
  • Use a calm voice tone and redirect his or her attention.
    • Example: (Parent whispers) “You are talking back. Take two deep breaths and calm down.”

Organizational training:

Create fun, brief activities that your young child will be willing to do. These activities should teach him or her how to organize thoughts and actions. For instance, have your child help you make a snack. Read parts of the instructions from the recipe aloud. Ask your child to repeat each simple instruction. Then ask what should be done first, second and third to complete the task. Encourage and use visual prompts to help if he or she forgets.

Example: Say to your child, “Stir the batter for two minutes. Let’s say it again together! … What do we need to do first?” Mom points to the egg timer… “What do we need to do next with this spoon?” … The point of the activity is not to make a snack but to work on organizing thoughts and actions. If the cake doesn’t rise, success may still have occurred.

Remembering instructions and processing events are important skills for children to develop, especially in a school environment. Your child will receive all sorts of instructions that require things such as standing on the red circle after putting toys on the shelf and before sitting down to get a snack. You would be surprised at how many negative phone calls you might avoid by encouraging these skills with simple activities.

Read more fun ideas on how to encourage your child’s memory and processing skills in upcoming articles and in Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Brain Booster!

There are many creative ways to encourage your toddler’s interests and natural abilities while also improving his or her reading and writing skills. Learning shouldn’t be a chore for you or your toddler. Learning can be a natural part of our daily lives if we take the time to be mindful of all the opportunities around us. Here’s how parents like you turn everyday events into learning opportunities:

Two-year-old Kevin pronounces simple words and forms whole sentences. To encourage his verbal ability, Kevin’s parents play Word Hunt with him. The game is similar to hide and seek. Mom and Dad hide objects around a room, then tell Kevin to look for a particular object. His parents repeat the word several times and show Kevin a picture of the word. “Kevin I want you to find the ball. Say ball. It looks like this picture,” says Dad. (Kevin repeats the word) “Good! Now, let’s find the ball!” The whole family takes turns joining in the hunt with Kevin, looking for other objects throughout the day.

Five-year-old Elisa hops into the family car when Mom picks her up from kindergarten. As Mom is strapping Elisa into the booster seat, she asks, “What did you learn in school today?” The bright little girl quickly replies, “Nothing.” This is when Mom tries to improve Elisa’s talking and listening skills. Mom begins a new conversation by telling Elisa how her own day went. This models conversation skills to Elisa. Mom also uses a storyboard approach by asking Elisa about her day using open-ended and follow-up questions. “Tell me three fun things you did on the playground today before we get to the next stoplight,” Mom says. (Elisa shares fun stories.) “When your teacher said it was time to stop playing, what did you do?” (Elisa replies). “What made it hard to stop playing?”

Jackson is a rambunctious preschooler who loves the outdoors, handling objects and interacting with nature. Dad decides to encourage his son’s enthusiasm for learning by creating a garden box for Jackson in the backyard. Dad helps Jackson learn how things grow from season to season. Dad tells Jackson that the garden is his responsibility and he will need to be attentive, follow instructions and learn the tasks of a gardener. “Jackson, the things you grow in the garden will someday be served at family dinner. Mom and I will be so proud cooking your vegetables!”

Tasha is 3 and has difficulty remembering things, especially recent events or instructions just given. Tasha’s dad, in an attempt to improve her short-term memory, uses a homemade “Memory Puppet” to be a visual focus for Tasha. Fun and interactive, the Puppet is used to break down instructions to help Tasha listen to, repeat and retain bits of short-term information. Tasha’s dad puts the Puppet on her hand and says, “Memory Puppet says, ‘repeat after me. Pick up your shoes.'” (Tasha repeats the phrase, using Puppet to mouth the words, then she does the action.) Dad then says, “Memory Puppet says, ‘hop to your room.'” (Tasha repeats the instruction, then hops to her room.) Finally, Dad says, “Memory Puppet says, ‘put the shoes in the closet, then clap three times.'” (Tasha repeats the instruction and does the action.) Dad applauds and gives Tasha a big hug. “Good job! You remembered everything I said!” Later, as Tasha’s short-term memory improves, Dad gives her two and three different instructions at the same time.

These are just a few of many brain busters you can try with your children.

Getting Kids to Sleep using a Bedtime Routine

Kimberly DeRuyck, Ph.D. – Boys Town Behavioral Pediatrics & Family Services Clinic

Most parents accept and even expect fatigue when caring for infants. However, when sleep problems persist into the preschool and school age years, strategies can be used to help your child (and you as parents) get a better night’s sleep. Many children get far less sleep than the recommended amount. For instance:

  • 3 year-olds typically require approximately 12 hours (including a nap)
  • 10 year-olds generally need about 10 hours
  • Teenagers should have about 9 hours of sleep each night

Insufficient sleep is linked with a variety of consequences, some of which include irritability, delayed motor responsiveness, poorer memory and focus, and an array of health problems. Whether your child refuses to go to bed, repeatedly gets out of bed before falling asleep, crawls into bed with you during the night, or takes a long time to fall asleep, the guidelines below will help your child get a better night’s rest.

Before Bedtime:

  1. Create a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep
    • Remove electronics from her bedroom (telephone, television, videogames, etc.).
    • Keep the bedroom cool and dark. If she wants some light, use one nightlight.
    • If your child enjoys playing with toys when it’s time for bed, make the toys inaccessible at bedtime (store them in the closet with child-proof handles).
    • Keep it simple. Bedding and one security item (a stuffed animal or favorite blanket) are sufficient. Additional toys provide extra sources of distraction at a time when we don’t want her to be distracted.
  2. Develop a bedtime routine
    • Create a short routine before bedtime that involves quiet activities that occur in the same order every night. For example, have a snack, put pajamas on, brush teeth, go to the bathroom, say prayers, and read one book. It is important that this routine remains the same every night because the routine cues your child that bedtime is approaching.
    • The length of the routine depends upon how much time you have available at night. Every night, you should allocate roughly the same amount of time for this routine. If you are like most families, your evenings are busy and keeping the routine relatively short will ensure that you have time to complete this routine every night.


  1. Put your child to bed when she is still awake. Children learn how to fall asleep through practice. If you always rock your child to sleep, she will rely on rocking whenever she wakes during the night and needs to go back to sleep…yes, even at 3 in the morning.
    • It is okay to leave the door cracked open if you feel more comfortable doing so. If she attempts an escape, return her to bed and close the door for the rest of the night.
  2. Tell her good night and remove yourself from the bedroom.

After Bedtime:

  • Ignore all of her attempts to summon you back to her room. This may include crying, pleading, demanding, coaxing, and even bargaining. Though this is difficult and even painful for some parents, it is highly effective and will resolve bedtime problems in a relatively short period of time.
  • If your child gets out of bed, transform into a robot-like version of mom or dad and immediately return her to bed. Specific techniques are as follows: lift her up under the arms so that she is facing the same direction as you are, carry her to bed, gently place her in the bed, and adjust the covers. During this time, do not talk to her, do not provide any type of affection (hugs, kisses, soothing, etc.), and of course, do not allow your child to delay bedtime.
  • If your child is behaving unusually at bedtime, it is okay to walk into the bedroom to check on her. When you are in the bedroom, walk around the room but do not talk to her. If your child stops protesting, it is likely that she simply wanted your attention. If your child appears unaffected by your presence, investigate further to ensure that there are no problems (soiled diaper, fever, etc.).
  • Persistence, persistence, persistence! When your child gets out of bed, return your escapee to her own bed every single time that she attempts an escape. It will be exhausting and time consuming initially, but in the long term, it will make the process much easier!

Using Rewards:

  • Reward your child for going to and remaining in bed. Rewards could include adding a star to a sticker chart that eventually earns her a prize, getting a special breakfast cereal, or hiding a surprise under her pillow. Just as adults work in anticipation of a paycheck, your child needs to know that some type of reward will follow. Be sure to explain that she earned the reward because she did a good job going to bed.

Additional considerations:

  • If you think that your child may have a medical problem that affects her sleep or if you suspect that your child is sick, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician before using any of these strategies.
  • Nightmares and night terrors are relatively common among children. When they occur, provide comfort for your child as quickly as possible. You can do this through playing relaxing music, speaking quietly, or reading. Once she is calm, return her to her own bed.
  • The more regular your child’s sleep schedule, the easier the bedtime and morning routines will be. Consistency is very important, even on weekends and summer vacations from school.
  • Be consistent – insist that your child sleep alone in her bed every night. If you allow her to crawl into your bed in the middle of the night when she is sick, she may request this on nights when she is not sick.
  • If you discover your child in bed with you during the night, immediately return her to her own bed.
  • There are risks associated with sharing your bed with your child, including adults rolling onto the child, the child falling out of the bed, and increased sleep interruptions. In addition to these risks, this is a habit that is incredibly challenging to break.

Initially, your child will probably resist your use of these strategies, though if you are consistent, it won’t take long for her to realize that the changes will remain in place. Though it can be very difficult (and even painful) to listen to your child cry and plead at bedtime, the long-term benefits far exceed the short-term challenges.

Final Comments:
These strategies are more difficult to implement than one would think. Wars are won through a series of successful battles. Try to view each night as a battle that will help you to win the bedtime war! If you continue to experience problems surrounding bedtime, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric psychologist who specializes in these types of problems.


Do you need help getting kids to sleep using a bedtime routine? Buy this book:
Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You Now Get into Bed and Go to Sleep! from Boys Town Press.

Sleepless in Parentville!

Sleep deprivation. It’s something I’m sure you’ve experienced more than once since your baby came home. Losing sleep is part of your job description as a parent. And it doesn’t matter if you have a toddler or a teen.

Feeding a hungry infant in the wee hours of the morning, rocking a sick child to sleep in the middle of the night – these are the moments that keep you awake at night.

According to most sleep specialists, if you try to take a catnap here and there to makeup for sleepless nights, you won’t get the real rest you need. As a result, you may start experiencing memory loss, diminished alertness or illness.

So what is a busy parent to do? Here are a few strategies to help you get that much-needed shuteye:

  • If you have a spouse, take turns being the on-call parent at night. While one gets a night of uninterrupted sleep, the other has a bonding experience with baby.
  • If Mom is breast-feeding baby, she can use a breast pump to prepare extra bottles. Having extra bottles ready means Dad can handle overnight feedings a few times a week.
  • If you’re a single parent, ask a grandparent, sibling or close friend for some relief. Their help, even one or two nights a week, can give you some rest. If possible, you might consider restructuring your job. Maybe you can work from home part of the week or take advantage of flex time.

Your life has changed, and your schedule will have to revolve around your new priority – your child. That doesn’t mean you have to be sleep-deprived the rest of your life. Manage the changes to your lifestyle. Ask for help. Delegate responsibilities. You might just find you have the time to get the sleep you need.

For more tips on this subject, check out Dr. Pat Friman’s book “Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love you, Now Get Into Bed and Go to Sleep!”


Respect is not just a vital ethical virtue; it is also an essential foundation for good relationships. Teens who show disrespect by ignoring, belittling, insulting or defying their parents make effective parenting difficult and unpleasant, if not impossible. Therefore, a central goal of good parenting is to teach your children to respect you.

You also have a duty to treat your teen with respect. Again, this is not only an obligation of conscience but also a practical necessity. Parents who yell, manipulate, insult, demean, abuse or ignore their children erect huge barriers to effective parenting.

Treating people with respect means letting them know that their safety and happiness matter, that they are important. To teach our children to be respectful, we need to translate the moral principal of respect into specific attitudes and actions.

Here are seven basic rules of respect:

  1. Honor the individual worth and dignity of others.
  2. Treat others with courtesy and civility.
  3. Honor reasonable social standards of propriety and decency and personal beliefs, customs and traditions that are important to others.
  4. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  5. Accept and tolerate individual differences and judge others on the content of their character and their abilities rather than religion, race, ethnicity or ideology.
  6. Honor the right of adults and the desire of maturing children to control and direct their own lives.
  7. Avoid using physical force or intimidation, and refrain from improper threats of force.

Here are some points to keep in mind as you strive to model a respectful attitude for your teen:

  • Listen to your teen without judging or criticizing.
  • Let your teen make his or her own decisions as much as possible.
  • Refrain from saying “I told you so” when your teen fails after ignoring your advice – not easy, but important!
  • Never make fun of your teen.
  • Give your teen your full attention when he or she talks to you.
  • Respect their privacy and possessions.
  • Avoid doing things yourself that you don’t want your teen to do: using bad manners, arguing, using offensive language and negative comments.

This information comes from Parenting to Build Character in Your Teen, a joint project of CHARACTER COUNTS! and Common Sense Parenting®.

Learning Tools for Tots

Preschoolers and kindergartners love to learn, especially when it is a fun experience. If you are a creative parent, making learning fun for your toddler or preschooler will be a snap. If you are not so creative, we have a few simple ideas to get you going.

When it comes to encouraging your own children, you can foster a desire to learn that will benefit them the rest of their lives. These ideas can make learning at home enjoyable for you and your child:

According to research, fathers play a big role in the education of young children, especially when it comes to a child’s ability to be self-disciplined and to use positive social skills in school. This is a helpful hint for Dad:

Whenever you play a game with your children, make sure they understand the rules and can demonstrate for you what it is you want them to do. During and after the game, acknowledge your children’s ability to use self-discipline and positive social skills. Try saying phrases such as, “Good Job! You stayed calm even when you lost a turn. I liked the way you took that deep breath and kept on playing. Give me five!”

A recent study of over 200 children found that mothers were an important influence on their children’s ability to cooperate, especially when the children were between 2 and 3. This is a helpful hint to moms trying to potty-train their children:

Build your children’s cooperation and listening skills using a weekly story poster. Create a four-square design on a piece of paper, and write down what your children learned first, second, third and fourth that day with regard to the toilet. You can use an instant camera or draw pictures with your children to document progress. Encourage cooperation and listening skills throughout the day by clapping, singing songs or reading their potty picture books with them.

Try saying things such as, “Wow! You said ‘potty!’ Good job. You listened (Mom pulls her ears) and you said ‘p-o-t-t-y’ (Mom says word slowly) just like Mommy!” After success, show them what they’ve accomplished. You can show them any pictures you took, and you might say, “We are putting away your new training pants! You are a big boy now!” You might even want to add the picture book to their baby book as a memento of their learning experience.

Most research suggests that the involved, cooperative care of children by both mothers and fathers is a key ingredient to success, especially in the first five years of a child’s educational growth. This is a helpful hint for both parents:

How often do you hear your child say, “Nothing!” when you ask what he or she learned in school that day? To get a better picture of how the school day went, ask your child to draw you a picture on the way home of what he or she liked the best and least about school that day. You can start by saying something such as, “Now that we’ve stopped at the red light, show me what you’ve drawn so far. (Mom looks in the rearview mirror) “That drawing is wonderful!” By the time you get home, your child should be ready to share all the details!

Discipline: Time-out Guidelines for Parents

Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D. – Girls and Boys Town

What is time-out?

Time-out is a way of disciplining your child for misbehavior without raising your hand or your voice. Time-out involves removing your child from the good stuff in life, for a small amount of time, immediately following misbehavior. Time-out for children is similar to penalties used for hockey players. When a hockey player has misbehaved on the ice, he is required to go to the penalty area for two minutes. The referee does not scream at, threaten, or hit the player. He merely blows the whistle and points to the penalty area. During the penalty time, the player is not allowed to play, only watch. Time-out bothers hockey players because they would rather play hockey than watch. Keep this hockey comparison in mind when using time-out for your child. Children usually do not like time-out because they would rather play than watch other kids play. So when you use time-out in response to a misbehavior, remove your child from whatever he or she is doing and have him or her sit down.

Where should the time-out area be located?

You do not have to use the same location each time. Just make sure the location is convenient for you. For example, using a downstairs chair is inconvenient when the problem behavior occurs upstairs. An adult-sized chair works best, but a step, footstool, bench, or couch will also work. Make sure the area is well-lit and free from all dangerous objects. Also make sure your child cannot watch TV or play with toys.

How long should time-out last?

The upper limit should be one quiet minute for every year your child has been alive. So if you have a 2-year-old, aim for two quiet minutes. Keep in mind, children do not like time-out, and they can be very public with their opinion. So it may take some time to get those two minutes. This is especially true in the beginning when children do not know the rules and still cannot believe you are doing this to them. For some reason, the calmer you remain, the more upset they are likely to become. This is all part of the process. Discipline works best when you administer it calmly.

So, do not begin the time until your child is calm and quiet. If your child is crying or throwing a tantrum, it does not count toward the required time. If you start the time because your child is quiet but he or she starts to cry or tantrum, wait until your child is quiet again and then start the time over. Do not let your child leave time-out unless he or she is calm; your child must remain seated and be quiet to get out of time-out. Some programs suggest using timers. Timers can be helpful but are not necessary. If you use one, remember the timer is to remind parents that time-out is over, not children.

What counts as quiet time?

Generally, quiet time occurs when your child is not angry or upset, and is not yelling or crying. You must decide when your child is calm and quiet. Some children get perfectly still and quiet while in they’re in time-out. Other children find it hard to sit still and not talk. Fidgeting and “happy talk” should usually count as being calm and quiet. For example, if your son sings or talks softly to himself, that counts as quiet time. Some children do what we call “dieseling,” which is the quiet sniffling that usually follows a tantrum. Since a “dieseling” child is usually trying to stop crying but cannot find the off switch, this also should be counted as quiet time.

What if the child leaves the chair before time is up?

Say nothing! Calmly (and physically) return your child to the chair. For children who are 2 to 4 years old, unscheduled departures from the chair are a chronic problem early in the time-out process. Stay calm and keep returning the child to the chair. If you tire or become angry, invite your spouse (or any adult who is nearby) to assist you as a tag-team partner. If you are alone and become overly tired or angry, retreat with honor. But when help arrives or when your strength returns, set the stage for another time-out.

What if my child misbehaves in the chair?

Say nothing and ignore everything that is not dangerous to child, yourself, and the furniture. I repeat: Say nothing! What do I mean by nothing? I mean not anything, the absence of something, the empty set, the amount of money you have when you have spent it all, the result of two minus two or what zero equals. I mean nothing. Most of your child’s behavior in the chair is an attempt to get you to react and say something, anything. So expect the unexpected, especially if you are a nagger, screamer, explainer, warner, reasoner, or just a talker. And I mean the unexpected. They may spit up, wet, blow their nose on their clothes (you may be tempted to say “Yecch” but… do not), strip, throw things, make unkind comments about your parenting skills, or simply say they do not love you anymore. Do not worry. They will love you again when their time is up, believe me.

When should I use time-out?

When you first start, use it for only one or two problem behaviors. After your child has learned to “do” time-out, you can expand the list of problem behaviors. In general, problem behaviors fall into three categories: 1) anything dangerous to self or others; 2) defiance and/or noncompliance; and 3) obnoxious or bothersome behavior. Use time-out for “1” and “2” and ignore anything in category “3.” If you cannot ignore something, move it into category “2” by issuing a command (e.g., “Take the goldfish out of the toilet.”). Then if the child does not comply, you can use time-out for noncompliance. Be sure to use time-out as consistently as possible. For example, try to place your child in time-out each time a targeted behavior occurs. I realize you cannot be 100 percent consistent because it is in our nature to adapt. But be as consistent as you can.

In general, immediately following a problem behavior, tell your child what he or she did and take him or her to time-out. (With older children, send them to time-out.) For example, you might say, “No hitting. Go to timeout.” Say this calmly and only once. Do not reason or give long explanations to your child. If your child does not go willingly, take him or her to time-out, using as little force as needed. For example, hold your daughter gently by the hand or wrist and walk to the time-out area. Or, carry her facing away from you (so that she does not confuse a hug and a trip to time-out). As I suggested earlier, avoid giving your child a lot of attention while he or she is being put in time-out. Do not argue with, threaten, or spank your child. And what should you say? Hint: Starts with “No”’ and ends with “thing.” Answer: Say nothing!

What do I do when time is up?

When the time-out period is over, ask your child, “Are you ready to get up?” Your child must answer yes in some way (or nod yes) before you give permission for him or her to get up. Do not talk about why the child went into time-out, how the child behaved while in time-out, or how you want your child to behave in the future. In other words, do not nag. If your child says “No,” answers in an angry tone of voice, or will not answer all, start time-out over again. If your child chooses to stay in the chair, fine. It is hard to cause real trouble in time-out.

What do I do when my child leaves the chair?

If you placed your child in time-out for not doing what you told him or her to do, repeat the instruction. This will help teach your child you mean business. It also gives your child a chance to behave in a way that is good for business. If he or she still does not obey the instruction, then place him or her in time-out again. In addition, add in a few other easy-to-follow, one-step commands. If he or she does them, praise the performance. If not, back to time-out. Generally, use this opportunity to train your child to follow your instructions when those instructions are delivered in a normal tone of voice without being repeated.

The general rule for ending time-out is to praise a good behavior. Once time-out is over, reward your child for the kinds of behaviors you want him or her to use. Catch them being good.

Should I explain the rules of time-out to my child?

Before using time-out, you should explain the rules to your child once. At a time when your child is not misbehaving, explain what time-out is (simply), which problem behaviors time-out will be used for, and how long time-out will last. Practice using time-out with your child before using the procedure. While practicing, remind your child you are “pretending” this time. They will still go “ballistic” when you do your first real time-outs, but you will be reassured that you have done your part to explain the fine print.


  1. Choose time-out areas.
  2. Explain time-out.
  3. Use time-out every time the problem behaviors occur.
  4. Be specific and brief when you explain why your child must go to time-out.
  5. Do not talk to or look at your child during time-out.
  6. If your child gets up from the chair, return him or her to the chair with no talking.
  7. Your child must be calm and quiet to leave time-out once time is up.
  8. Your child must answer yes politely when you ask, “Would you like to get up?”
  9. If you wanted your child to follow an instruction, give him or her another chance after time-out is over. And, in general, deliver a few other easy-to-follow commands so your child clearly learns who is in charge and who is not.
  10. Catch them being good.

Clear Messages

Children are concrete thinkers; they don’t grasp the full meaning of abstract or vague words. As teachers for our children, we need to be clear in our communication with them.

For example, instead of saying, “You are being naughty,” try “You ran away from me when I asked you to do something.” This gives your child specific information.

Parents must focus on our children’s specific behavior: anything they do that can be seen, heard or measured.

Here are some specific descriptions of behavior:

“My daughter has to be called three times before she comes inside from playing.”

“When my kids come home from school, they put their books away and ask if there’s anything that needs to be done around the house.”

In order to give clear messages, clearly and specifically tell your child what he or she did correctly or incorrectly.

How you give messages is also important. Here are several points to remember:

  1. Have your child look at you.
  2. Look at your child. Eye contact is a key to giving and receiving clear messages.
  3. Use a voice tone that fits the situation.
  4. Eliminate as many distractions as possible.
  5. Try to position yourself so that you are at eye level with your child.

Let’s compare a vague description of a child’s behavior with a specific one:

Vague-“Reggie, don’t eat like a pig!”
Specific-“Reggie, you’re eating with your fingers and making grunting noises while you eat. Please use your folk, take small bites and don’t make any noises.”

The most important part of being specific when describing your children’s misbehavior is making sure they understand that you dislike their behavior, not them.

You love your children: That’s why you are taking the time to teach another way to behave.

For more information about clear messages, checkout the award-winning book Common Sense Parenting.

Precious Beginnings – Discipline
Q. Is my 2-year-old daughter too young to be disciplined?

A. No, she is not. However, the discipline you use with your 2-year-old is much different from what you would use if she were 5 or 6. Giving your toddler more attention is a good way to reinforce positive behaviors. Make sure your daughter sees that her good behaviors result in positive responses from you. When her behavior is bad, try to redirect her behavior or have her practice an opposite, positive behavior. Don’t expect immediate results right away; learning takes time. Just try to be consistent, firm and fair.

Q. When my child is having a tantrum, it is hard for me to correct him. Is there anything I can do?

A. Wait until both of you calm down; it will be easier for you to give a consequence for the misbehavior and teach him better ways of behaving. When he’s calm, he will be able to listen and learn more easily.

Q. My daughter enjoys getting my attention by doing bad things. Consequences don’t seem to work. What’s the best way to handle this?

A. Kids crave any kind of attention, positive or negative. If you pay more attention to misbehaviors than to good behaviors, your child will probably misbehave because that’s how she gets your attention. Try to recognize your daughter’s good behavior more often and minimize the attention you give to her negative behavior.

Q. Sometimes I get so upset, I overreact to my child’s bad behavior. How can I stay calm and prevent this from happening?

A. When you’re really upset, take a break. A minute or two of deep-breathing might be enough to calm you down. Once you’re calm, give your child a consequence. (Put your child in time-out or put his or her favorite toy in time-out.) Try to have a few different consequences prepared beforehand. Knowing your options can keep you from overreacting in “the heat of battle.”

Q. I feel like a wimp because I have a hard time disciplining my child. How can I get better at giving a consequence for bad behavior?

A. Plan ahead. Decide what type of consequence you will use for certain misbehaviors, then consistently use that consequence each time the misbehavior occurs. You could also write down the consequences and post them on the refrigerator as a reminder to you and your child.

Stop Poking the Baby

“If you hit your little sister one more time, I will slap you!”

Okay. You said it. Now what? If you follow through on the threat, you engage in exactly the same behavior you’re trying to stop, and you will hurt your child.

What can you do if your toddler can’t seem to stop hitting, jabbing, pushing or poking a younger sibling?

Monitoring whereabouts

A baby should never be left alone in any area where other young children – or pets – have unrestricted access to him or her.

Many parents choose to wear a sling that holds the baby close to them. The sling gives parents the freedom to move their arms and perform multiple tasks while still holding the baby. It also makes it difficult for a toddler to reach up and poke or prod.

Teaching appropriate touch

Help your child understand that babies need to be handled with care. You can teach your toddler gentle touch using a “pretend baby,” such as a doll.

Teaching your toddler how to act around the baby may take several weeks. It is not a “one-and-done” learning experience. Use the doll to demonstrate good touching and playing behaviors. Practice with your toddler. When he or she consistently displays good behavior with the doll, reward your toddler with more supervised time with the baby.

Catch ’em being good

“Baby bucks” can be a reward system for your toddler’s good behavior. Each buck a child earns for good behavior can be turned in for a reward or treat, such as watching a video, getting a special snack, reading an extra bedtime story or spending more time with you and the baby.

The rewards should be directly linked to your toddler’s behavior with the baby. Rewards and consequences (for bad behavior) should be significant and important to your child. As your toddler’s behavior improves, you can reduce the rewards and focus on other behaviors he or she struggles with.


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