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Ask the Parent Coach: Tips for Positive Discipline in Hot-Button Moments

Published on: June 19, 2012

Ask the Parent Coach: Jennifer Watanabe


Q: My 3-year-old child will not listen to me! I am tempted to spank her to get her to do what I say!!! (I do admit to previous spankings.) When it is time to leave the house, I just can’t get her to stop what she is doing. Sometimes it seems impossible for me to get her shoes on! I get so mad at her that I just can’t seem to control myself. YIKES!  Any advice?

A: There probably isn't a parent alive who can't sympathize with your frustration. I have been that aggravated before with my boys when they were young — now they are 19 and 15 years old!

I suggest you recognize the struggles you are experiencing as clues. Young children have a hard time stopping their play because they are attached to their world and their agenda just as we adults are. Much of what you are experiencing is due to your child’s age. Here are things you can do to ease your daily getting-out-the-door routine:

  • Help your child prepare a "to go" basket that is at the door — this basket contains toys and books that are easy to play with in the car.
  • Have a puppet friend at the ready in the car. This puppet can be store-bought or homemade from a sock. The point is that the puppet captures a young child's imagination, and a child will oftentimes listen to a puppet more than she will listen to an adult. You can tell your daughter that her puppet friend is waiting in the car and will say "Hi" when she gets in the car.
  • Get yourself ready as much in advance as possible, so that you can concentrate the last 10-15 minutes before you leave on helping your child transition from her play to the car.
  • Remember that a young child does not think about time the same way as an adult. When you want to help your child get ready, use a time reference she can understand: "You can look at 10 more pages in the book," or "You can play until the song is over."
  • Plan to carry your child or use a stroller to get your child to the car. Put your daughter's shoes on in the car right before you get out of the car. Young children are like walking, talking babies. They still need lots of extra attention and support.

Parents are their children's first teachers. If spanking or the threat of spanking is a part of the parent-child relationship, then that fear interferes with the teacher-student relationship. If a student is afraid, the emotion brain is engaged, not the thinking brain. Parents have so much to teach their children, and it is not helpful to have barriers in the parent-child relationship that interfere with the child's learning.

As hard as it is to parent a young child sometimes, parents need to develop their parenting skills when the child is young so that when the child becomes a teenager the parent will be able to effectively manage, guide and support their teen. If physical force is the only tool a parent uses, that tool will quickly lose its usefulness when the teen grows bigger than the parent. It is critical for a parent to be a positive influence and an ally when the child becomes a teenager — when life choices can become life-threatening.

There are many resources available for parents who want to learn more effective child-rearing techniques that will work at all ages and stages of childhood.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents learn non-punitive ways to manage their children.

Additional resources to consider:

Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelson

Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman

Pick up Your Socks, by Elizabeth Crary


Jennifer WatanabeJennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.

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