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The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Christine Pafumi
April 10, 2012

One homemade mom shares how she maintains order in her family as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Heather Beckley, mom of three boys (ages 2 ½, 6, and almost 9) and Homemade Mom blogger, admits that she doesn't always have it all down when it comes to discipline, and that's ok. Sometimes you just can't help but laugh when your kids swear or when the baby leaves a "poop nugget" on the video store floor! Beckley shares why money jars are so effective, why yelling usually isn't and why she doesn't send her kids to their rooms.

What is your general theory on discipline?

My strategy is 3 strikes. First strike is a verbal reminder on their level, eye-to-eye. Second strike is a time out, third strike is removal of toy/object/child from the situation, also known as "toy time out." We do spank, but we reserve spankings for serious offenses, [such as] violence or actions that endanger themselves or another child/person.

Discipline isn't always about negativity. Positive reinforcement goes much further in encouraging them to continue with the good behavior. Each child has a "money jar" and when they do a chore, play nice with their brother, things like that, they get a coin. It's just a pirate coin, but each coin represents $0.25. After a week or two, we "cash out."

What is the funniest thing your kids have done to deserve discipline?

I didn't have a spare diaper to put on [my 2-year-old], so I let him go commando. We were at the video store, but then my youngest disappeared. When I found him, he looked at me, said sorry and moved his leg. There was a poop nugget on the floor!!! I was mortified. I had my oldest stand there with him while I went up to the front desk and asked for paper towels. I was NOT about to tell them I needed to pick up a turd off their floor!

My toddler knew what he had done. He had his sad face on and said sorry over and over. I suppose this should have been handled with discipline but really, what was I to do? Time out? We just laughed and laughed! Ewwww!

Describe a hard lesson you have learned while disciplining your children.

That the more we yell at our kids the thicker their skulls get! The more I yell, the more they tune me out. Spanking (when not necessary) teaches kids that it's ok to hit when they are mad or frustrated. I've learned that when I spank, my oldest never uses the time afterwards to think about what he did to earn the spanking. Instead, he spends that time to plot his revenge.

What is some advice you would give to moms so they don't make a similar mistake you've made?

Do NOT send them to their room as their punishment. They don't appropriately learn how to behave and handle the situation when they aren't at home. With my middle child, anytime he got in trouble, he would run to his room to cry. The problem with this is that when he misbehaved away from home I would put him in time out, but he would FREAK OUT! He would scream, kick, cry, spit, you name it. It's best to get on their level, and deal with the issue immediately and help them learn to control their emotions.

Where do you stand on yelling?

I really feel that it doesn't work, but that doesn't seem to stop me from yelling at my kids. Why does it seem ingrained in us as parents to yell? The louder I get the more they seem to tune me out. I still do it. It makes my second child cry almost every time.

If anything, I wish that sometimes I waited a bit to discipline, given myself time to cool off. I feel that sometimes I over react to the offense and if I had time to sit and reflect I wouldn't have yelled so much.

Your kids start misbehaving in public - what's your move?

I usually just say "knock it off" with a very stern look. If that doesn't stop it, the next time I get down on their level, make eye contact and threaten that if the behavior continues we will be leaving with nothing. I've never had to leave a store on account of my kids.

What is your best tip for moms who are having trouble disciplining their kids?

I hate hearing "you have to be consistent." Consistency is key, but you have to be flexible as a parent. Not all children act out the same, not all children will need to be disciplined the same.

Do you and your spouse work as a team? How do your styles differ?

When I read this one to my husband he laughed and said, "yeah, bad cop / bad cop!" Usually when he's home we handle discipline tag-team style. We NEVER undermine the other! If the kids see us as divided then we have no hope of maintaining order in the house. If either of us overreacts, we apologize to the kids. We let them know that parents aren't perfect, that we make mistakes too and we are always working at being better parents.

What are some important things to remember when disciplining a child?

Think before you act. Try to parent on their level and not assume the role of dictator. And get all the information before you begin discipline. So many times I assumed something that I later found out wasn't what I thought it was. BAD mistake when disciplining. Always get the whole story.

Homemade Mom Heather is highly organized and a bit of a neat freak. In her house, everything has a place and NOTHING should be in the floor. Heather claims that she is a mom who yells more than she likes. You can find Heather on Twitter and Facebook.

Find other discipline tips and tricks in the Care.com Interview Series: The Discipline Mistakes I've Made »

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