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4 Simple Steps to Teach Our Children Calmly and Effectively - Abby Sasscer

4 Simple Steps to Teach Our Children Calmly and Effectively


Be calm and teach. Abby Sasscer says you can minimize impatience and frustration by using these four, surprisingly simple, steps to teach your children calmly and effectively.

From the "Top 20 All Time Most Popular Articles."

Editors Note:Originally published January 6, 2014.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness…” -2 Timothy 24-25

One of the most common of my many New Year’s resolutions is to become a more patient mother and teacher. Every year, I start strong, but my efforts slowly fizzle out by the last week of January.

My greatest challenge is to teach my children how to behave in ways that are pleasing to the Lord without becoming impatient and frustrated myself.

A typical scenario in our home would include a mini-meltdown if the day’s agenda doesn’t match with that of the child’s. And sad to say, these mini-meltdowns would almost often come from me.

How do I teach my children not to act on their emotions when I almost often get so emotional when I’m trying to teach them? For many years, I’ve prayed and searched for ways to teach my children good behavior without necessarily losing my patience and my soul in the process.

A Prayer Answered

Our good Lord had opened doors for me to work with children with special needs. Once a month, I would simply come to their homes and teach these precious souls essential life skills under the direct guidance of a trained specialist.

Gradually, through sharing of knowledge, observation and modeling, I learned simple and effective ways to teach good behavior without necessarily adding my own emotion and drama into the picture. I learned that my emotional outbursts never help and almost often make the situation worse. It defeats the purpose of teaching good behavior.

My eyes were opened, and I was so thankful to our Lord that He had provided an opportunity for me to learn new ways to teach good behavior effectively. When I used the same techniques with my own children, a change in my behavior initiated a dramatic change in my children’s behavior as well.

Learning Takes Time

One of the first things I realized is that learning good behavior takes time. When my children misbehave, my initial reaction is that of frustration accompanied by a “you should know that by now” attitude.

Unfortunately, children don’t always know how to behave because they’re still in the process of learning. Just as children are not born knowing the skill of reading and writing, practicing good behavior needs to be taught over time. The reality is that learning good behavior takes time and practice. The sooner we accept this reality, the more effective teachers we will be.

During Jesus’ public ministry, we find He spent most of His time teaching. In following His sacred example, we must take the time to teach our children. While working with children with special needs, I realized I needed to teach my own children how to communicate their emotions in more appropriate ways.

I have to take the time to teach them more acceptable ways to behave instead of just expecting it from them. Most importantly, I realized the best way to teach my children is to provide a good example by modeling good behavior myself.

In the next several articles, I will be sharing techniques with you that are not only effective but simple and easy to implement daily. The only rule is this:
You must remain calm each time you use them.

These techniques are most effective if you remain calm and do not cycle in to your own negative emotions or the negative emotions of your children:

1) Turn Negatives Into Positives

If you use negative words (such as Stop or Don’t) too often, it may not register when you need it most, that is, in urgent situations such as when the child’s safety or the safety of others are in question. Sometimes, a situation calls for the use of these words to give children clear and concise boundaries.

However, if the situation is not urgent in nature, it is better to tell children what to do, instead of what not to do.

For example:
Instead Of :      You can say:

Stop talking! – Quiet, please.
Don’t run! – Walk, please.
Stop crying! – Use words, please.
No shouting! – Whisper, please.
Not too rough! – Gentle, please.
Stop moving! – Stay still, please.
Don’t touch that! – Hands to the sides, please.

2) Use questions instead of commands

Telling children what task to perform works beautifully with toddlers. However, older children, in general, shouldn’t have to be told what to do at all times. If this happens often enough, children will perform tasks only when told to do so. This is considered improper prompting. Instead, gently bring a child near a task and ask them,

What do we must do next?

This mode of questioning, as opposed to commanding, is a wonderful way to diffuse our frustrations and feelings of impatience and at the same time teach our children without using improper prompting. Use the question mode until children have mastered a particular skill. As a child gets older, you can gently bring them near a task without using any words.

For example:

Homeschooling workbooks are left on the kitchen table. Gently bring the child in front of the table and ask:

Parent: Where do we need to put our workbooks after we are done?
Child: I need to put it back on my shelf.
Parent: Wonderful. Go ahead.

Other variations include:

What do we need to do after we’re done playing with our toys?
What do we need to do with our plates when we are done with a meal?
Where do we hang our coats when we get inside the house?

3) Model good verbal behavior

The term I want to use for this is vocal cueing. Using vocal cues is a valuable tool to teach children acceptable words, phrases or sentences that need to be said in certain situations. For example, your child comes to you and says:

I’m hungry. I want cereal NOW!

Instead of getting upset right away at the way your child asked, you calmly model a more acceptable verbal behavior by saying,

May I have cereal, please?

You then wait until your child repeats what you said. As children get older, they may sometimes forget how to ask nicely so they must be reminded with shorter vocal cues. Eventually, you will need to “wean” them from these vocal cues as they get older.

For example:

Child: I want cereal NOW!!!
Parent: May I have cereal, please?
Child: Oh…may I have cereal, please?
Parent: Beautiful!

Keep repeating complete sentences until your child has mastered the skill of asking nicely. Eventually, you can shorten the sentence like this:

Child: I want cereal!!!
Parent: May I?
Child: May I have cereal, please?
Parent: Wonderful!

As your child gets older, you can shorten the sentence even more:

Child: I want cereal!!!
Parent: May…
Child: May I have cereal, please?
Parent: Perfect!

Eventually, you can simply say the beginning sound of the first letter:

Child: I want cereal! I’m hungry!
Parent: Mmm….
Child: Oh sorry…may I have cereal, please?

Last, you will not want to say anything, just a pause would do:

Child: I want cereal!
Parent: (Long pause while looking at the child)
Child: Oh…may I have cereal, please?
Parent: Wonderful!

If the child is very young, it may take some time before he/she can master this skill. You can simply teach them to say:

Cereal, please.

4) Give your child a chance to rewind

Sometimes, children will still forget to ask nicely, even after you’ve done a significant amount of vocal cueing. Instead of getting upset or giving a consequence right away, you can say:

Let’s try that again.

This gives children a chance to rewind or redeem themselves if they were distracted and forgot what the acceptable behavior was.
Practice Makes Perfect

While it takes time to familiarize yourself with all the techniques, you’ll find the more you practice, the more it will become second nature. Try practicing these simple cues for the next couple of weeks.

One important aspect of simplifying one’s life is striving to create a calm, serene and joyful atmosphere in the home like that of the Holy Family in Nazareth. I hope these simple cues will help create the calm and serenity we families so desperately need.

Parents’ Prayer for Their Children

O God the Father of mankind, who hast given unto me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship.

Teach me both what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety, so that at last I may, with them, be admitted to the unspeakable joys of our true home in heaven, with the blessed Angels and Saints. Amen.

This is the First in this series of articles:

  1. 4 Simple Steps for Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively. 
  2. The #1 Secret to Being Patient and Strong with Your Children.
  3. How to Get Acceptable and Appropriate Behavior from Your Children… in Public
  4. 4 Tips to Teach Your Children to Obey Out of Love – Not Fear

About Abby Sasscer

Born in the Philippines, Abby came to the United States in 1986. She is a wife, homeschooling mother of three, author, and speaker. In 2008, she founded Project Nazareth and continues to advocate simple living through books and speaking. | Meet Abby
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