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Discipline Strategies

Age: 1-5

Applicable To: Groups or Individuals

CAPPD Concepts: Calm, attuned, predictable, don’t…

What It Is: Make sure you have a well-established discipline and consequences system. Generally, though, a behavior modification program ( like stickers)  does not work for children affected by trauma. Use direct, specific, positive wording for both written and verbal rules and directions.  For example, instead of saying, “Will you stop being so hyperactive?”, you can say, “Please walk quietly and calmly in the hallway.”

Think about the causes of a child’s behavior before giving disciplining. Try to make the experience something from which they can learn. Try to select consequences that address the causes of the behavior and that are logical. Also keep in mind that children who have experienced trauma often need adults to react to their developmental age, not their biological age (ie – a 5 yr old throwing a tantrum like a 2 yr old may need to be rocked and held, not sent out to time out).  Give choices, if possible, for consequences. Children affected by trauma are very sensitive to displeasure, so err on the side of under-reacting, when possible.  Don’t criticize or shame children for regression (i.e. – a potty-trained child starts wetting his pants again after trauma); regression is a normal response to trauma. Try to ensure that the consequence will not trigger a trauma response, for some children discipline strategies such as isolated time out may be very retraumatizing if they have been neglected or abandoned in the past. It is NEVER acceptable for children’s services professionals caregiver to use hitting, spanking, verbal abuse or yelling as a consequence for a child’s negative behavior.

Give warm, abundant praise as much as you can (ratio of praise to criticism should be at least 6:1). In other words, make more effort to catch and acknowledge children doing “good” things.  Make sure to use “labeled” (specific) praise. For example, instead of giving vague encouragement like “Good job,” praise the specific behavior or action – “I really like how quickly you stopped playing the game when I said it was time to go inside” or “I really like how you used many different colors to draw your butterfly today”

Why It Helps: Why It Helps: Knowing what to expect for various types of behavior helps make children’s lives predictable and helps them learn how to act. Responding to children’s developmental age, not their biological age starts where they really are and helps their brains develop in ways that they may have missed earlier in life. Children impacted by trauma often practice reenactment: the habit of recreating old relationships with new people. Even if these are negative relationships, they are familiar and therefore feel safer/more predictable to children affected by trauma. These children are so sensitive to criticism, they need abundant praise to help them develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Giving children choices for consequences gives them a sense of control, helps avoid battles, and increases their sense of self.