Would you expect a 4-year-old to hold a rational conversation about the merits of marble vs. granite countertops?
Would you expect an 8-year-old to understand nuclear physics?
Would you expect an 11-year-old to conceptualize the nuances of complex coworker relationships and office politics?
If you answered NO to those questions… congratulations, you have an understanding of child development and what it means for our expectations.
But unfortunately… if you’re like many parents (and even educators and childcare professionals)… it’s hard to apply some of that same thinking to behavior.
It’s easy to understand what children should and shouldn’t KNOW from an education standpoint. We can understand, as parents, how they should progress through their early learning at school.
We know that they start with learning shapes and colors, then numbers and letters, then words and addition.
But what about the rest of it?
What about feelings and reactions and emotional regulation? What about impulse control and delayed gratification and situational awareness?
It’s easy to think that all of those are learned things as well - and while there is an importance in educating your child about these things… there’s also a bit of brain science at play, too.
And luckily we know more now than ever about how children grow, learn, develop and gain skills that will help them behave appropriately throughout the rest of their lives.
Because the reality is that while we can try to teach our children proper behavior, actions, reactions and responses until we’re blue in the face…
There are simply some things that can’t overcome the physical development of their brains.
As your child ages, his or her brain is building connections between all the different parts that control different aspects of their lives.
From emotional regulation (the prefrontal cortex and amygdala) to remembering instructions (the temporal lobe) to the way your child learns (the hippocampus).
But the key to all of this is that these connections don’t happen instantaneously at birth. They’re built over time as your child grows and develops.
Logical reasoning develops between the ages of 6 and 11 - which means without your help, she won’t be able to think about the consequences of her failure to do her homework.
Impulse control develops slowly and over time - your 6-year-old may struggle to stop interrupting you when you’re speaking but by the time she’s 14, it won’t be a problem for her anymore.
Emotions are discovered between the ages of 1 and 3 but this is a skill he will work on regulating and managing until he’s well into adulthood.
All of this is to say that expecting a young child without a fully developed prefrontal cortex to regulate their emotions is a recipe for disappointment and frustration on both sides.
Getting angry at your pre-teen for her reaction to upsetting news is unfair.
And expecting your grade schooler to worry about getting hurt when he’s jumping on the couch is a losing battle.
Because you can’t change the science of their brain. What you can do is…
A number of years ago I received a letter from Gina - who in an effort to prepare her son for 1st grade hired him a tutor to work with him one day a week.
This tutor said that her child was more than 1st grade ready… but when it came time to be in class, Gina’s son struggled to stay on task when he wasn’t receiving one-on-one attention from his parents or his tutor.
Gina was asking for my insight on how she could make her first grader pay more attention, complete tasks on the assigned timeline, and succeed even without the one-on-one attention.
And my response to her? I told her this story:
When I taught Child Development at a community college in California I was impressed with a research project where they gave one group of children lots of math beginning in the first grade. The other group of children were not exposed to math until the third grade.
Within three months the children who waited until the third grade to do math had surpassed the math skills of the group who had been struggling with math for two years before them.
What the researchers found is that the first group of children were very discouraged about their math abilities.
Because they had been exposed to math before they were developmentally ready, many of them had “decided” they weren’t good at math. (They didn’t have the wisdom to know that it didn’t have anything to do with them personally – just with the fact that they weren’t yet developmentally ready.)
Many had lost their confidence about their learning abilities. Some had developed behavior problems.
The second group could hardly wait to get math problems. By the second grade they started to feel “deprived” because they knew kids in the other group were getting math.
When they finally started learning math they were developmentally ready – and they didn’t have the burden of discouragement and lack of confidence. They learned quickly and felt capable.
Many parents “push” their children in the name of love. They really want what is best for them. They don’t understand how to see it from the child’s point of view.
You push your child to “behave” - when you really mean “behave as if you already have all the tools, regulation, development and skills at your disposal.”
Meanwhile, your child is continually questioning herself, wondering if she’s good or bad if she can’t do what her parents expect of her.
He’s questioning his worth and his ability because his parents are frustrated with him for acting in a way that he doesn’t yet know how to control.
Your child simply doesn’t have the physical ability to manage him or herself in “an appropriate way”… but they’re constantly judging themselves because they can’t meet those high expectations.
And you are stressing yourself and your family out over and over again when you hold onto expectations that they simply can’t meet.
Without the skills and the physical function, it’s a never ending cycle of expectation and frustration.
One that takes a toll on you as a parent as well as on your child.
Instead of focusing on stopping the behavior in a way that pits you against your child, the goal with Positive Discipline is to put you and your child on the same team.
To show you how to work TOGETHER to build the skills that match where she is developmentally - so that your child is able to manage herself and build critical life-skills as he or she grows.
I teach the use of “tools,” which are short and easy-to-remember strategies that you can apply to specific situations you’ll face in your life.
For example, in Gina’s situation above I would encourage her to consider the Take Time for Training tool (to show her son what’s expected of him during school hours), the Agreements tool (where they work together to formulate a plan for school behavior), the Winning Cooperation tool (so he feels that his point of view is respected)… or any of the other 49 tools included in the Positive Discipline method.
In fact - the best part about these tools is that you can mix & match them depending on your family, your goals, and your situation.
But simply knowing the tools isn’t enough.
It’s about how to USE them. How to apply them to your family and implement them into your daily life.
And these tools don’t just work in the short term (though they do - you’ll be amazed at how fast harmony will be restored and you’ll enjoy your children again)…
These tools build skills for tomorrow.
They teach your children to build valuable skills and beliefs that will help them:
In other words, these tools become the foundation of a happy home today, and a thriving life tomorrow.
I’ve been teaching and creating Positive Discipline books for decades. I’ve collaborated with classroom and early child-hood educators, youth coaches, academic business coaches, and Marriage and Family Therapists.
But my favorite collaborator of all is my youngest daughter, Mary Nelsen Tamborski. Not only is she a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, she’s also a mother of 3 boys.
She works with parents, kids and entire families every single day to help them improve their relationships while instilling the skills and capabilities they need for a happy, thriving life.
And every day she’s helping parents with specific, step-by-step instructions on HOW to put everything we teach into practice.
Because Mary’s work is so hands-on - and because we’ve seen over and over again how much help families just like yours need help implementing these tools so they can respect where their child is developmentally in order to improve behavior…
We decided we needed to create a practical, step-by-step guide to help you really make Positive Discipline doable for your family.
With this program, you’ll feel confident using each tool to handle those inevitable curveballs that your children will (sometimes gleefully) throw your way.
These tools will reshape your relationship with your child, make your household the smoothest it’s ever been, and remind you just how much you love being a parent.Get The Tools You Need
We created this program to go in-depth on the most important, most effective tools to parent your kids in a way that creates short term harmony while fostering long term success… all designed to build on top of one another as your child grows, learns and develops those critical abilities they need to:
And what’s more - these tools will help you do all this while maintaining the loving, positive relationship you want to have with them.
For 4+ hours, we’ll be your personal parenting coaches. We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of HOW to put our tools into practice, breaking each tool down into actionable steps and showing you how to apply all that you are learning with your children.
We’ll role play different scenarios so you can see what success looks like.
And we’ll show you what to do when things go wrong, so you can quickly course-correct and get back on track.
Once you’ve taken this 6-module course, you’ll understand:
And you’ll finally, FINALLY have the tools in your hand to build the right behaviors at the right time…
So your child grows up to not only act appropriately… but have the skills they need to thrive into adulthood.
Because that’s truly the goal of every parent - to raise happy, well-adjusted children who are capable and empowered.
That’s what I want for you. And that’s what I want for your children.