The detail in which I talk to kids varies depending on age, but there is a lot of common ground. Intentional speaking during discipline can be organized into three stages: pre-consequence, consequence, and post-consequence.
As the name suggests, this part of discipline occurs before the child gets the consequence. During this time, language should be clear and specific, focusing on what to do rather than not to do and providing a clear choice. This gives the child the opportunity to make good choices before getting in trouble and to know why the consequences are happening. Don't talk about the bad behavior at this point.
- Ex. 1: Your child is rolling a toy car on the TV screen.
- Offer a choice: "Do you want to roll the car on the floor or do you want to put it away and play with something else?"
- If the child keeps rolling it on the TV screen, say "Okay, you want to put it away and play with something else." (By default, that choice was made).
- Ex. 2: On a walk, your child is walking on the grass or curb and you are uncomfortable with it.
- You may just instruct your child to keep his or her feet on the sidewalk, or you can say, "You can keep your feet on the sidewalk and walk by yourself or walk with me and hold my hand." No wrong choices there.
- If the child doesn't respond, same thing, the choice is made by default: "Oh, you want to hold my hand - great! I want to hold your hand too," and you take his or her hand.
There is very little talking at this part. If the child doesn't respond to your choices, you pretend like he or she chose the one with the consequence (as shown before).
If the child throws a tantrum, questions you, or whines, you can give one response, but no more than that. Sometimes, especially with argumentative kids, no response is needed. Your words were clear before the consequence and after the child made a choice. Any discussion should only take place when both the child and you are calm.
If the child is showing raw emotion, you can help him or her work through those feelings. Sometimes I narrate the feeling aloud for them: "You really liked that toy. I see your lips are turning down and your face looks sad - do you need a hug?" You can even comfort saying, "I'm so sorry the toy had to go away." (Stay away from taking responsibility for what happened. You did not take the toy away; the child made that choice. This helps with accountability. Don't rub it in his or her face, but just the phrasing "sorry that it had to go away" instead of "sorry I took it away" makes a difference.)
If the child is angry, wait for the post-consequence stage to talk about it. Sometimes narrating angry feelings can increase a tantrum. Furthermore, you don't want to give attention during a tantrum. I think waiting for the tantrum to pass without talking or giving much attention to it or following through on any rules is best. For example, if you see the child throw a toy from the corner of your eye, you can simply lead them to the time-out chair to calm down there, without talking.
This stage can happen right before releasing a child from a time out, immediately after, or an hour later. It should be very close to when the child first returns to a calm state, no matter how short or long it takes, because this is the best time to talk through emotions. Summarize what happened and point out the behavior you didn't like.
- Ex. 1: Your child has a tantrum when you take away the car. After the tantrum is over:
- Older child: "I didn't really like it when you rolled the car on the TV. It really could have damaged the TV and we may not have been able to get a new one right away. I think the floor is a good place to roll the car. Can you think of other places as well?" (maybe sofa, tile in kitchen). Praise the child for those ideas and then offer A) "Well, we're not going to play with the cars again until tomorrow, but what do you want to play with now?" or B) "Do you want to roll the cars on the floor/sofa/tile or play with something else?"
- Younger child: "I like how you calmed down. Do we roll the car on the TV? Nooooo. Show me where we can roll the car." Praise the child for pointing to the appropriate places. If he or she points to the TV, help him or her point to the right place and then say, "The floor- that's right!" Then you have the same choice to wait until tomorrow to let the child play with the car or play again now. Most of the time, I say wait until the next day, but it depends on the child.
- Ex. 2: Your child chooses to hold your hand, or defaults to that by not listening but doesn't seem to mind when you pick up his or her hand.
- "I love it when you walk on the sidewalk. It scares me when you're so close to the cars. I like you safe with me." The discussion doesn't always have to be long.
I like this discipline model because it teaches kids to make their own choices, get little attention during the consequence, and then talk through their feelings and find answers when calm (good lessons for conflict resolution with friends, in life/marriage, etc.).
Most of this came from Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline, Applied Behavior Analysis and DIR: Floortime. I mixed up different methods over the years to include a mix of social, behavioral, and emotional development.