I've been reflecting on the material I presented in the Toddler (Preschooler) Parenting Class I offered in the month of August. The class was arranged so that I would present on a topic relevant to parenting a 3-4 year old child, and then provide some fun play/art activities to demonstrate how, as a parent, we can help our children hone important developmental and social skills. One week we (me and the parents) discussed delayed gratification, learning to wait, and related skills while the children got to frost cookies (and had to wait to eat them!), make cheerio bracelets (concentration skills), and played a matching game (taking turns/waiting).
The last week I presented on Positive Discipline. The play/art activities were not quite as clear as to how they matched the topic of discipline. We colored "feeling faces" and talked about providing a rich vocabulary and acceptance of feelings of all kinds. We also made pictures of our hands and talked about the good things we can use our hands for vs. what they aren't used for ("hands are not for hitting"). We didn't get around to it, but we could have played more games like Simon Says, Red Light Greg Light which teach skills like listening and concentration, and group skills. Free play would have been great too, as children tend to practice social skills, negotiate, and overcome conflict the most in this type of context.
After the class on discipline I found myself reflecting quite a bit as to how these play and art (and reading... we read lots of relevant preschool age books) activities really are so great for parents who want to practice positive discipline. Here is why: when children have a rich vocabulary and acceptance for their feelings they are more prone to cope than to act out. Especially if they have been taught that "negative" emotions are healthy to have. Everyone gets angry, for example, our anger is informative to us. It tells us that we have been wronged, or that we are disappointed. It can tell us that we need a break from a certain situation or person(s). These are just a couple of examples. A child that has been taught that they shouldn't express anger tends to either act in (self harm) or act out (hurt others), but a child that knows anger is ok, as long as it is expressed in a healthy way gets through it. That child will be able to verbalize "when _____ happened, it hurt my feelings" and resolve the problem with the other person. That child will know that it's ok to step back, take a break, and seek support rather than hit, bite, yell, or do damage. And that's just the example of anger.
This all matters in the context of free play as well. The child with a rich understanding and acceptance of emotions will have an easier time negotiating, sharing, and overcoming conflict. Of course, this type of coping comes with practice, time, and maturity, but it also happens on a spectrum, and the child who has good understanding of their own emotions is just better at regulating them. And that matters when it comes to discipline. Generally speaking, positive discipline is about helping a child learn to regulate themselves emotionally, physically, and socially. Before I ran the class I was a very firm believer that teaching emotional vocabulary and emotional acceptance from an early age is one of the best things a parent can do to prepare a child to be a social being. After teaching the class I came away with an even firmer conviction that this is the case.