Disciplining your Children
What Is Discipline?
Discipline is the process of teaching your child what type of behavior is acceptable and what type is not acceptable. In other words, discipline teaches a child to follow rules. Discipline may involve both punishment, such as a time out, and, more importantly, rewards. It sounds so straightforward, yet every parent becomes frustrated at one time or another with issues surrounding children and discipline.
Barriers to Good Behavior
Parents run up against several barriers when trying to teach good behavior to their children. How many of these have you experienced?
- Children who are disrespectful and don’t listen: “I must have told you a thousand times!”
- Children who do listen, but defy or deliberately disobey your request for good behaviour.
Accept the Challenge of Establishing Discipline
Your responsibility as a parent is to help your child become self-reliant, respectful, and self-controlled. Relatives, schools, churches, therapists, health care professionals, and others can help. But the primary responsibility for discipline rests with parents.
How do you proceed with this challenge? Take a look at your current parenting style and how you use discipline. The American Mental Health Association describes three styles of parenting:
- An authoritative parent has clear expectations and consequences and is affectionate toward his or her child. The authoritative parent allows for flexibility and collaborative problem solving with the child when dealing with behavioral challenges. This is the most effective form of parenting.
- An authoritarian parent has clear expectations and consequences, but shows little affection toward his or her child. The parent may say things like, “because I’m the Mommy, that’s why.” This is a less effective form of parenting.
- A permissive parent shows lots of affection toward his or her child but provides little discipline. This is a less effective form of parenting.
Choosing Discipline Techniques
The discipline techniques you choose may depend on the type of inappropriate behavior your child displays, your child’s age, your child’s temperament, and your parenting style.
Reward good behavior
Acknowledging good behavior is the best way to encourage your child to continue it. In other words, “Catch him being good.” Compliment your child when he or she shows the behavior you’ve been seeking.
Your child does something wrong, and you let the child experience the result of that behavior. There’s no need for you to “lecture.” The child can’t blame you for what happened. For example, if a child deliberately breaks a toy, he or she no longer has that toy to play with.
Natural consequences can work well when children don’t seem to “hear” your warnings about the potential outcome of their behavior. Be sure, however, that any consequence they might experience isn’t dangerous.
This technique is similar to natural consequences but involves describing to your child what the consequences will be for unacceptable behavior. The consequence is directly linked to the behavior. For example, you tell your child that if he doesn’t pick up his toys, then those toys will be removed for a week.
Taking away privileges
Sometimes there isn’t a logical or natural consequence for a bad behavior — or you don’t have time to think it through. In this case, the consequence for unacceptable behavior may be taking away a privilege. For example, if a middle schooler doesn’t complete her homework on time, you may choose to take away television privileges for the evening. This discipline technique works best if the privilege is:
- Related in some way to the behavior
- Something the child values
- Taken away as soon as possible after the inappropriate behavior (especially for young children)
Time outs work if you know exactly what the child did wrong or if you need a break from the child’s behavior. Be sure you have a time-out location established ahead of time. It should be a quiet, boring place — probably not the bedroom (where the child can play) or a dangerous place like a bathroom. This discipline technique can work with children when the child is old enough to understand the purpose of a time out — usually around age 2 and older, with about a minute of time out for each year of age. Time outs often work best with younger kids for whom the separation from the parent is truly seen as a deprivation.
What about corporal punishment and spanking?
Corporal (physical) punishment, such as spanking, isn’t recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics or mental health associations. Why? Primarily because nonphysical discipline techniques work better with fewer negative consequences. According to the AAP, spanking may result in the following problems:
- Spanking may make children more aggressive
- Spanking can become more violent and harm a child
- Spanking may cause children to think that it’s OK to physically hurt someone you love
Tips for Maintaining Discipline
Whichever discipline techniques you choose to use, they can be more effective if you keep these ideas in mind:
Look for the “why” behind behaviors
If you notice a pattern of inappropriate behavior, part of the solution is to look for “whys.” For example, perhaps your child is upset about something else, such as a friend moving away. Maybe your child had a bad day at school. Perhaps your child feels stressed about family problems. Maybe he is tired or hungry. These explanations don’t excuse the behavior, but trying to understand why bad behavior occurs can help you and your child find ways to prevent the behavior from happening again and again.
Be respectful of your child
If you show your child respect — even when disciplining your child — your child is more likely to respect you, other family members, and other people in his or her life. If you “lose it” or overreact with disrespect, apologize. Behave the way you want your child to behave.
Any technique will fail if you don’t follow through or enforce consequences consistently. If you say, for example, that toys will be off limits for a week, then take them away if the offending behavior continues.
Don’t break your discipline rules by giving in during public exhibitions of bad behavior, such as a child throwing a tantrum while shopping. If you give in to the child’s demands, the tantrums will continue.
Try to keep your goals and your techniques consistent over time. If more than one adult is responsible for the child’s discipline, be sure you agree about the approaches you will use.
Read more about Discipline and techniques from WebMD