When we hear the word “discipline”, we often think of something negative, because it usually means some form of punishment is being used. However, the word “discipline” actually means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct. So, discipline can be a negative thing if we are using a forceful or controlling approach, but it can (and should) be a positive thing if we take a more instructive approach by teaching or guiding. The most effective and respectful type of discipline is one that respects your child’s ability to make choices for their behavior within the structure and limits you establish, and allows them to experience a natural or logical consequence for the behavior they choose. Here are 7 steps to help you establish this type of discipline in your own household:
Find strategies that help you think BEFORE you speak and act. Have you decided what behavior you want and what the consequence will be? If not, it is a good idea to sit down as a family and create a set of “family rules” and the consequences that will follow for each rule that is broken. This will not only make it easier for you to enforce rules, but it will also ensure that everyone is clear on what the rules and consequences are. Along with that, your children will have more respect for the rules, and be more motivated to follow them since they took part in their creation.
2. Express Your Anger Appropriately
Becoming angry and frustrated as a result of your child’s misbehavior is not a bad thing, but it is important to express it in a calm, non-threatening way. Yelling at or spanking your child may get quick results, but it only causes the child to react out of fear rather than learning to behave appropriately, which is a more long-lasting change. Try using “I” statements (i.e. “I feel (Emotion) when you (Behavior) because (Consequence)) to express to the child how their behavior makes you feel, and then proceed to use their misbehavior as a teaching moment. This will not only help you to remain in control of your emotions, but will model to your child the appropriate way for them to communicate and express their own feelings.
3. Be Clear and Direct
Tell your child clearly and directly what behavior you expect and what consequences will follow their choice. Remember, children don’t think the same way we do, so the more specific and to-the-point you can be the better. For example, a child may think “clean your room” means throw toys in the corner and toss the blanket over the bed, while you may think it means put toys in the toy box, fold and tuck the sheets neatly underneath the mattress, hang clothes up in the closet, etc. If the child then fails to comply, they know there will be a specific consequence for their misbehavior. When children know EXACTLY what you mean, it will set you both up for more success.
4. Let Your Child Make the Choice
Allow your child to make their own decision for their behavior. Respect the child’s decision-don’t put pressure on them to make the choice you want them to make. Also, be prepared to follow through with the consequence should your child make the wrong decision. When followed, this step will help your child to become independent and learn how to make proper decisions, and will create less stress for you in having to give a consequence, since you’re allowing the child to own their decision. Remember, if your children aren’t allowed to make mistakes in their decision making now with mild consequences, they will have to learn this lesson later in life when the consequences are more severe. Help them through this process now so that they can become an independent, successful adult!
5. Follow Through
Follow through with enforcing the consequence as quickly as possible. DO NOT use idle threats-this will only teach your child that they don’t have to take you seriously. Also, refuse to get into a power struggle, talk less-act more, and remember that compromise is OKAY sometimes.
6. Reassure Your Child
Give your child assurance that there will be another opportunity to make different choices in the future if an inappropriate choice was made. Do not give in to pleading or promises. Remember, your child already had their opportunity to make a different choice, and they are responsible for the behavior they chose. So, you may say something like, “I’m sorry you chose to have your toy taken away for 20 minutes instead of sharing it with your sister. When you get the toy back, you can choose to share it, and you and your sister can have fun playing with it together.”
7. Reward Positive Behavior
Remember to reward appropriate choices with praise and other related privileges to strengthen the behavior. Children (and adults) are more motivated by positive reinforcement rather than punishment. So, the more you can catch your child making appropriate choices and reward them for that, the more likely they are to continue with that behavior.
Disciplining a child can be a difficult and trying process. It will not always turn out perfectly-you’re human! You’re allowed to make mistakes as a parent! However, hopefully this list of steps will give you some direction as to how to make your disciplining more effective. The more you can practice this process, the more peace you will feel in yourself and in your household, and the better relationship you will have with your children.
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