What is discipline?
Merriam Webster defines discipline as “training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” I like to think of it as helping children learn to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. It really involves teaching our children to behave appropriately even when there is no one available to reward or punish. We want to make ourselves, as disciplinarians, obsolete by helping our children internalize a sense of right and wrong.
Begin with the End in Mind
To borrow a phrase from a famous self-help book author – It’s hard to chart a path if we don’t know where we are going. So, think about what you want to accomplish with disciplining your child and write a mission statement. Are you hoping to make your child respectful, responsible, moral, gracious, kind? Put it in there. Let your mission statement guide your discipline decisions.
Understanding your child
Children present different discipline challenges at different developmental stages. A 2-year-old will say “NO” to everything. A 4-year-old will boldly lie to avoid getting in trouble. A teen will challenge the curfew to prove her independence. Understanding where your child is developmentally can help you set reasonable expectations and devise strategies that will be more effective.
You Catch More Flies with Honey
Children thrive on attention. We tend to overlook good behavior because we are busy, distracted or just afraid to rock the boat. Iif children receive praise and attention for good behavior, they are more likely to repeat it. Be sincere and brief, but notice!
Make the punishment fit the crime
The most effective kind of discipline is “natural and logical consequences.” There is a reason most kids only touch a hot stove once! You can apply this concept in most circumstances – if a child misuses a toy, the toy is no longer available to play with; if siblings can’t get along, they are separated for a time out; if a teen misses curfew, he can’t go out the next night. But some behaviors just don’t have “natural” consequences, and a more general approach is required. Time out, extra chores or removal of privileges can help in these cases. Keep the discipline appropriate to the behavior, and help your child understand the rules before he has to suffer the consequences of breaking them.
A word on spanking
Data does not support spanking as an effective form of discipline. Spanking teaches children that hitting is ok. Also with spanking, the only way to escalate the punishment is to spank harder or longer, which is not appropriate. Learn more at Healthy Children: Spanking
Calm and Consistent
It is difficult to keep our cool when our kids misbehave, especially in public. You may be tempted to look the other way when it isn’t convenient to intervene. If this is a habit, kids are being taught to misbehave to get a rise out of us or to misbehave at the most inopportune times. Keeping calm and dealing with the behavior as rationally as possible can help your child take you seriously and avoid escalating the event. Make sure your child is expected to behave regardless of the setting. Be prepared to abandon the grocery cart, leave the restaurant, or take your child home from the birthday party if the behavior warrants.
Be a Stellar Example
Children learn respect, truthfulness, and compassion from the role models surrounding them. Be aware of your own behavior and the example you set. Your children are watching!