Love is the theme during February, but at any time of the year, parents can feel more frustrated than loving when disciplining their children.
Discipline can generate many feelings for parents. Issues can surface about how they were parented as well as difficulties they may be having with partners and children around discipline.
Parent educators at Parenting Now! are often asked, “What can I do about my child’s behavior?” Our philosophy is that there are many approaches to discipline, but every approach should be a thoughtful way to pass on parental values and rules.
Discipline is an opportunity for the child to learn. Sometimes, parents believe discipline is the same as punishment; in fact, the root of the word is disciple, or “to learn.” Children have much to learn, and it is a parent’s job to be their loving teacher.
Punishment is damaging. Even if it is temporarily effective, it can hurt a child physically and psychologically. It diminishes the whole child, not just the child’s behavior. Positive discipline teaches children the things they need to know to succeed in society and the home, as well as the reasons behind these rules. Then, the child can develop self-discipline, using internal controls by understanding what works and why.
To begin practicing positive discipline, Parenting Now! families are encouraged to consider their values and their child’s temperament and stage of development. Then they are ready to answer four questions about discipline:
- What do I want my child to learn from this experience, situation or opportunity?
- Is what I’m doing helping my child to learn that?
- Are there any negative effects from my behavior?
- If so, what can I do differently?
For example, if the goal is to help a child stop hitting, asking these four questions may lead to taking specific steps to help the child use words, not actions, when angry. If there are negative effects, new techniques can be substituted.
If a child is in danger or endangering others, it is important to take care of the situation immediately. Often, prevention is a key component in effective discipline.
See below for 7 ways to encourage positive behavior and 8 prevention tools that may help you lessen the need for other discipline strategies.
If we are to be successful in teaching our children, we need to see ourselves as being on our children’s sides. We are helping them. We want things to go well for them.
Through discipline, we help our children become successful people who can function confidently at home and in the world. When discipline comes from a loving place, the entire family can thrive.
Parenting Now! offers groups in Lane County, Oregon for parents of children from ages 0-8. Parents may also contact the United Way of Lane County “Family Info Line” by calling 211, extension 5, or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seven Ways to Encourage Positive Behavior
Notice – Start to encourage positive behavior by recognizing it when it occurs. By mentioning it to the child it is more likely the behavior will continue.
Give Attention Up Close – Physical closeness shows that the approval is personal.
Make Good Eye Contact – Let your child know you are talking to them in particular: face your child, turn your entire body toward your child.
Smile! – Reinforce what you’re saying with an appropriate facial message, such as a smile.
Compliment the Behavior, Not the Child – Children need unconditional love and acceptance. When giving a compliment, however, children need to know why they are being acknowledged or what they have done to deserve this attention. You can say, “I liked the way you picked up the toys and put them in the basket” rather than “You are a good boy.”
Be Affectionate – Your child will feel acknowledged, appreciated and rewarded when you give them a friendly pat on the back, a hug or a kiss.
Repeat the Message in Another Way – Stating your message in a different way helps to keep it fresh, new and clear.
Eight Prevention Tools
Checking the Basics – Is your child hungry? Wet? Sick? Is there a predictable cranky period every day? You can prevent some discipline issues by taking care of the basics.
Communicating Clear Expectations – Tell your child what behavior you expect, and do it as simply as possible. Use words they understand, speak clearly and maintain eye contact, and explain why the expected behavior is important. You could rehearse with your child. You could say, “When we are in the grocery store, I want you to sit in the cart and keep your hands in the cart. Can you show me how you will do that?”
Reducing Boredom – Keep your child involved in an interesting activity or conversation.
Planning Transitions – A child’s stress over sudden changes can be soothed if he hears, “As soon as this show is over, it will be time to get ready for bed” and by involving him in the next activity: “You may choose the book I’ll read to you tonight.”
Changing the Environment – Make the environment fit the needs of the child. A 2-year-old might be tempted to pull leaves off of plants; move them to higher shelves or another room.
Modeling Appropriate Behavior – Show your children how you want them to behave. They learn from what they see.
Using Humor – Lighten up! Use humor, silliness or a hug to ease difficult moments. Sometimes, children respond to a puppet’s request while resisting yours.
Offering a Choice Between Alternatives – Your child gains a measure of control when you offer two reasonable choices: “Would you rather wear your nightgown or pajamas to bed?”