Learning how to discipline children effectively is an important and necessary skill for all parents to learn. Discipline is not a dirty word, but is often misunderstood and misused by parents, teachers, school principals and religious clergymen who do not understand that there is a difference between punishment and discipline. If you were asked the question, “What is discipline vs. punishment?”, how would you respond?
What is Discipline?
Discipline means to teach and train children family values, right from wrong, to respect the rights of others, and how they are to behave or not behave. For example, parents discipline their child to wash their hands before meals or after going to the bathroom, thus helping a child learn to become self-disciplined in these areas and how to become responsible for themselves as they get older.
Discipline is a positive parenting skill that emphasizes nurturing, guidance, teaching and training that builds a child’s self-confidence and teaches self-control and behavior management. The better you are with discipline, the less you will have to punish.
Punishment, however, is discipline after the fact to enforce proper behavior as defined by society or family. Punishment for children, toddlers or teens who have misbehaved in some way has lead to the ongoing, controversial debate over whether to spank or not to spank kids. “Spare the rod, spoil the child”?
Some parents, school officials and religious leaders feel that corporal punishment that includes spanking, whipping, paddling, caning, hitting and slapping are examples of “positive punishment”, while others have taken the position that physical punishment such as this should be outlawed and banned as nothing more than child abuse.
Discipline techniques vary in every family and culture, but there is no such thing as discipline without punishment of some kind, especially when dealing with a strong-willed child or an unruly, out-of-control teenager. As a parent, do you have the tendency to ignore the need to discipline your child when he or she is pushing and shoving another child or being a bully towards other children? Do you habitually say “Use your words!” when your child is being mean to another child, thinking that will miraculously stop the negative behavior, then do nothing to back up and enforce your own words?
Show me an undisciplined child and I’ll show you the quickest way to teach your kids to use drugs and kids that have no respect for anyone in authority, that may bring severe punishment handed out by the court system for juvenile delinquents, due to the lack of discipline taught from an early age and throughout the teen years.
How to Discipline Your Child
Disciplining children needs to take place all the time, not just when a child misbehaves. All children are different, with different temperaments and developmental levels, and the parenting style of discipline used for one child may not work on another. If you are frustrated with trying to learn how to discipline a toddler, or how to say No to your children, you are not alone.
Toddlers often say “no” or do the complete opposite of what you want them to do, like run in the other direction away from you while laughing at the same time. Understand that this is a normal phase of childhood development where children will test or resist the parents rules and limits to see if you will “practice what you preach” and do as you say you will if the child does x, y, z.
Discipline your child with consistency, love, encouragement, praise, patience and compassion, keeping in mind that a toddler may need to hear these reminders a hundred times before finally getting the message. If you give in after your strong-willed child repeatedly argues, becomes violent, throws a temper tantrum or starts hitting, kicking, cussing or screaming, then he/she learns it’s okay to repeat this negative behavior because he knows you will eventually give in, again and again. Be consistent.
“Time-outs” can be very effective for children 3 yrs old and up, but younger children being put in time-out or on a “naughty chair” may lead to frustration and confusion. Toddlers have a very short attention span so when he/she does misbehave, forget the long lecture. Give him/her a firm “no”, along with a brief explanation such as “that’s not a toy” or “no jumping on the couch/bed” and redirect the child’s attention to an acceptable activity.
Taking privileges away, especially those the child/teen most enjoys can be very effective. Simply sending a kid to their room for a period of time to “think about” what they’ve done may not bring the results you wish for, since it’s likely that they will just entertain themselves with what they have in their room and not think about anything else.
- Avoid power struggles with your children. Don’t focus on the negatives all the time, but express your positive feelings by saying “I like how you put all your toys away” or “I like how you played with your little brother/sister today”.
- Give your child choices and set reasonable limits on behavior. Praise your child whenever you “catch” him or her being good, like sharing their toys or picking up after themselves, and avoid being too critical.
- Teach your child that he/she doesn’t have to behave in a negative way to get your attention, but make it easier for your children to do the right thing and behave in the way you want. That’s what discipline is for.
- Be a good role model for your children by not yelling and screaming at your child. Put yourself in time-out if necessary, to give yourself a break and get your temper under control. Remember: Children learn what they live.
- Encourage appropriate behavior and pick your battles. Be gentle but firm with your child. Don’t make commands you don’t intend to enforce. If you say you’re going to do it, then do it.
Parents with children of any age can learn effective discipline techniques, sometimes referred to as “win-win discipline”, by reading parenting books that deal with all types of child behaviors, behavior management and positive parenting tips.
Many of the best parenting books provide excellent tips and ideas for moms and dads dealing with discipline problems at home, and advice on how to avoid discipline problems and sibling rivalry issues. Reading a discipline book or two like 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 and Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries have helped many parents learn how to discipline children and are enjoying the benefits of a happy, healthy and peaceful home environment.
Another excellent discipline book, Parenting With Love And Logic, impresses the value of children experiencing the natural consequences of their actions (logic). The authors, Jim Fay and Charles Fay, encourage parents many times throughout the book to empathize with their children prior to disciplining (love). The ultimate goal of using the Love and Logic techniques: raise responsible children that respect authority, have a positive self-concept, and who are able to make wise independent decisions now and throughout life.
What is your opinion on the subject of spanking vs. not spanking? Do you spank your child or were you spanked while growing up? What discipline methods have you found to be effective, and which techniques were not so effective? Share your thoughts and stories by leaving a comment below.
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