When it comes to the dreaded ‘D’ word – discipline, many parents have a negative reaction. Maybe you have bad memories of growing up with harsh and unreasonable discipline, or maybe you just don’t know how to go about it in a good way. Whatever your thoughts and feelings about the topic of discipline, once you become a parent, like it or not, you will be faced with plenty of opportunity to discipline your children, for better or for worse. So here are five dos and don’ts to get you going as you tackle the all-important task of finding the best way that works for you as you seek to bring positive and constructive discipline into your home.
1. Do know the true meaning of discipline
So what exactly is discipline? The word is derived from Latin and the original meaning is ‘teaching / learning’. So we see that the purpose of discipline is to teach children something, so that they will learn to behave in a better way next time. True discipline gives the child the tools they need to learn and grow. It protects the child from putting themselves in dangerous situations if they do not obey instructions, and it helps them to learn self-control. Positive discipline gives children a sense of responsibility and helps to instil values in them.
Don’t confuse discipline with punishment
There is a vast difference between disciplining a child and punishing him. Punishment has to do with making someone suffer for what they have done, to ‘pay’ for their misbehaviour. This does not result in the positive outcomes described above, but rather tends to breed resentment, rebellion, fear, and such-like negativity.
2. Do tell the truth
The thing about children is that they are extremely trusting and innocent (well, to begin with, at least). That means they will believe just about anything and everything mom and dad tell them. What a responsibility this is for parents to be truthful and not deceive their children into believing lies. If your child asks you one of those awkward questions and you just can’t think of the age-appropriate way to answer, say that you will think about it and tell them later. This is better than making up something untruthful which they will surely bring up to embarrass you in the future.
Don’t get tangled up in white lies
Some parents use ‘white lies’ as a scare tactic to get their children to behave, along the lines of “if you don’t listen to me then the policeman is going to come and take you to jail” kind of thing. This is not only untrue but it is using fear in an unhealthy way to manipulate your children to comply. It may get the immediate results that you want but in the long run the negative effects will far outweigh any positives. And your children will lose respect for you when they find out that you lied to them.
3. Do set firm boundaries and limits
In order for discipline (ie. teaching and learning) to be effective there must be firm boundaries and limits in place. Children must know what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they do not meet those expectations. For some children a simple word of warning is sufficient while others will definitely test the boundaries, just as one would lean against a wall to see if it is strong enough to hold your weight. Let your boundaries be strong enough to support your child’s weight – this will make them feel safe and secure when they know that you have set the limits for their protection and well being.
Don’t be a pushover or back down
When a child pushes against the limits and you give way it can convey the message that the child is the most powerful one in the home – and that is a very scary thought for a young child. So don’t be a pushover or back down from the boundaries and consequences that you have set in place for your child. It is also imperative that both parents agree to present a united front. If not the child will soon learn that he can get away with things by playing the parents up against each other.
4. Do take appropriate and timely action
It’s no good bringing up things that happened hours or even days ago and then try to discipline your child – by then he has probably forgotten all about it. The right time is as soon as possible after the event, especially when your children are very young. As they become older and reach their teen years, a cooling off period may be needed and then the matter can be addressed appropriately.
Don’t talk too much and wait too long
Actions definitely speak louder than words where discipline is concerned. Don’t try to reason or explain over and over why you have to take the toy away because your child did not tidy up as told – just do it, and then the teaching and learning will take place naturally. Next time all the toys will be neatly put away in the toy box.
5. Do give your child the attention they need
Every child needs and wants attention and they will do anything to get it, even in negative ways. So rather give your child focused and positive attention, one-on-one every day. Take the time to do something they enjoy for a few minutes, like playing their favorite game or reading a book. This small investment it can make an immense difference and improvement in their behaviour, thus making your parenting and disciplining role that much easier.
Don’t give undue attention to negative behavior
Children will often act out just to get attention, even if it is negative attention. So when they are whining or throwing a tantrum, it may be best to simply pretend not to hear or walk away, and your child will get the message that there are much better ways to communicate and relate to you and to others. As you keep reinforcing the positives you will slowly but surely ‘starve out’ the negatives, so that you can enjoy a healthy and joyful relationship with your well-disciplined child.