Welcome to Discipline 101, Defining Effective Discipline. I will be your teacher/mentor in assisting you with discipline that really works. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come easy to parents, teachers or caregivers. It is something that we’ve been exposed to throughout our lives from our parents, teachers, grandparents and other individuals that have come and gone. We may have some ideas about “how” we want to do things when we are in a position of authority, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have a clue about how to handle situations that arise. That’s why I’m here. After you’ve completed my Six-Part Series on Positive Discipline from A to Z, you will have a clear image of your personal beliefs on discipline, the need for discipline and how you plan on tackling the task at hand.
Discipline is a form of art. It requires the ability to set limits for your child without preventing him/her the freedom to grow and learn. There are many philosophers promoting his/her ideas on discipline. Truth is one size doesn’t fit all. In fact, effective discipline will have to be determined by the individual or couple who will be teaching and enforcing it for it to be successful.
There are a few misconceptions on “what” discipline actually is or should be. Typically, discipline is thought, by many, to be about punishment when in fact it is literally more about teaching right from wrong. There are many definitions of the word discipline, which you can review by finding the word in various dictionaries however, you’ll find that most will reflect something similar to the definition found in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; control gained by enforcing obedience or order; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.
Understanding the true meaning of discipline and keeping it in mind whenever a situation presents itself requiring “discipline” you and your spouse should be able to come up with effective disciplinary methods that will “teach” your child more appropriate and suitable behaviors rather than punishing them for getting something wrong. Effective discipline is an effort to teach your child to learn something from the mistakes that he/she has made in an effort to prevent him/her from making the same mistakes repeatedly.
A Healthy Blend of Parenting Styles:
No two people will ever unite sharing exactly the same ideas on parenting and discipline. In fact, this in an area that most couples will struggle with throughout their lives while parenting children, as no matter how “congealed” they believe their philosophies to be, there will always be something that arises on which the two will disagree. It is important to understand the concepts of Partners in Parenting as without a game plan, children will divide and conquer – it’s what they’re good at. Couples will want to have a plan in place to help them work through these differences in an effort to prevent disagreements that could potentially lead to marital disharmony.
There are a few things that couples can do BEFORE starting a family which will allow them to identify and share with their partner specific parenting beliefs that they feel strongly about. Through this simple exercise, couples can work together on formulating a parenting plan / style that they are both comfortable with. Of course, if you already have children and you and your spouse are butting heads over discipline issues, you can take these simple steps as well.
- Imagine your child in twenty years. A first step might be for each of you to write down a brief description of the attributes and qualities that you’d like your child to reflect at the age of twenty-five. For example, you’d like your child to demonstrate the use of good manners, to be self-disciplined, and respectful and kind to others. Compare your lists to determine the similarities. You now have a starting point.
- Share Parenting/Discipline Philosophies. Review with each other any form of discipline and parenting styles that your parents used when raising you. This is a good time to share methods that you were pleased with and those that you’d rather eliminate from your parenting regime. This might include areas of discipline such as “parenting without yelling” or “washing one’s mouth out with soap” for using profanity, etc… Everything is important at this stage because you might find things that one parent may consider acceptable and the other parent not so much. However, you just might be surprised at the number of issues that you’re actually on the same page.
- Establish a plan you can both live with. At this point, you’ll need to establish a parenting plan that you both can live with. Be specific or it won’t be successful. Begin with typical toddler behaviors that you’ll experience first from biting to temper tantrums and how you both feel these behaviors should be handled. Continue choosing different inappropriate behaviors, as you’ll need to determine what both of you feel in unacceptable needing modification. There are many disciplinary tools and beliefs for handling behaviors that you want modified. You and your partner MUST agree so that you can work together presenting a united front. Examples here will be “time out”, “loss of privilege” – older children, apologizing, etc…
- Agree to disagree. Situations will occur in which the two of you might not feel that the agreed upon “discipline” is appropriate or necessary. This is when you’ll need to have a plan in place to “problem solve” without the children recognizing the dissention. You should have a signal that is used ONLY when you and your spouse need to “take a time out” to momentarily discuss, out of earshot, the situation at hand and come to a common solution.
- Remember, parenting is not easy. It is one of the most rewarding yet difficult jobs you’ll ever have. And no matter how good a parent you and your spouse might be, you are going to blow it from time to time. Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt will be more beneficial to your relationship as a couple as well as to your parenting esteem. Always remember to compliment your spouse when he/she handles a situation particularly well. It’s nice to feel appreciated.
- Know when to ask for professional help. Sometimes couples find themselves divided on issues and cannot find a common ground. It happens, especially in blended families. Seeking the advice of a neutral third party, NOT MOTHERS OR MOTHER-IN-LAWS, can be beneficial in handling disputes. Within your community, or nearby, you will have access to family therapists who are highly skilled facilitators that can often have you and your partner coming together on difficult issues within even one session.
- Visit a Library or Bookstore. There are thousands of books and videos on parenting that can provide great insight on methods of discipline, parenting styles and personality traits. Include these resources as tools for your success. Perhaps one of you is more inclined to read than the other. That doesn’t mean that you both cannot benefit from the information obtained between the pages. Mark the relevant information within the book, allowing your partner to read just the details that are pertinent. Or, you can read aloud to your partner. Whatever method works to insure that the information is processed.
Remember, as difficult as parenting can be for couples, it is also the single-most important and rewarding experience the two of you will share. Sure, some days you may feel like playing in traffic because your toddler or ten- year old has been particularly difficult. The good and sad news is that it will pass. Before you know it your toddler will be headed off to college. You’ll look back on the experience and with fond memories asking yourself, “Where did the time go?”
Believing in YOUR Discipline Plan:
Believing in the plan that you and your spouse have designed to use in raising your family is mandatory, for without your whole-hearted belief in the system, it will fail. Often parents, especially new ones, cannot imagine that their little “pumpkin” can do anything wrong. It’s unimaginable to them how that beautiful, innocent little tot could possibly scribble with crayon on the freshly painted wall, or flush the telephone down the toilet – twice. But, trust me when I tell you that these things and others will happen and unless you want to see these behaviors repeated, you will have to do something to modify these behaviors in your child.
Parents must understand that they are first a parent and a friend or buddy second. This is extremely important and something that our generation has allowed to cloud their minds and affect their parenting responsibilities. Without discipline we are doing our children a great disservice. Perhaps we’ve done it unintentionally, but it has long-term effects that are typically negative in nature.
To avoid falling into this trap, remember the “attributes” that you and you’re your spouse determined were important for your grown child to possess. Implement the parenting/discipline plan that you agreed upon without hesitation and never allow yourself to fall victim to the following:
- Never feel apologetic for disciplining your child – unless you have handled the situation inappropriately. It’s your job to insure that your child learns from his/her mistakes. Implementing the plan consistently will insure its success and will ultimately reduce the frequency and need for discipline as your child becomes self-disciplined.
- Allowing your emotions to cloud your judgment when disciplining your child can have devastating results. Okay, we all understand that seeing a child experiencing discomfort is difficult to do BUT it is also necessary from time to time. By going easy on your child so as to prevent him/her any discomfort, you could actually be setting him/her up for a greater level of discomfort in years to come. Remember, it is your job to teach your child how to be self-disciplined. This is accomplished by teaching him/her right from wrong, appropriate verses inappropriate behaviors, and acceptable and unacceptable attitudes and actions. Through your inability to adhere to the agreed upon discipline plan, your child is likely to grow up without the skills of self-discipline. Without it, your child will likely suffer at school and at work. Typically lacking this skill has a negative impact on their personal relationships too.
- Mean what you say and say it like you mean it. If you sound indecisive through hesitation in your voice and actions when dealing with discipline, your child will “smell it” and use their arsenal take advantage of you. You must earn their respect and reflect parental credibility.
- Some parents go off the deep end and handle matters of discipline like an absolute control freak. Not a good idea if you intend to raise well-adjusted, compassionate and respectful children. Too much control leads to rebellion in children. It might rear its ugly head in the early adolescent years but typically it is seen in the teenage years. In cases such as this, parents might want to take a more balanced approach to discipline to prevent the need for more controlling or extreme measures later in life.
When, Why and How to Discipline:
Knowing when to discipline your child, although to some might seem second nature is not always easy. In fact, recognizing when they’ve crossed the proverbial line in the sand is often difficult for first time parents. It
is important for parents to begin teaching their children, through modeling and role-play as well as establishing certain expectations of them, at an early age. Waiting until the toddler has destroyed the home or terrorized his/her younger sibling is probably too late to begin, although it must. By making your rules known early in life, parents have a greater opportunity to teach their child right from wrong as each day presents a new challenge. Children will not come into this world knowing the difference between appropriate and inappropriate words, actions and behaviors. It is up to us to make certain that we teach what is expected.
Having a clear and concise idea of your expectations and how you intend to teach them is necessary. You must also understand how you will implement your discipline techniques in order to insure the desired outcome. Applying your techniques incorrectly can lead to confusion in your child and ultimately make a situation worse than before. Here are a few tips to clarify when discipline is required, why it must be enforced and how to properly handle the situation that has presented itself:
- Avoid applying a “one-size-fits-all” disciplinary action. No two children are exactly alike so why attempt to discipline them as if they are. Discipline must take into account individual children’s temperament, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and age for it to be successful. Having said this, however, does not mean establishing rules that apply to everyone within the home. For example, standardized rules like “keeping your hands to yourself at all times” or “no hitting”; “words leaving your mouth must be kind” or “no swearing”; “if it goes in your mouth it must be food or beverage” or “no biting”; etc… are perfectly reasonable for everyone to follow. However, fine tuning rules as well as consequences will be necessary along the way as you will have to insure that they are appropriate for the individuality of each child.
- It is easy, although unintentional, to find one child the culprit over another. Parents should exercise extreme caution so as not to isolate or alienate the “more often blamed” child. Falling into this trap is particularly easy when you have teary-eyed younger child pointing the finger at the older sibling whom you feel should be more responsible and capable of making better decisions. Often, you’ve been played like a fiddle by the younger child. Not only can this lead to extreme resentment by the older child toward the younger child but it can also result in higher levels of disrespect toward you.
- When anxieties are running high, it can result in parents attacking the child rather than addressing the behavior. Be careful in what you say and how you say it because your child is likely to decipher it differently. A good example of this would be, “I’m so tired of you picking on your sister”. Translation, “I don’t like you nearly as much as I like your sister.” Perhaps relaying your message another way would actually make the point that you intended. For example, “Although I realize your little sister disturbs you when you’re _____, maybe you could respond to her questions using kinder words.”
- Positive reinforcement in lieu of punishment is a wonderful method of modifying behaviors and teaching more appropriate ones too. Children’s behaviors can be extremely frustrating for parents, especially if the behavior is repeated time and time again. Like, leaving his/her glass on the table after dinner instead of taking it to the sink. Instead of constantly focusing on the “negative”, recognize and praise the positives. For example, on the occasion that the glass is placed in the sink, make an effort to let him/her know that you’ve noticed this action and comment on it. Kids will respond much more positively to, “Thank you for putting your glass in the sink” than to “can’t you do what you’re asked repeatedly?”
- Frequently, a parent that does not want to “address” a particular situation will make excuses for his/her actions, attitudes, etc…”He’s sick”, “She just had an argument with her best friend”, the list goes on. Instead of helping your child by explaining away the problems, you’re teaching your child that he/she does not have to be accountable. Bad days happen, so do inappropriate behaviors. Regardless of the reason, children need to be taught accountability and consequence.
- Becoming overly emotional is a “NO NO” as it will result in a loss of credibility in the eyes of your child when and if you must address anger management or related discipline issues. Additionally, through a loss of control you are more likely to make poor discipline decisions. Some children, “bless their hearts” will engage you just to determine if they can create a “melt down”. By loss of control, you have just reinforced his/her belief.
- Never give into your child’s demands as this is rewarding bad behavior. We’ve all seen it and perhaps done it ourselves. While in the toy store looking for a gift for another child, your child begins whining about a particular item that he/she would like. Although you have told him/her “NO” repeatedly, he/she repeatedly demands the items. In an effort to reduce your embarrassment as your child has done the ultimate in drawing a crowd, you succumb to his/her demands. Congratulations! You have just created a monster and one that will rear its ugly head and flash it’s gnarly teeth every time he/she wants something and can manipulate the situation to his/her benefit. All kidding aside, “No” should mean No! Not, I’ll think about it, or bug me enough and I’ll give into your demands. Consider the message that you have just taught your child. (Food for Thought: If you have a teenage daughter who is dating, what word do you always want the boy with whom she’s on a date to understand conclusively? NO! Keep this in mind.)
- Probably the most difficult task for parents when it comes to dealing with “out of control” children is to avoid reinforcing bad behavior. If you were lucky enough to get out of the toy store without purchasing the demanded item, congratulations. However, you did not manage to leave the store without feeling embarrassed, angry and probably frazzled. Your child has successfully pushed each and every button and probably gotten on your very last nerve in the process making him/her the winner.
- Avoid making idle threats as this will destroy the effectiveness of even the most well designed discipline plan. Remember, say what you mean and then DO IT! (Unless, of course, you told your child you were going to hog-tie him to the chair if he does not stop running around the house). In other words, kidding aside, tell your child what you expect of him/her and then what you will be doing if the expectation is not met and do it.
- Although our children will embarrass us repeatedly throughout our lifetime, child development experts stress that we should not embarrass or humiliate our children in return. If your child misbehaves in the presence of others, as a responsible parent, you should quietly take your child aside and address the inappropriate behavior and make it clear that you will handle the issue later and in private. Now, unless this was an idle threat, make certain that you do, in fact, handle the matter and not “forget about it”.
Disciplining your child(ren) can be a tough issue but one that all parents must regard as necessary. If you both are clear in your own values and those that you want your child to emulate, chances are that you will be successful in this feat if you implement a realistic set of discipline standards in your home. Consistency is the key to teaching your children the desired behaviors. Working together with your spouse presenting a united front and holding the same set of values and expectations near and dear will assist you in creating a happy, healthy home environment for each of you to thrive.
This concludes Part I of Positive Parenting from A to Z. Please check back next week for Part II, Making Children Mind without Losing Yours – Discipline without Yelling.
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