Hard Lessons: Discipline and Child Behavior

Salvi LoPiccolo, LMHC

dad_teaching_kid_disciplineWhen it comes to parenting children, there’s a big difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline is meant to teach and guide the child toward adopting behaviors that are acceptable in our society while also maintaining a level of positive self-esteem and a healthy relationship between the parent and the child.

Punishment, on the other hand, does not teach but rather instills a penalty for a child’s offense. While punishment is sometimes necessary, it too often results from a parent’s feelings of frustration and desperation, and simply leads to the child feeling angry toward the parent instead of reflecting on the behaviors that lead to the punishment. Because punishment doesn’t necessarily teach alternatives, any behavioral changes may be quickly abandoned when the threat of punishment is no longer in place such as when the child has grown into adulthood.

Discipline focuses on teaching children new skills, such as how to manage their behaviors, solve problems, and deal with their feelings. Discipline focuses on training kids to learn from their mistakes and find better ways to solve problems in the future.

Discipline may not be the easiest approach for parents during the emotional conflict that comes with correcting the behavior of a child. It certainly requires a significant amount of discipline on the part of the parent. But if long term, positive changes in behavior is the goal, discipline is a more effective and preferred approach.

The type of discipline you choose to enforce depends on what behaviors your child is exhibiting, their temperament, the child’s age, their perceptions, and what resources you have available.

Here are some helpful discipline techniques that can help you to reinforce teaching, correcting behaviors, and strengthens positive behaviors:

Natural Consequences

These are consequences that occur without any type of intervention. For example, if your child struggles to wake up in the morning and refuses to use an alarm, let the child experience what will happen if he chooses to rely on others instead of learning the importance of independence. Choose to use this type of discipline when the result will not be physically or emotionally damaging. These are highly effective techniques because they learn the reality of experiences and the “real world”.

Logical Consequences

Similar to natural consequences, except that there is an intervention after the negative behavior is displayed. It involves stepping in and describing to your child what occurred that is not acceptable and what the result of their behavior will be. For example, if they stay up past their bedtime watching television the following night television privileges will be taken away.

Behavior Chart

A behavior chart is a wonderful method to teach responsibility and independence. Create the behavior chart with the child. Involving them in the process will allow them to feel ownership over their tasks. The chart can list chores or duties that need to be performed on a weekly or daily basis. Every time a task is completed a sticker can be rewarded, at the end of the week, take a tally of how many tasks have been completed and reward appropriately. For example, allow them to use the tablet an extra hour or a special treat after dinner on Friday nights. It is also important to be reasonable in what they need to achieve in the week, if they have a total of seven tasks to do for the week allow them wiggle room if they miss one or two.

Reward Positive Behavior

Often times when we think of rewards we think of material objects, such as a new toy. However, rewarding positive behavior can be much simpler than that and just as reinforcing. Positive affirmations and compliments are a great way to encourage and continue good behaviors.

Taking Away Privileges

To children this is often the worst form of discipline. When you decide to take away a privilege make sure it is related to the behavior. For example, if the child stays outside longer to play reduce time spent outside for the week. What is being taken away needs to be something the child values or else the child will not care or bother to stop the behavior. Lastly, be sure to act immediately after the behavior. If the discipline comes days later it is unlikely to make an impact, especially for younger children.

Discipline is about teaching and guidance, however, you may experience times when what you are doing is not enough and unacceptable behaviors persist. If you are finding that your child is exhibiting any of these concerns seek help from a mental health professional:

  • Your child or teen continues to be defiant to authoritative figures such as yourself, teachers, and other adults
  • Aggressive and destructive behaviors toward people or animals
  • Blue or depressed mood that lasts for longer than one week, threats to harm themselves or others, and being socially isolated
  • If the child or members of the family use drugs or alcohol
  • Unhealthy relationships or severe communication problems within the family

Finally, it can be difficult for parents to remain calm and unemotional when confronted with unacceptable behaviors in children. It’s important to remember that expressing anger, yelling, making threats and other emotional displays only teach children that anger is an appropriate way to respond to conflict. It does not teach the child how to make better decisions. As difficult as it may be, when disciplining a child, do so in a “matter-of-fact” and unemotional way.

If you’d like to explore any of these ways of applying discipline, call Capital EAP. We’d love to help!