As necessary as it is, parents generally find discipline to be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. In our article, “Hard Lessons: Discipline and Child Behavior,” we discussed several types of effective techniques for teaching discipline to children. Here we discuss some helpful tips for self-discipline to keep in mind when applying those techniques.
Parenting is not only one of the most rewarding jobs; it is also one of the most exhausting. As children grow it often seems their behavior – their testing and pushing of limits – is simply intended to frustrate parents. In fact, testing limits is a normal process of development which helps the child to learn.
Nevertheless, it is the parent’s responsibility to establish boundaries and consequences for the child to learn what type of behavior is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Establishing boundaries and learning the consequences for their behaviors is known as discipline. Discipline is necessary to prepare children to be productive members of society, to ensure their safety and health, and to allow them to grow up to be strong and happy adults.
When discipline, and sometimes punishment, becomes necessary, the best results come from practicing a little discipline of our own. Here are some tips to keep in mind when discipline becomes necessary:
As part of the learning process, children are programmed to find creative ways to bend or break rules. As parents, remaining consistent and reliable in our response to these ventures is a key to positive discipline. In all – tone, temperament and action, children benefit when they are able to anticipate what is to come next. If there is a lack of consistency children are more likely to misbehave because the chances of being disciplined are lower.
Consistency also comes in to play when carrying out any consequences that were a part of the disciplinary process. As hard it sometimes is to take away privileges or institute any kind of punishment, not following through on consequences teaches a child that parents won’t do what they say they’ll do – and that’s not an effective lesson for correcting behavior.
Role-Model Desired and Positive Behaviors
Another key to maintaining positive behaviors is to be a role-model for the desired behavior. Children are very observant and receptive of what is going on around them. As a parent you are the person most closely observed and imitated by your child, and every action makes a lasting impact on the decisions they make going forward. Therefore, it is instrumental to demonstrate positive behaviors, and also to show that you too believe it to be important. For instance, if you want your child to be polite, make sure you are as well. Following events that call for discipline, it is sometimes helpful to occasionally “step outside yourself,” reflect on your own behaviors around your children, and determine what parts you approved of and what could have been done better.
Communicate Openly with Children
Children need to be aware of what type of behavior is acceptable and what type is not acceptable. As a parent it’s helpful to remind yourself that a child is naïve and is always learning. Every encounter is a change for a child to learn something new and adopt a method of behavior. Clearly and explicitly explaining to children right from wrong and what the consequences are from their actions, is an excellent and direct way to affect behavior. One caveat is that children need to be in a frame of mind to learn, not agitated. Be sure to explain consequences for behaviors when they have calmed down and can listen to, and process, what you’re saying to them. It’s nearly impossible for a child to understand, learn and process anything while they are in a tantrum.
Take your own Time Out
After your child has acted out or misbehaves, it’s helpful to take a moment to step back and really process what happened.
Humans are programed to react – sometimes strongly – when it comes to a child’s behavior. Protection is a strong emotional bond between parent and child. Emotionally charged physical reactions were important to survival long ago when a lack of discipline may result in being eaten by a predator. Even today, under some circumstances, it is reasonable to react in ways that may cause fear in a child. Nearly stepping into traffic or jumping casually into the deep end of a swimming pool are good reasons to react strongly.
Still, anger and agitation are common and normal even when the situation is not life-threatening. In these times, you may need a moment to cool off instead of immediately reacting. Once you’re in a more calm state of mind you will be better equipped to make a good judgment and utilize the proper discipline technique for what happened.
Some of these tips are a lot harder in practice than they sound. Self-discipline always is. However, practice really does make perfect. If you think about and practice these tips while interacting with your children you are more likely to find success when applying discipline. Not only will you feel more confident in your ability as a parent, but you can expect to see children that are listening better, following desired behaviors more often, and are more respectful of your position as a parent.