Children don’t always behave. They’re trying to figure out how the world works and their place in society. Children can test the limits. That’s where parenting comes in—constant guiding, constant reminding, and constant reinforcing to let our children know what they can and can’t do.
Be the parent. Set limits.
As parents, it’s just natural for us to want to give our children things we didn’t have growing up. In a world of “more is better,” it’s easy to confuse what children want with their actual needs. Often we respond to every “I want” because we can, and not necessarily because we should. Limits are necessary.
Set and communicate clear, specific expectations.
We have many expectations of how we want our children to behave, but we often don’t tell them. We have to tell our children what we expect. “We’re not buying anything at the store except groceries. Please don’t ask.” “You can’t watch that television program.” “It’s time to turn off the computer and go outside and play.”
If we do have limits, we often don’t enforce them. The hardest part of parenting is having the energy and determination to follow through—to be firm. Sometimes it’s easier to let our children do what they want, or just give in. Children are so persistent and we parents are often so tired.
In simple terms, explain to your child what he did wrong.
Telling our children what they did wrong is probably the thing parents do the most, but not necessarily the best. We tend to over generalize, get “caught-up-in-the-minute” and let our own emotions and frustrations blur the real intent of our interactions with our children. Instead of, “You made a mess,” say, “You didn’t put your dirty clothes in the hamper.”
Tell your child what he may do, and explain the positive action he should take or choice he should make.
It’s more natural for us to tell our children all the “no’s” instead of all the “yeses.” Think how much more they can learn if we constantly remind our children of the right thing to do. By reinforcing the positive, you’re teaching your child what’s acceptable. “Put your feet on the floor. You may not put them on the table.” “Please tell me where you are going. You can’t be out without my knowing.” “Tell your brother why you are angry. You may not hit him.”
Avoid judgmental statements.
It’s all about the “what,” and not the “who.” We want our children to walk away knowing they made the wrong choice, but that we still love them. We need to guide their behavior in a way that helps them gain and maintain their self-respect and self-confidence. We often say things such as, “If you cared about your sister, you wouldn’t fight with her.” “Why would you eat before dinner? What’s the matter with you?” “How many times do I have to tell you to clean up?” Try statements that are observations not judgments. “You yelled at your sister.” “You ate a cupcake before dinner.” “You didn’t put your clothes in the hamper.”
Have respectful conversations with your child.
Keep conversations dialogues rather than monologues. It’s easy for conversations, especially disciplinary ones, to quickly turn to frustrating battles of, “I’m the mother. I’m right. You’re the child. You’re wrong.” But by being descriptive instead of judgmental, supportive instead of authoritarian, and respectful instead of superior, we are teaching our children that we are interested in their point of view, value their feelings, and seek to understand their needs and concerns.
Have consequences for inappropriate behavior.
Take-aways are an effective consequence for school-age children. With take-aways, we don’t allow our children to do an activity that they want to do. “You haven’t completed your homework. You can’t watch TV tonight.” “You continued arguing with your sister and pulled her hair. You may not go to your friend’s birthday party.”
Reassure your child that you are always there for him.
We can’t give our children everything they want or soothe every worry, but we can show our children that we are available for them. We can listen, remember their concerns, and value their thoughts.
Having respectful conversations with our children, loving them, trying to understand their feelings, and giving them acceptable choices are all effective ways for guiding them.
Discipline is not about power and control. Discipline is about empowering our children and teaching them self-control. What are we going to do? Ground them forever?
For further information:
The American Academy of Pediatrics Parent’s Guide to Discipline explains the difference between discipline and punishment, how to encourage good behavior, tips to avoid trouble, and strategies that work—including using natural consequences, logical consequences, withholding privileges, and time-outs. Visit: http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/cgi-bin/extlink.pl?l=http://www.aap.org/family/99disc.htm.
For information about disciplining your children at different stages of their life, visit: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/discipline.html.
Originally published on Bright Horizons