Children, as part of growing and maturing, often test and challenge parents, whether intentional or unintentional. Discipline is something that is essential for all parents to do but is often one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of parenting. The goal of discipline is to teach, protect and help children develop self-control and responsibility. Effective discipline will help children feel safe and secure and should focus on changing the unwanted behavior.
- Establish rules. For discipline to be successful, rules need to be established so that children know what is expected of them. Effective rules need to be reasonable, meaning they need to be able to be enforced and age appropriate. These rules should be stated clearly and concisely.
- Consistency. One of the most important aspects of discipline is being consistent. Being consistent in your expectations of your child and following through on what you’ve said is vital to successfully disciplining your child. Making a statement about an expectation or consequence and then not following through on it is confusing to children and can teach your child that you are not serious and do not mean what you say.
- Natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences occur when a behavior results in a consequence for the child, for example a child is playing too rough with a toy and it breaks, so the consequence is the child no longer has that toy to play with. A logical consequence would be a consequence that directly relates to the misbehavior, for example a child leaves a toy out after being told to put it away, so the consequence would be that he loses the opportunity to play with this toy for a period of time.
- Time outs and taking away privileges. Sometimes there is no logical and natural consequence. In these cases, for younger children time outs tend to be useful. Time outs should be held in an area in which the audience is taken away and the reason for the time out is explained clearly. Time outs typically should last about one minute per year of age. Once the time out is over it is over, do not dwell on the negative behavior. For older children, taking away a privilege is an alternative to natural and logical consequences. The removal of a privilege should be related to the negative behavior and occur as soon as possible after the behavior occurs. Most importantly, to be effective the privilege must be something the child values and would be upset over losing.
- Rewarding positive behaviors. Your child needs to learn that all behaviors have consequences, not just the negative behaviors. Rewarding children for following the rules and expectations is just as important as punishments. Catch your child being good! The most effective way to encourage positive behavior is to recognize it and reward it. This will motivate children to continue to do good and feel most positively about themselves.
Avoid power struggles and losing your cool. Avoiding a power struggle and remaining in control of yourself is necessary to disciplining successfully. It is easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated when a child is misbehaving but getting into a power struggle undermines your authority and adds fuel to the fire. Take a time out yourself if needed to regain composure and control of yourself. If children know you are feeling out of control, they may try to take advantage of you. If you do lose control or react negatively, apologize to your child and share how you will react in the future.