How to effectively discipline your child

Your Child and Teen
How to effectively discipline your child

Learning how to effectively discipline your children is a topic that is often asked about in counseling. Parents sometimes may just want to give up due to failed attempts at discipline and behavior modification.

Before discussing what discipline is, it is important to distinguish what it is not.

What discipline is NOT:

  • Threats.  Parents often become frustrated over failed attempts at modifying negative behavior or the inability to get their kids to listen. Threats can escalate this situation even more and should be considered a negative way of handling a negative situation. Two negatives will not get you a positive outcome. Ultimately, threats will make your child feel angry, powerless and may increase his or her negative behavior or even retaliation.
  • Spanking.  Spanking is really only effective in stopping the behavior immediately; however, what it does do is teach your the child to hit and often to retaliate. Spanking does not teach your child to be accountable for his actions, nor does it teach problem-solving skills.
  • Punishments.  Punishments hurt children, whereas consequences teach children. Punishments will make children angry, and they will often be unaffected by the attempted punishment. Again, a negative response to a negative situation will not provide a positive outcome.

What discipline IS:

There are many effective ways to discipline children and to modify problematic behaviors. The key to these strategies is being consistent.

  • Provide choices.  Providing choices teaches children accountability for their actions and control over their lives. It teaches children problem-solving skills that they will use in the future.
    • Two positive choices.  Provide your child with two choices that are both positive and acceptable for you when she is misbehaving. If he refuses to choose one of the two choices, you (as a last resort) choose for him.
    • When/Then choices.  An example of this technique is, When you finish your dinner, you may have dessert.” This technique helps children learn accountability and responsibility.
  • Use consequences.  Again, consequences are not punishments. Consequences illustrate to children that when they do certain things, certain outcomes will happen, whereas punishments are meant to hurt children. Learning how to effectively choose consequences is difficult. The rule of thumb is to think of consequences that are both a reasonable and a natural result of their choices. The consequences for their behavior should make sense.
  • Enforce rules consistently. Just as important as providing positive disciplining techniques is to consistently enforce rules. Children need to know that rules will be enforced at all times or they will not take them seriously. Children naturally push boundaries to see what they are able to get away with, so if the rules are not strictly enforced, positive disciplining techniques will not work.
  • Be positive.  Negative behavior in children is often due to their desire for attention. If children feel that their parents do not pay attention to them unless they are in trouble, then parents have positively reinforced their negative behavior. The goal is to pay attention to children when they are doing positive things or even doing nothing at all.
    • Tell children when they do good things by highlighting positive behaviors. Spend time with children other than when providing discipline.
    • Be positive about them to others.  Let others know when your children do well behaviorally. For example, you can tell your partner in front of the child, “Kate did a great job at the doctor’s office today.”
    • Be positive in public.  Do not embarrass your child in public or in front of others. Rather than yelling, whisper to your child. This helps get his attention and allows you to stay in control and not get too upset.
  • Modeling appropriate behavior. Be the example for your child by modeling the behaviors you want. Parents often underestimate the power of modeling.

Coupled with these techniques, patience, persistence and commitment to this new way of disciplining will provide positive outcomes. Being consistent is extremely important and is key in seeing long-term change.

Often parents will see pushback from their children when these new techniques are implemented. It is important to stay committed to these new techniques and your children will soon realize that this new way is here to stay.