All children need people in their lives to direct and guide them in a loving, gentle manner. Discipline is one of the most difficult, yet most important, issues a parent has to confront. Love and discipline cannot be separated – helping a child feel loved is the first and most important part of good discipline. Without that foundation of unconditional love, any consequences or punishment used will most likely prove to be futile.
Discipline is a method of teaching and training our children to employ appropriate self-control and behavior. This is done through guidance, modeling, verbal instruction and requests, and even fun experiences. Discipline is not punishment. The better disciplined a child is, the less punishment will be required. When should discipline begin? When our children begin to tell us this is what they need. This usually happens between the first and second years of life. The following are some guidelines for effective discipline:
- Limits – Our children want and need limits; they are reassuring. When thinking about limits, consider the child’s age and needs. Be certain the limits are appropriate developmentally. It would not be wise to have a bedtime of 11 p.m. for a six year old, yet 11 p.m. would be an acceptable limit for a 16 year old.
- Consistency – Confusion occurs when we change our minds about what we expect. In your home, if homework is to be completed before free time begins, hold your child accountable for that each day – that means even on days when you are too tired or too busy.
- Threats do not work, choices do – Everyone likes to make choices. If our children feel they’ve been included in the decision-making, the desired behavior is more likely to occur. Instead of “if you don’t clean up your room, you can’t go” rephrase that with “you can choose to clean your room and go, or you can choose not to clean your room and stay at home.”
- Accept all feelings, but not all behaviors – there is not one feeling that is invalid; therefore, it is ok for children to be angry, sad, happy, etc. What is not ok is for them to act in aggressive and inappropriate ways. For example, it’s fine to be mad at a sibling, but not to physically hurt her.
- When children misbehave, ask yourself what the child really needs – The easiest and usually first step we take when children misbehave is to correct their behavior. That doesn’t really solve the problem; it is only a temporary solution. Finding out why the child is misbehaving can be an important part of a permanent solution. Did you know that for a child, bad attention (misbehavior) is better than no attention at all?
No matter how well we do our parenting job, our children are going to misbehave. THIS IS INEVITABLE. There are no perfect parents around, nor are there perfect children. First, love each child unconditionally, and secondly, give loving but firm discipline in the most positive way possible. As parents, our responsibility is to love our children enough to discipline them and to provide them with the foundation they need to become responsible, loving and kind human beings.
Remember to discipline with love in your heart.