Sometime around the 12th-month mark, children shift from not knowing what they’re doing to knowingly and purposely doing what they know they are not supposed to do. So at some point, discipline will need to come on board to ensure that you are teaching your children how to be responsible, well-adjusted individuals. However, there should be a balance between discipline and hard labor. Here are seven tips for appropriate discipline with your children.
Overall, my kids are pretty good, but just like all other children, they sometimes miss the mark and do something that they’re not supposed to do. I try not to overreact because making mistakes is a part of growing up. Instead, I focus on helping my kids learn from their mistakes while providing appropriate discipline. Here are seven things to consider to ensure that you’re applying age-appropriate discipline to your kids.
This is especially appropriate for younger children. When your toddler is making a mess or doing something that she isn’t supposed to do, clearly say “No” and then redirect her to a more appropriate activity. Make sure that you don’t laugh because you’ll be sending mixed messages to your little one. Firmly say “No” and redirect her attention elsewhere.
Minimize power struggles
This strategy works from the toddler stage all the way up to the teenage years. Try to avoid power struggles as much as possible.
Many parents struggle with this because they are the parents and believe that children should never question their authority. The trick to this strategy is to give them appropriate options - not allow them to have a free-for-all.
For instance, if your child is angry and is beginning to yell at you, you can give him two options:
- Lower your voice or
- Go to your room.
The outcome is the same – the yelling stops but your child feels empowered because he was given a choice. One mother I know used this approach with her daughter who was overly committed to extra-curricular activities to the point that her grades began to drop. Her mother let her choose which activity to give up. Remember, you want to shape your child’s behavior and by avoiding power struggles, you do that without stripping your child of his self-esteem and personal power.
Keep consequences short
Make sure that the consequences that you give your child are short.
The point of the consequences is to shape behavior, not to “punish” your child. So, keep time-outs to about one minute per year of age. And when your children are older, keeping your pre-teen on restriction for a month really is overkill.
Even a ten- or twelve-year-old doesn’t need to be on restriction for more than a couple of days. Two to three days will be enough to remind your kids that their behavior was inappropriate.
Respond only to appropriate communication
When my five-year-old begins to whine, I don’t respond to her. I remind her one time that I can only hear her when she’s speaking in her normal voice. This often prompts her to speak in a normal voice or she may continue with boundary-testing by continuing with the whining.
However, I only respond when the whining stops. My daughter knows this and generally stops whining pretty quickly. You can use this approach with whining, yelling, tantrums, or any other behavior that you want to change.
Use a timer
When one of your children is having a particularly difficult time with self-control, you may want to pull out the timer.
Let your child know that they have three minutes to get “it” out of their system and set the timer for three minutes. When the buzzer goes off let her know that time is up and if she wants to talk about it, then she needs to calm herself down.
This often works like a charm with children for a few reasons: they’ve tired themselves out with their three-minute tantrum, they feel like they have been given a choice because you used the timer instead of making it a power struggle, and typically, they really do want to talk to you so they will calm down and so that they can be heard.
Use natural consequences
This is a great way to get kids to do what they are supposed to do. When you use natural consequences, you don’t look like the “bad guy” but kids realize that it was their actions that caused the result.
- For example, if your child doesn’t put her clothes in the hamper, then the natural consequence is that she doesn’t get her clothes washed.
- Another natural consequence could be that if your child keeps losing his things because he’s not putting them away properly, then perhaps it should become his responsibility to replace the items that he has lost. Unfortunately, that may mean that some of the money that he has been saving for that special gadget, now has to be used to replace the lost item.
This approach helps your children learn responsibility.
Focus on the positive
Focusing only on the behavior that you don’t like while ignoring the great stuff that your kids do everyday only promotes more negative behavior. Be sure that you take time to compliment your child on the good stuff that he does - and you’ll see more of that.
Kids are naturally wired to want to please their parents so be sure to keep that in mind the next time you see them do something worthy of praise.
Sure, they will mess up sometimes but they are just as happy as you are when they do get it right.