Raising a child can be a challenge. There are books insisting that you must follow the author's methods to the letter, lest your child be forever damaged as an adult. There are strangers giving unsolicited advice and warnings, especially when your little one decides to throw a tantrum in the grocery store!
No aspect of parenting has the potential to be as challenging—and as frustrating—a discipline. Studies have shown the harmful effects of spanking and physical punishment, but many parents have little else in their toolbox.
The important thing to remember about discipline is that it literally means, “to teach.” When we discipline children, we are teaching them appropriate behavior. We are teaching them to meet their needs in a way that will not harm themselves or anyone else.
With that premise in mind, here are some tips for effective discipline:
1. Stay calm.
Remember the fight-or-flight response? Often, parents are experiencing this state when they are trying to discipline their children. And when the body and mind are in this reaction, it is nearly impossible to thinking clearly and creatively problem-solve. Then the mind is in fight-or-flight, it is seeing the child's behavior as a threat. So the first step is to calm yourself down, and to remind your mind that the child simply needs to learn a more appropriate way to meet their needs. Placing the child in time-out is an effective strategy for buying yourself some time to calm down and look at the situation.
2. Look at the ABC's.
While the child is in time-out, take some time to look at the antecedent, behavior, and consequence. What happened right before the child misbehaved? Were they tired? Bored? Hungry? Then look at the behavior. What was it, exactly, that the child was doing? And finally, examine the consequence. What happened as a result of the behavior? In looking at these, you can determine WHY the child acted the way they did. What need were they trying to meet?
3. Plan your prevention.
Take some time to look at what you could do differently next time, to make this behavior less likely to happen. For example, if your child threw a tantrum at the grocery store, could you schedule shopping at a different time of day? Make sure your child ate first? Allow them to bring a pad of paper and pen, so that they don't get bored? Make a plan to structure the environment so that your child is more likely to be successful in the future.
4. Teach a new behavior.
Now it is time to talk to your child. Discuss what happened, what they were trying to do, and what happened as a result. Then discuss what the child could do differently next time. Using the grocery store example, if your child threw a tantrum because they wanted a toy, discuss how they could get the toy using more appropriate behaviors. Perhaps they could do chores around the house to earn money that could be spent on toys.
5. Reinforce the new behavior.
Children often need a little help remembering to use their new skill. Emphasize that the child can choose whether to behave in the old way or the new way. Have a consequence in place for when the child behaves in the old way, and a reward for using the new behavior. For example, if the child behaves during a grocery shopping trip, perhaps they will earn money to save up for the toy. If the child throws a tantrum, they will not earn the money and may have a time-out at home.
When you can stay calm and keep the emphasis on teaching, discipline becomes much less stressful. The end result will be an easier family life and a stronger relationship with your child.
Are you interested in learning more about gentle discipline, while problem-solving in supportive community with other parents? Then the Gentle Discipline E-Course, beginning September 1, is for you! Sign up now and take advantage of the Early Bird Discount.