When you discipline a child, you are showing him what good behaviour is, while laying down firm boundaries and expectations. Your ultimate goal ― to teach “self discipline”, where he will learn to make good choices for himself.
To guide him towards positive behaviour, you will need to set the rules, and follow through on consequences when these rules are broken. Check this list to find out if you are making any discipline missteps.
1. Throwing your own tantrum
Rein in your own anger before you attempt to discipline. Yelling does not make your child listen to you ― in fact, he’ll simply tune you out. Kids can also get desensitised quickly to yelling. If you constantly raise your voice at your child, he can become immune to it, so the desired effect is lost. Bring your message across in a better way ― bring yourself down to his eye level and make your point firmly and in a controlled manner. When you explain things in a loving manner, your child will understand that while there’ll be consequences to bad behaviour, you will love him, no matter what.
2. Calling up past incidents
If your child fought with the neighbour’s kid the last time they were on a playdate, don’t assume that he’ll do it again. What was intended as a fun visit might end up awkward just because he is embarrassed by your remark. Leave the past in the past and trust him to have learnt his lesson from the previous incident.
3. Making a judgement call when you aren’t sure of the facts
The munchkins are fighting again ― this time, your older son is clutching a toy train, while little sis is sprawled on the floor in tears. It’s easy to assume that big bro had snatched the toy and is in the wrong, but if you aren’t sure, don’t make the call. Instead, remove the object of contention and focus on teaching both siblings to learn to share and take turns, as well as forgive one another.
When you nag, your little one is learning how to function in reaction to you, instead of learning responsibility.
4. Threatening and not following through
If you threaten to take away TV-time if your little one hasn’t finished his homework, but don’t follow through with the threat, he’ll quickly learn that you aren’t serious about implementing what you’d promised. Why should he ― since he knows that he will get his reward whether or not he behaves appropriately? Threaten to take away privileges only if you’re prepared to follow through on the consequences.
In trying to keep calm and not lash out in anger, you often find yourself repeating and repeating yourself. So, instead of trying to get junior to make his bed for the umpteenth time, get his attention before you speak. If this involves standing in front of a TV, or gently removing his toy from play, do it. And tell him why he has to listen to you ― “Please make the bed, so you’ll have a tidy room to come back to at the end of the day.” When you nag, your little one is learning how to function in reaction to you, instead of learning responsibility.
6. Ordering your child
Don’t you hate it when someone asks you to get something done…now, now, now? Respect your child as an individual. It may seem trivial, but if your child has to fix that last brick into his Lego building, let him do it, if possible. Commands like “Come here now!” and “Stop what you are doing!” are often the result of our own impatience and the kiddo often tunes them out anyway.
7. Neglecting the learning process
It’s easy for parents to think that discipline is all about pointing out what’s wrong or right, and dishing out consequences. But don’t forget the education value in discipline. So, always remember to tell your child what action you’d prefer him to take. For instance, if your tot enjoys jumping on the couch, instead of saying “stop jumping”, say “Please use the couch for sitting instead, so you don’t get hurt”.
As the child gets older, a time out can produce a power struggle, or a battle of wills.
8. Belittling and causing embarrassment
Say you’ve made a mistake at the office ― the last thing you’d want is for the boss to broadcast your error to all your colleagues. So, don’t hurt your little one’s feelings and self-esteem by shaming him in front of his friends, or the rest of the family. Also, refrain from using hurtful words, which means leaving out the name-calling (like “idiot” and “brat”).
If you’re in a public place or gathering when your child misbehaves, take him to a corner to talk to him. Not only will this not embarrass him, it will steer him away from the situation and give him a chance to think about his actions more clearly.
9. Over-using time outs
The “naughty corner” or “thinking chair” may work when your little one is a toddler, but it somehow seems to lose its effectiveness once junior is a little older. Be sure to know why you are giving your child a time out ― for younger kids, it’s usually because they need a bit of quiet time to get a hold of their feelings and frustrations, and calm down. As the child gets older, a time out can produce a power struggle, or a battle of wills.
Save time outs for a few negative behaviours, and make sure your child knows which ones will result in a time out. For instance, if junior tends to hit his sibling, let him know that a time out is the consequence, and also, what appropriate behaviour you expect of him.
“Why do you keep upsetting me? If you love me, you’ll do this…” Sounds familiar? Emotionally blackmailing your child is more common than you think. Besides not explaining why your child should behave appropriately, he may come to feel responsible for your problems and your negative feelings. Worse, he might get the wrong notion of what “love” is.
11. Being inconsistent
If you set the rule that the family has to eat together at the dinner table, for instance, stick to it. Granted there are days which call for a family TV dinner, such as watching the National Day Parade together ― but let them know that this is an exception. You aren’t sending the right message if you tell junior that dinner time is important, but allow him to plonk himself in front of the telly TV every other day while eating his meal. You don’t want to have to reset the boundaries later.
12. Using physical punishment
Spanking or hitting a child is a controversial topic. While there are many school of thoughts on the use of corporal punishment in disciplining a kid, one viewpoint is that hitting can instil hostility and resentment rather than respect. This, in turn, may affect the parent-child relationship.
Teach him that good behaviour is the right thing to do, and not just that it’ll benefit him.
Telling your child that he’ll get a new toy if he behaves is a short-term solution. This strategy might actually backfire when he starts thinking that he’ll get a reward every time he pleases you. Teach him that good behaviour is the right thing to do, and not just that it’ll benefit him. Say things like “You must be proud of yourself”, “I bet you feel great about what just happened”, rather than “I’m so proud of you”. This will encourage him.
Long lectures often cause kids to tune out. Instead of thinking about the message you’re trying to send him, he’s more likely to be thinking about how much he dislikes listening to you. Instead, spend a moment to think about the message you are trying to send. Let him know why what he did was wrong, the consequence, and what you expect in the future.
15. Dissing the other parent
Even if you don’t quite agree on your spouse’s discipline technique, it may be a good idea to desist from airing your feelings, and talk about it as a couple later on. When you show a united front to your child, he will respect your authority more and behave better. It will also stop one parent from feeling like the “bad cop”.
16. Not setting a good example
Remember that the kids are watching you even when you don’t notice it. Don’t expect your mini-mimic to place his dirty clothes in the laundry basket when you’re your own mess is “decorating” your bedroom. If you do break the rules, admit that you could have handled the situation better, explain why you did it, plus, how you intend to act in the future.
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