Disciplining kids is one of the most difficult things about being a parent. It’s uncomfortable; no one likes to be mean or have to punish their children when they get out of line. In some ways, discipline can be harder on the parents than on the kids! However, it’s a necessary part of raising young people to be responsible adults and understand right from wrong, and parents who avoid it or do it poorly are ultimately doing their kids a huge disservice. Here are some strategies to help you discipline your kids:
It is crucial to have clear rules and expectations and then follow through on a set consequence when a child doesn’t obey. Don’t use empty threats; if you say your son or daughter can’t attend an outing if he/she continues to throw a tantrum, for example, and the bad behavior continues, resist the temptation to give in and stay firm in the condition you’ve set. This doesn’t make you mean or too tough; it instead indicates that you’re helping your child learn proper behavior. Good parents mean what they say and say what they do, so be consistent in how you discipline.
Make the Punishment Fit the “Crime”
Parents have their patience tested a lot, and sometimes we get so frustrated that we give irrational punishments for small acts of disobedience. We may automatically resort to the common “you’re grounded and you have lost every privilege, electronic device, toy, and even treats!!“, but consider if that’s perhaps too harsh for a teenager’s mistake. Depending on what happened, it’s not always the right thing to take away all of a child’s social activities or screen time. Sometimes the best consequence is to actually increase the social activities…but they have to be at your house, under your supervision. As our children grow older and they begin to individuate away from us by testing boundaries, it is easy to give in to our anger and underlying fear for our kid. Many parents are actually trying to protect their child from harm and attempting to teach better behavior. Avoiding overly strict punishments gives an opportunity to appropriately give consequences and teach corrections.
Pick Your Battles
All children inevitably make wrong choices, and we could potentially be battling anything and everything around the clock. Both parents need to be on board to determine the most important values and lessons to teach their kids and to figure out together exactly where to draw the line. I suggest that partners and/or spouses pick the top three things that are most important in terms of discipline and then work as a team to teach these things. Additionally, I encourage parents to take notice and acknowledge when their kids make positive choices. If we want behaviors to change, we have to seek out the good, too.
Teach, Don’t Lecture
When our kids have done something wrong and we automatically start lecturing, we may as well be talking to a wall. We quickly turn into the Charlie Brown voice “wah wah wah wah wah wah” and none of our important messages are heard! While it is a parent’s responsibility to talk to a child about his/her behavior, the way you approach it is key: try to engage him/her. Ask questions and make it a dialogue, not a one-way chastisement. This helps the lesson “stick” better and also won’t harm the relationship between the parent and child. If you find yourself emotionally overwhelmed right after an incident of bad behavior, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes (or hour if needed) to calm down before talking about what happened. Try to view this part of disciplining as an opportunity to teach your kids so they can be better in the future.
The best way to get the results we want is to always remember that in our correcting, we need to be connecting!