The Do’s of Discipline
As the mother of a toddler, I now completely understand the notion that parenting is the most rewarding and frustrating job you’ll ever have. Before toddlers can verbally express, they experience many frustrations in trying to communicate and process all they are absorbing. They meltdown, squirm to get out of your lap, throw things on the floor, and leave parents to guess what they need.
All parents have their tolerance threshold, but when children don’t behave the way we want them to, it can result in yelling, threatening and possibly spanking. Parents use these discipline techniques even though they feel bad afterward — and, obviously, so do our kids.
“There are better ways of teaching children to be cooperative,” says Kimberley Clyaton Blaine, a licensed family and child therapist, mother of two boys and author of the new book “The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children.” She says aggression and instilling fear in children are not effective and don’t feel good to anyone.
“The true meaning of the word discipline is ‘to guide,'” she advises, “and guidance means teaching. When we punish our children, we often leave out the guidance, which means we don’t often get the results we are looking for.”
The alternative, says Blaine, is to employ a technique known as emotion coaching. It’s a gentle, open-hearted alternative to old-fashioned discipline that can be used with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and young school-age children. Ultimately, emotion coaching gives parents the know-how and the confidence to build strong, productive relationships with their children.
Here are some strategies parents can use to make discipline more effective, beginning when children are infants.
Set limits and expectations along the way. Parents often make the mistake of thinking discipline starts once children are older. But Blaine says it’s best to begin providing guidance and setting limits as early as infancy. This sets your child up for success. If she knows what the boundaries and expectations are from the beginning, then when she’s 2, you won’t be trying to undo all her bad habits or behaviors.
Give a child a good behavior to use in place of a bad one. Children can’t learn how we want them to behave unless we replace their bad behavior with the one we want to see or expect. Follow up “We don’t run inside” with a helpful suggestion: “But we can run and jump all we want to outside. Would you like for me to go out and play with you?”
Discuss your feelings about what you see. When our kids misbehave, we often neglect to tell them how their actions make us feel. Explaining to your child that it makes Mommy sad to see her children fighting or not sharing, we help them to begin to understand the effect their behavior has on others.
Let children know parents DO understand. Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings while setting limits. Let her know you aren’t just handing down a punishment, and you do realize she is experiencing emotions, too.
When your blood starts to boil, take a grown-up time-out. Blaine suggests parents take a grown-up “cool-off” time when you find yourself too angry to deal with your child. Once you feel calm and collected, return to your child to address the situation at hand.
Keep communicating. The earlier you establish a healthy line of communication with your child, the more effective you will be in communicating discipline or behavioral changes to him. No matter what age your child may be, keep communicating your thoughts and feelings with him.
Redirect your child’s attention. If your little one is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store or having a meltdown over the toy her little brother just stole, then have her help you on a “scavenger hunt” to complete your shopping list, or sit down with her in another room to play a game or read a book. Pulling her away from the situation at hand will help you both to calm down and move forward.
Do what you say you’re going to do every single time. If the consequences you employ as discipline are merely empty threats, your child will know as much, and the behavior will never change. If the consequence of continued bad behavior is leaving the birthday party, don’t just threaten — leave the party. It might feel awkward and be inconvenient, but the payoff will be a child who knows you mean business.
Make encouragement one of your top tools. Children love nothing more than to please their parents, and your encouragement is worth its weight in gold. Make sure you offer encouragement when your child follows through on a good behavior. If he knows you can be pleased, he will work hard to make it happen time and again.
Take some time to talk it out. If your child is older than 3, Blaine suggests having her sit with you and think about her actions; then ask her what she can do differently next time. Taking a “thinking time” or “cool-down time” helps her to become an active part of her discipline, so that it feels less like a command, and more like a decision and effort she is a part of.
Brainstorm ideas for better behavior. While it may seem obvious to us how kids should behave, it’s not always so black and white for them. Parents need to be vigilant about offering solutions and brainstorming ideas with their children … because there will be times when the kids may not know what to do and will need your guidance. Write down a list of behaviors that are a problem, and brainstorm together how they can react differently, so they have solutions to choose from the next time those situations occur.
“Children learn good behavior by imitating good behavior,” says Blaine. “So at the end of the day, the most effective thing a parent can do to ensure their children learn morals, values and compassion is to make sure they see those things in you — especially when it comes to your interactions with them.
“Like anything else in parenthood, positive discipline takes a lot of patience, and practice makes perfect. But the reward in the end is worth it,” she says.
“The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children” (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2010, $16.95, www.TheGoToMom.com) is available at bookstores nationwide.