One of the biggest jobs you take on as a parent is to teach your child how to behave. This can become a very trying task for all involved. It takes time, patience and will-power to not cave in and take the easiest route on this “discipline journey” with your child. Discipline is a positive teaching tool based on caring, praise, and clear instruction that entices good behavior. So when does a parent begin to discipline a child? The answer is “early.”
Starting early with discipline is easier than you think. Parents actually start teaching their child good behavior when they are born. When an infant cries and a parent responds to that cry, he or she is teaching the infant that he can count on his parents and can trust the parent will respond to the child’s cry.
Once a baby becomes mobile, safety becomes the focal point of discipline. Certain areas or things become off limits. Extra supervision is vital at this time for safety. If a child tries to touch a stove, a parent may say, “No, hot,” and offer a toy to distract the child. The child may not understand at first, but after a few weeks, they will learn. At about 18 months, children start to test their limits. They want to see what they can get away with, especially if it’s a new rule. They may break rules on purpose, so it is important to determine what the initial rules are, and stick to them. During this time, a parent should remember to explain rules to the child at a level they can understand.
The following tips may help a parent avoid power struggles:
Offer options when possible — This sets limits yet still allows a child some independence.
Make a game out of good behavior — A child is more likely to do what a parent asks if they make it a fun game. For example: “Let’s have a race, and see who can put their coat on faster!”
Praise good behavior — If a child is being good, tell them.
Focus on a specific behavior — Don’t give vague instructions. If you want the child to pick up their toys, say so. Don’t say general things like, “pick up your mess!”
Use statements, not questions — A parent should say what they mean. If you pose a request of your child in question form, it gives them the option to say, “No.”
Agree on the rules — Parents and all caregivers should agree on rules and discipline. If they don’t agree on the rules, they should discuss it, but not in front of the children. The children will see the alliance is split, this can cause the child to become confused.
So what happens when trouble can’t be avoided? What if a child doesn’t listen to his or her parents? This is the perfect time to introduce him or her to both natural, and logical consequences, as well as withholding privileges.
A natural consequence happens when a parent allows the child to see what will happen if they choose not to behave. This type of consequence is OK, as long as it does not put the child in danger. For example, if a child chooses to break their toy because they are angry, they will no longer have a toy to play with.
A logical consequence is a consequence a parent or caregiver steps in and creates. For example, if a parent asks a child to pick up their toys after playing, and they do not, the parent may put the toys away for them, and not allow them to have the toys for the rest of the day.
Withholding privileges also works well so long as the item/privilege withheld is of value to the child. This is when a parent tells a child if they do not cooperate, they will have to give up something they desire. If it comes to withholding this desirable privilege or treat (again, something meaningful to the child), be firm, and follow through on your word as a parent.
Lastly, if nothing else works to gain good behavior, “time-out” may be an appropriate discipline technique. Time out can begin as early as age 2. Choose a good time out spot where there is no distraction and the child can become bored. Set an age appropriate time limit. One minute per year of life is recommended. For example, if the child is 2 years old, time out should be two minutes. Once the time out is over, let the child resume in regular activity, as they have “served their time.”
The purpose of discipline is to teach your child what is right and what is wrong while nurturing their confidence and esteem. Of course, every child is different, and no one discipline method will work all the time. Practice makes perfect. The sooner a child learns boundaries, the happier everyone will be.
For more information, call the New Parent Support Program at 623-856-3417.
Portions of this article are found at Healthychildren.org.
Courtesy of 56th Medical Operations Squadron