Child discipline is about how to prevent behavioral problems so that punishment for misbehavior is a rare and unnecessary occurrence. One helpful way to think about child discipline is to see it as another way of teaching your child life lessons rather than as something you do to punish your child for misbehaving. When you show your child what is appropriate behavior and provide the security that comes from loving but firm boundaries and expectations, you are laying down the foundation from which she will grow to make good choices for herself.
What Child Discipline Is About
These are the goals of disciplining your child.
- Teaching: An important part of child discipline is showing your child what good behavior is. The times when your child is selfish or mean or lies about something are opportunities for you to step in and say, “How could you have handled this better?” Not to use a cliché, but that is why they are called “teachable moments.”
- Setting Boundaries: Children who do not have rules and parameters are not happy-go-lucky. Lack of boundaries makes children feel insecure, lost, and unable to discipline themselves.
- Correcting: When a child is disciplined in a loving, positive, and logical way of doing something wrong, he will learn to take responsibility for his actions. For instance, if he fails to set the table after being asked several times, he may lose privileges such as screen time. When the rules are clear and the consequences for breaking those rules are logical and appropriate, your child will learn how to discipline himself and regulate his own actions.
- Showing Respect: How would you like your child to speak to you? That is how you should speak to your child, especially when you are handling matters of child discipline. Make sure you explain to your child that while you may not like something he did or said, that you love him and respect him. Listen to his opinions and let him express his feelings, and then explain what is correct behavior and why.
- Consistency: If you set up a rule one day and then let it slide the next—or declare that something you’ve repeatedly said is OK is now something your child will be punished for doing—your child will end up confused and resentful. Consistency is a cornerstone of child discipline for a reason. It helps kids know what to expect and what’s expected of them.
- Cooperation: Child discipline is not about parents dictating their child’s every move or imposing their will like a dictator over his country. Parents can sit down with a child—even a child as young as 5 years old—and get her opinion on what she thinks about certain rules and consequences in your household. This is a very important way of showing your child that you care about her opinions and feelings, and teaches your child that what she thinks matters. It also teaches her the importance of having rules and helps her understand why some rules exist and why they are beneficial to her.
What Child Discipline Is Not About
These motivations are detrimental to child discipline.
- Punishment: When you set boundaries and expectations for good behavior, you are laying down the foundation and giving your child the tools to work toward self-control and self-regulation. Child discipline is not about punishing bad behavior; it is about guiding your child toward positive behavior. That does not mean that bad behavior should be ignored. If a child breaks the rules, there must be clear and consistent consequences. What’s important is that those consequences—be it a time-out, loss of privileges, or other repercussions—are used as tools to calmly correct behavior rather than punish a child out of anger.
- Expressing Anger: Few parents can say they’ve never lost their temper in the heat of the moment when a child is being defiant or difficult. That said, it’s important for parents to keep in mind that keeping a cool head is an important part of correcting bad behavior. By staying calm, parents can better explain to a child why disciplinary action is being taken, what exactly they are disappointed about, and what a child can do in the future to avoid making the same mistake. And when parents explain things in a loving manner, children will understand that their behavior may have been wrong but that their parents love them, no matter what.
- Controlling: Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you have complete control over your child’s choices. It means that you still allow your child to make choices and give him room to make mistakes. Children who are disciplined in a positive manner know that their opinions will be heard and that their parents respect them even when they don’t agree with them. This will give them self-confidence as they explore and grow, even as they learn what choices are wrong and harmful and what choices are positive and healthy.