Oftentimes, the methods we use to get children to listen are ineffective and can actually encourage non-compliance. However, there are effective principals of positive discipline that when used properly and consistently can increase the likelihood that your child will listen to you and in the process, begin to build the self-control needed to face life’s challenges.
Knowing what behavior is appropriate is a critical skill children learn over time. Children develop this understanding when consistent limits and realistic expectations are clearly and positively defined. Understanding and following concrete rules help children develop self-control – the goal of discipline.
Positive discipline requires sensitivity to help children understand that mistakes are a part of growing up and not a sign of being “bad”.
Discipline vs. Punishment
Discipline is not synonymous with punishment. Punishment is a knee jerk reaction to a child’s misbehavior, while discipline is something we teach. Discipline promotes the development of self-control through positive guidelines and reasonable limits. Ultimately, discipline should teach children to respect the rights of others, to act responsibly, and to control impulses.
While punishment often stops negative behavior at least temporarily, it does not help children to build the inner, long-lasting control needed to get along in the world. Stopping behavior because it affects others is quite different than stopping behavior out of fear of punishment. Kids don’t learn how to be accountable when they fear punishment. If we let children experience the consequences of their choices, we are giving them the tools to handle future challenges.
Sometimes we want too much, too early, expecting children to behave in a grown-up way before they have the necessary experience or self-control to do so. Good discipline is based on parents’ knowledge of their children. This knowledge is enhanced by an understanding of what children are capable and what’s on their minds during different stages of development. Tailoring expectations to children’s developmental ability is essential to the task of teaching discipline. In learning anything, readiness is key and will, therefore, affect how children understand and respond to discipline.
An Age-Appropriate Approach
By the age of 3, children begin to develop social sensitivity. Their capacity for self-control has improved, they are better able to respond to limits and they begin to play cooperatively. Four- and five-year-olds demonstrate even better self-control and are able to tolerate some delayed gratification. They can accept and follow simple directions. There is also an emerging capacity for sharing and cooperation.
As youngsters begin to understand the basic rules of behavior, the ability to self- regulate behavior increases and the motivation to behave grows. By age 6, children have made great strides in internalizing the code of behavior their parents teach them. Children begin to develop a conscience. They know good behavior is expected of them and they wish to live up to that standard and often feel guilty if they don’t. Children also begin to understand the logic behind certain rules of behavior. Following the rules and being fair are big concerns for them.
A Self-Disciplined Child
Even the most capable parents have times when their child’s misbehavior tests the limits of their understanding. The way parents react to such situations will help determine whether or not their child becomes a self-controlled individual. There is no question about it, helping children to behave in a responsible way isn’t easy and becomes more challenging when kids test the limits that have been imposed. But discipline is not about power. The goal is to produce a self-disciplined child who is motivated to behave. A self-disciplined child has been taught to think independently and make the right choices.
It’s doubtful that you can totally eliminate all misbehavior, but there are strategies for eliminating most struggles and diffusing the tension before there is a test of wills. The first thing you need to do is provide your child with the rules – the structure for daily decision-making. Otherwise, your kids have no idea what is expected of them. Those rules need to be within your child’s capabilities and clearly laid out before you try to enforce them. To decide on rules, try to see the world as your child does. Not only should your rules be in your child’s developmental capacity, but they also need to be reasonable in the context of the situation.
In addition, briefly explain to your kids why you make the rules you do. This will provide them with the logic behind the rules. Always be consistent with the rules and provide logical consequences for infractions. Consequences should be in proportion to the behavior, related to the behavior, and given as soon as possible after the incident so your child connects the consequences to the behavior.
The process of helping children to control and guide their own behavior is a long, slow process and can sometimes be challenging. Here are some tips for guiding children:
- Be sure you have your child’s attention before giving directions
- Get down to your child’s eye level
- Speak in a low firm voice
- Commentary, whether positive or negative, is best directed at the actions -not the child
- Keep it simple. Avoid lengthy explanations of rules and consequences
- Tell your child how you feel
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Dawn Marie Barhyte is a widely published author with over a hundred articles to her credit. A former early childhood educator and co-director who continues to touch the lives of families through her writing! She lives and works in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY with her beloved husband and rescue chihuahua dachshund.
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