Discipline is a good thing. This is how children learn which behaviors parents want to see more of and which behaviors should be avoided. There are a few things parents should remember when thinking about discipline.

First of all, children are human beings. They have their own minds, desires and plans. That doesn’t mean that they always have the best plan. An adult, whether it be a mom, dad, grandparent, teacher or other caregiver, usually know what’s best for them. Adults have experience and know why it’s not a good idea to climb on the fridge, why it’s important to eat veggies instead of cookies and why children need to go to bed at 8:00 even if they’re “not tired.”

Children don’t have the life experience and wisdom that adults have gathered over the years, and that’s okay. That’s why kids have parents and caregivers.

Discipline means teaching. It means parents have to help children learn how to stay out of trouble and make good choices. Parents get to teach the values that they believe are important. This is a very special privilege.

Parents are the greatest influence on children and strong bonds are important first steps in helping children learn what is right.  Parents can do this by spending time with children, playing together on the floor at their level, cuddling, giving hugs and kisses and using words to tell them what makes them special.

When children do something parents don’t like, it is important for parents to take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Discipline means teaching, not hurting. Remember that children are not perfect and that they are still building the skills needed to be successful.

Parents can help teach children by responding consistently to their behaviors. Using consistent consequences for challenging behaviors is a very effective way to teach which behaviors are okay and which are not okay. Parents should choose consequences that are reasonable, based on the behavior and stage of development. For example, a two-minute time-out is a good response when a two-year-old is aggressive. Or taking away a toy is a good response when a child throws it at a sibling.

Try not to yell at, spank or criticize children. The point is not for children to “feel bad” because of wrong behavior, the point is for children to learn to do better. Focus on moving forward and say things like, “We had a difficult morning, but let’s try for a good afternoon!”

Finally, children want the attention of parents more than anything else. Parents should try to pay attention to the behaviors they want to see the most. A parent should tell a child, “I love the way you listen to me! Thank you for cleaning up! You’re a great helper.” Over time, with the use of carefully chosen words and actions, a child will learn more and more how to exhibit the behaviors a parent wants to see.

What discipline technique is the most effective for you?

Joanna Love is a Licensed Professional Counselor who provides in-home therapy to families of very young children with significant behavior and emotional problems.

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