Disciplining our kids is not easy. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Disciplining our kids can create feelings of sadness, guilt, anger, impatience and helplessness in the best of parents. But that’s no reason not to take charge and do it.
Discipline has two sides – negative consequences for negative behaviors and positive consequences for good behaviors. I love being able to reward my kids’ good choices in life. Praising and acknowledging the behaviors you want to encourage is the best way to influence and guide your child. However, kids do misbehave. I find in working with and being a parent, it’s dealing with the not-listening, rule-breaking behaviors that’s more challenging so that’s the focus of this post.
As parents, it’s our job to keep our kids safe, to set limits for them, to communicate those limits and to give them reasonable and swift consequences when they break a rule.
The point is learning. Discipline is all about teaching our children how to behave and interact with the world, beginning in our homes.
It can be uncomfortable and flat out not fun to execute time outs or to take away an iPod. It requires endless energy to mold kids behaviors, to determine adequate consequences, then to stick it out and deliver them in a timely way. If our goal is teaching them, it’s wise to follow through on a logical consequence right away so they connect the discomfort with the undesirable behavior.
Knowing exactly what motivates a child gives us a perfect immediate consequence; but that can punish the parent. A long car ride without a gadget may be tough, but if it’s educating our child on the importance of proper conduct, well, then as the parent, we need to see it through however hard it is on us.
It’s difficult to see our kids crying and upset, but we’re the adults and need to bear that discomfort and manage our personal feelings. We need to be the grown-ups and carry that weight for the long term good of our children.
If we back down to relieve our uncomfortable emotions, we are ineffective in parenting. We have only taught our children that they can cry, fuss or tantrum their way out of a sanction. They have not learned to choose the appropriate behavior and the next time, it will be exponentially harder for that parent.
In “rescuing” a child after we’ve given a consequence because we feel guilty or unhappy, we transfer difficult feelings to them, they experience uncertainty and imbalance from inconsistent messages and lack of boundaries.
We must follow through and do what we say we’ll do if a rule is breached. Leave the playground if you’ve threatened, “The next time you do that, we’re leaving!” Pick your child up and leave the birthday party if that’s what you warned would happen.
Years ago, when our son was around four, we had been looking forward to our annual strawberry picking trip. I haven’t the vaguest idea what offense he committed but he had received a warning and I told him that if he did it again, he would not come strawberry picking.
Well, you know what happened, he did it again. Inside, I was miserable, I wanted him to come. Instead, now I had to call and PAY for a babysitter that I really shouldn’t have needed, my heart felt sad that he would miss out on a fun family tradition in its infancy and I was angry that he didn’t just listen. But I found a sitter, said good bye and my daughters and I left the house. It was tough. Really tough.
Years and years later, he still remembers that he missed out on strawberry picking that year. I suspect he doesn’t remember why either, but the lesson he learned is that I will do what I say I will do. He learned that he needs to listen or he’ll miss out on something he cares about and those were meaningful messages. Taking away one strawberry farm trip paid off in significant ways.
Each time a child connects his naughty behavior with a negative consequence that is age-appropriate and delivered quickly, that experience builds upon the last. Nothing happens overnight so consistency matters (consistency: that 100% true term always associated with disciplining our kids and parenting.)
Disciplining our kids doesn’t have to be negative, deliver your consequence calmly and steadily. I always find I’m most effective when I simply state the problem, state the consequence and do it. (Of course, we’re human and yelling sometimes happens, but when I can refrain, it always works better. Obviously a model of control is preferable to a screaming lunatic!)
In the heat of these moments, it’s common to have mixed and conflicting feelings. So think and plan ahead. What are the key behaviors you’re trying to work on in your home right now? Pick the top one or two to focus on for the next month. Assign specific consequences to each infraction, write them down for yourself if you need to for reference, (that can be helpful for older children, too.) Kids must be able to predict what the result of their actions will be.
Next, communicate succinctly and definitively to your child: 1. What you expect 2. What will happen if they don’t do what you expect.
And then, do it.
Parenting requires us to take charge, to create a predictable, safe environment where children can experiment, test and figure things out under our guiding eyes.
Disciplining our kids takes ongoing creativity (coming up with appropriate consequences can be challenging) and boundless strength, patience and time. Our kids are worth it and it pays off in both the present and the future.