Discipline or punishment?

Active Tots Zone
Feb 6, 2019 · 13 min read

How do you keep your child from heading toward the TV remote? What should you do when your preschooler throws a fit? How can you get a teenager to respect your authority?

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If you’ve ever known kids who are not regularly disciplined by their parents, you’ve probably seen some very stark examples of why it’s important to discipline children. For many Parents, doling out effective discipline is one of the toughest and most frustrating tasks of parenting, a seemingly never-ending test of wills between you and your child. Because just when your 2-year-old “gets” that she can’t thump her baby brother in the head with a doll, she’ll latch on to another bothersome behavior — and the process starts anew.

‘’When it comes to kids, set the rules and stick to them. let your yes be yes and your no be no’’

What exactly does it mean to “discipline” a child? Some people equate it with spanking and punishment, but that’s not what we’re talking about. As many parenting experts see it, discipline is about setting rules to stop your little one from engaging in behavior that’s aggressive (hitting and biting), dangerous (running out in the street), and inappropriate (throwing food). It’s also about following through with consequences when he breaks the rules.

The word discipline means to impart knowledge and skill — to teach. However, it is often equated with punishment and control.

Why Discipline?

There are many reasons why a parent may not want to discipline a child. Some parents may be reluctant to discipline children because they want to avoid having a conflict or because they don’t want to have their child be angry at them. Others may be unable or unwilling to devote time and energy to the task of disciplining children. And still, others may have unpleasant memories of being disciplined when they were children and may want to make things easier on their own kids by relaxing rules and giving them more free rein.

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But the fact is, discipline is not only good for children, it is necessary for their happiness and well-being. Discipline is as vital for healthy child development as nutritious food, physical and cognitive exercises, love, and other basic needs. Without discipline, children lack the tools necessary to navigate relationships and challenges in life such as self-discipline, respect for others, and the ability to cooperate with peers.

Contrary to what some parents may mistakenly believe, children who are not regularly disciplined are not happy. In fact, failure to discipline children often results in kids who are unhappy, angry, and even resentful. To those around him, a child who is not disciplined will be unpleasant company, and a child without discipline may find it difficult to make friends.

Child discipline, when done correctly, is not about trying to control your child but about showing her how to control her own behavior. It is not about punishing a child for doing something wrong but about setting clear parameters and consequences for breaking rules so that she learns how to discipline herself.

A child who has been taught right from wrong and has a solid sense of what is negative and positive behavior will know when she has done something wrong. She will want to behave correctly out of a desire to be a good citizen and a member of her family and society — not because she fears punishment.

For school age children in particular, learning how to manage their own behavior and regulate their negative impulses is particularly crucial. As elementary-school age children head into adolescence and the turbulence of the teenage years, they will be much more likely to successfully navigate challenges and temptations if they have the tools to discipline themselves.

There is a great deal of controversy about the appropriate ways to discipline children, and parents are often confused about effective ways to set limits and instill self-control in their child.

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Parents who are reluctant to discipline children may not understand how damaging it can be for a child to lack boundaries. Without discipline, children will be deficient in the following important life skills:

  • They will lack self-control.
  • They will not respect their parents or other authority figures.
  • They will not know what is appropriate behavior.
  • They will be willful, selfish, and generally unpleasant company.
  • They will not have social skills that are important for making friends such as empathy, patience, and knowing how to share.
  • They will be more likely to engage in negative behaviors that are harmful and even potentially dangerous for themselves as well as others.
  • They will be unhappy.

On the other hand, children who have been given a firm but loving guidance have the following traits and abilities:

  • They have more self-control and are more self-sufficient.
  • They are more responsible and enjoy “being good” and helping others at home, at school and in the world at large.
  • They are more self-confident. They know their opinions and feelings will be heard, and that their parents love them even when they make mistakes.
  • They know that they are accountable for their mistakes or misbehavior, and are more likely to make good choices because they want to, not because they fear punishment.
  • They are pleasant to be around and are more likely to have an easier time making friends.

Of course, how we discipline is as important as whether or not we discipline. The key to positive child discipline is to set the ground for all who are involved.. in the family and where possible involve all child caregivers. Here are the bottom-line rules many experts agree on:

We’re all in this together. Right from the start, teach your kids that your family is a mutual support system, meaning that everyone pitches in.

Respect is mutual. One of the most common complaints parents and kids have about each other is “You’re not listening.” Set a good example early on: When your child tries to tell you something, stop what you’re doing, focus your attention, and listen. Later you can require the same courtesy from her.

Consistency is king. One good way to raise a child with emotional strength? Be consistent and unwavering about rules and chores. Even if you pick just one chore to insist on, your child will be better off. Being firm and consistent teaches your child that you care enough about him to expect responsible behavior.

Life’s not always fair. We’re often too afraid of disappointing or upsetting our kids. If a child never experiences the pain of frustration — of having to share a toy or wait their turn in line — or if they’re never sad or disappointed, they won’t develop psychological skills that are crucial for their future happiness.

Here are some ideas about how to vary your approach to discipline to best fit your family.

Disclaimer: These tools aren’t guaranteed to work every time, and none of them will be right for every parent and child. But they will give you options and add to your personal bag of tricks.

She’s curious, energetic, and mobile. Her challenge is to explore her environment.

Typical Behavior:

  • She’s beginning to understand language and put words into context. She may not clearly grasp what “no” means or that yesterday’s “no” also applies to today’s experience.
  • A 1-year-old hasn’t learned how the world works — for instance, that glass can smash if it’s knocked over.
  • She wants what she wants now. Waiting is extremely difficult. She has no impulse control.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Keep your expectations reasonable. Demonstrate proper behavior, but don’t insist on it. Your tone of voice and facial expressions convey lessons best. Be firm yet positive, and don’t overreact.
  • Focus on prevention. Childproof your home, and put away breakables. If she grabs an off-limits item, take it away.
  • Handle meltdowns by comforting and distracting. If your child struggles to put the TV remote in her mouth, console her and say that you know she likes tasting things with her mouth, but the remote shouldn’t go to the mouth. Put her away and then divert her attention.

Life is an emotional roller coaster. His challenge is to begin to make sense of his feelings.

Typical Behavior:

  • He constantly experiments and tests his environment to get reactions from others: “What will happen if I refuse to wear my shoes?”
  • He has trouble understanding and communicating his powerful — and sometimes overwhelming — emotions.
  • He discovers he won’t get everything he wants, and he has frequent tantrums.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Minimize power struggles. State your expectations clearly — without yelling. Offer simple choices and don’t over-estimate his abilities. If necessary, give him an incentive to cooperate. Realize that his job is to test you
  • Help him begin to master his feelings. If he hits, teach him to use his words instead (“I’m mad!”). Explain, “We don’t hit” and “Hitting hurts.” At about age 2 1/2, he’ll start to develop empathy.
  • Handle tantrums with care. Ignore the tantrum and don’t give in, but remain close by until it stops. Then direct your child toward positive behavior. Though you shouldn’t punish or isolate a 2-year-old with a time-out, you can briefly remove him from a situation to help him calm down.

Her budding independence is a source of pride. Her challenge is to gain increasing control of her emotions.

Typical Behavior:

  • Though she wants to carry out requests that she’s capable of doing, such as washing before bedtime, don’t count on consistent cooperation.
  • She comprehends the idea of cause and effect — for instance, that being “naughty” leads to punishment and that behaving well gets your approval.
  • Tantrums can still be common, but she may also sulk or whine. She’s starting to handle frustration better.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Help with tasks. Don’t punish your child for not following through on a request. Explain a job simply, get her started on it, and acknowledge her effort.
  • Rehearse good behavior. Play games to practice routines. For example, try a get-ready-for-day-care game by playing a song and having your child try to finish three tasks before the music stops.
  • Keep consequences short. A 3-year-old is now mature enough to handle a time-out of about three minutes Head off trouble by averting frustration early.

Your preschooler’s social skills are blossoming. His challenge is to balance his needs with those of others.

Typical Behavior:

  • She can focus more intently on games and activities. Because of this, making transitions can become especially difficult when he’s having fun.
  • She may whine more intensely because he’s better able to think about what he lacks and what he wants.
  • She sometimes bends the truth to fit a private version of reality. He doesn’t understand that this — as well as cheating — is wrong.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Allow plenty of time for transitions. Give your child advance notice, and avoid power struggles. For instance, consider granting a polite request to stay a few minutes longer at while playing if there’s no pressing need to leave. If she loses control, explain that the two of you will talk as soon as she can calm himself.
  • Ignore whining. Respond as though your child is asking for something in an ordinary voice, and refuse or agree to the request as you normally would. Don’t focus on the whining.
  • Handle lies and cheating calmly. Such behavior is normal at this age. Don’t shame your child or dwell on whether she did or did not do something. For instance, if she spills a glass of milk and denies doing it, say, “Those cups are hard to handle.” Then have her help you clean up. She’ll feel understood and less fearful of telling the truth in the future.

She grasps concrete consequences. Her challenge is to act according to her emerging sense of conscience.

Typical Behavior:

  • She’s learning to put herself in someone else’s shoes.
  • A 5-year-old is mature enough to follow rules and do some chores, but she may push the limits to test you.
  • She is establishing better — though far from perfect — impulse control. Not getting her way may lead to outbursts, door slamming, and even hitting.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Broaden your child’s view. Ask, “How would you like someone to do that to you?” Explain the effect of her behavior on others and the reasons for rules.
  • Try a behavior-management system, each morning, give your child three counts of misbehavior, .. count out every time she misses the mark and writes down the nature of the infraction.. if she has mastered writing, have her do the recording. Impose a consequence when she finishes all three count. If your child can get through the day with at least one count left, reward her with a sticker for each.
  • Use limits to emphasize self-control. For instance, set a timer and say, “You have three minutes to stop the fussing or you’ll get a time-out.”

Your child’s world is expanding. Her challenge is to handle new social and academic pressures.

Typical Behavior:

  • She shows appropriate self-control in school — cooperating in groups and raising her hand rather than shouting. Generally, she acts out less often.
  • She has difficulty waiting for long-term rewards and works best with frequent reinforcement.
  • She wants to be treated more maturely because she’s learning to handle new responsibilities, but she still needs your help to reach her goals.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Encourage independent problem-solving skills. Instead of simply correcting her, teach prevention strategies. For instance, review a situation and help her fill in the blanks: “I fought because Kyla wouldn’t sit with me. I felt ____.” Help her figure out better solutions.
  • Think short-term. If your child keeps her room tidy, or help out with household chores, don’t wait a week to reward her — provide a small daily incentive to keep her motivated. Your child also needs regular verbal reminders on issues like manners.
  • Use praise to reward helpfulness. Have your 6- or 7-year-old help with chores so she can feel good about pitching in. This will build her self-esteem. In general, reinforce good behavior. If you’ve got to give a consequence, make sure it corresponds to the problem.
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She’s learning about groups and social behavior. Her challenge is to figure out where she fits in.

Typical Behavior:

  • She’s old enough to follow through on expectations, though you’ll see ups and downs as she grows more aware of how she stacks up against her peers.
  • She may swing from being cooperative to being difficult to motivate. She may act preteenish — sensitive to comments and prone to back talk.
  • She understands basic differences between right and wrong and looks to you for guidance and reinforcement.

Best Discipline Strategies:

  • Talk it out — sometimes. If her misbehavior is a type that you’ve discussed before and that your child knows is wrong, don’t give it undue attention. Simply administer the consequence. For new problems, discussion is now a great tool. Talk about what happened and why. Then set an appropriate consequence together (but on your terms), and follow through on it.
  • Try more grown-up approaches. Eight- to 10-year-olds respond well to having options. If your child is cutting corners on homework because she’s too busy with outside activities, let her pick which ones to drop. She’ll learn that life is about making choices and that privileges are earned by good behavior.
  • Emphasize natural consequences and making amends. If your child doesn’t make her bed or tide her room, don’t do that for her.. If she loses her friend’s book or any item, have her replace it. If she’s hurtful to a classmate, insist she apologizes. This will reinforce your values and help her develop a sense of responsibility.

What about Spanking

Perhaps no form of discipline is more controversial than spanking. Here are some reasons why experts discourage spanking:

  • Spanking teaches kids that it’s OK to hit when they’re angry.
  • Spanking can physically harm children.
  • Rather than teaching kids how to change their behavior, spanking makes them fearful of their parents and merely teaches them to avoid getting caught.
  • For kids seeking attention by acting out, spanking may inadvertently “reward” them — negative attention is better than no attention at all.

So what are the alternatives?

  • Give your kid a time-out
  • Give yourself a time-out
  • Taking away devices or privilege.
  • Let natural consequences take its course
  • Set limits — but set them with empathy.
  • Teach kids to repair
  • Teach sincere repentance.
  • Lose some technology Time
  • Let them do someone else’s chores
  • Miss an event
  • Work it out with a sibling: this will teach them problem-solving skills.
  • Pay restitution: if your child has damaged something that belongs to someone else, they should have to make up for it

Remember, using consequences takes practice. It is not easy to use consequences as a way to discipline children. It is hard work to think of consequences that really are logical. And it requires lots of patience! Sometimes it takes several weeks to get results. Parents are so used to telling children what to do that it is very difficult to sit back and let the child experience the consequences of his actions. The effort is well worth it, however, because you are sending a powerful message to the child that says, “you are capable of thinking for yourself.”

Of course, how we discipline is as important as whether or not we discipline. Disciplining a child does not mean yelling or losing one’s temper (though being human, all parents can certainly have those moments when we can get angry or frustrated by a child’s bad behavior). The key to positive child discipline is keeping your cool (and giving yourself a time out if necessary) so that you can communicate with your child calmly about what is and is not acceptable behavior and how he can make better choices and learn from his mistakes.

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