The Ins and Outs of Discipline – What Do We Do?

Sometimes, parenting seems like fighting an uphill battle. 

No matter what we do, our children – toddlers to adolescents – never seem to stop challenging our authority and requiring ever-increasing amounts of debate and attention.  Tell a two-year-old she can’t have a cookie and you’re just as likely to induce a tantrum of epic proportions as you would be telling a teen you’re taking away his smartphone until his grades improve. 

Being the enforcers of what our children need is often in direct conflict with what they want and at times it may seem as though it would be easier to just give in and let them have their way without causing more conflict. 

So how does a parent go about balancing the need for structure and rules with the desire to let their children learn from experiences, both positive and negative? 

Positive Discipline:

It’s a delicate balancing act, for sure. One way to go about achieving such a balance is by employing what is known as positive discipline.

Positive discipline is a practice in which parents focus on the positive points of behavior instead of the negatives. 

The positive discipline approach is based on the idea that there are no bad children, just “good” and “bad” behaviors that can be managed by strategies that allow for learning instead of punishment

Does Research Back Up Positive Discipline?

Indeed, a 2011 study on parenting styles and discipline found that parents who manage their childrens behaviors based on acceptance and less on control have better relationships with and develop higher self-esteem in their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics identified certain positive behaviors between parents and children that are effective in reducing parent/child conflict.

These include:

  • Using a positive tone when redirecting or disciplining children
  • Providing regular times/patterns for daily activities
  • Demonstrating respect between parents and children
  • Active listening and negotiating in order to reduce episodes where children refuse to cooperate with requests. 
  • Empathizing with your child about the situation before jumping to conclusions about their behavior
  • Keeping their developmental age in mind when enforcing rules and boundaries

The Academy also suggests involving children in decision making with regard to consequences for positive and negative behaviors. For example, asking your child if they would rather have their phone taken away for a week, or requiring them to stay home from a fun event gives them a sense of control of the situation.

Does Corporal Punishment Work?

What about spanking or other forms of physical punishment?  Most parents, including those who spank, love their children and are doing what they feel best (and what they themselves may have experienced) to gain compliance from children. 

While physical punishment may stop the bad behavior from happening in the moment, it’s merely because a child is afraid – rather than truly changing the way they act. Studies have shown spanking might work short term but is not effective long term and can actually make children more aggressive.

Physical punishment is exactly what positive discipline attempts to avoid:  children can learn from their experiences, face the consequences of negative behaviors, and grow as individuals when discipline avoids pain and violence.

Practical Tips For Disciplining Children Effectively:

Below are some ideas of options parents can try when seeking to avoid negative consequences for behavior and institute a positive discipline culture in their family.  Rest assured that, while not all of these options will work for you, some certainly will and they will help decrease your stress levels, increase your satisfaction as a parent, and improve the relationships you are building with your children.

1.                  Reward the behaviors you seek to see in your children.  Pay attention to the things they do “right” and provide rewards in the form of praise or hugs.  Walk away from the behaviors you don’t want to see, and soon your child will realize that doing the right thing feels good.

2.                  Establish consistency in your expectations.  Don’t ask your child to make their bed, for instance, and then ignore the days when they don’t.  Ensure that you set your expectations at a reasonable level and enforce the need for them to be followed, each and every time.  In time, you will find your children simply do what they need to do without complaint.

3.  Try to understand the motivators:  Understanding what makes a two year-old tick is a tricky proposition, but paying attention to the cues setting off negative behavior can go far in helping you understand how to control and prevent them.  This is not to say that negative behavior is excused by external motivators; rather, knowing what is making your toddler bite and take toys from other children can help you formulate a plan for addressing the behaviors in a positive manner.

4.  Refrain from bribery at all costs!  It may be tempting to tell your child that a cookie awaits them if they stop throwing a tantrum, but in the end, you have simply rewarded bad behavior and instilled the idea that another tantrum will produce another cookie.  Try to employ tip #1 (reward positive behavior) and walk away from situations when you need to, but never allow your child to experience reward at the cost of your ability to maintain authority.

5.  Control yourself and control your child.  Emotions run high in parenting, and we often lose sight of why we are disciplining or what our end goal even is.  Controlling your emotions as a parent is one way to remain above the temptation to simply punish and help a child learn how to manage anger, frustration, or disappointment.

Key Takeaways:

Positive discipline is not the easiest thing to master, but like most things, those that are worth it are rarely easy.  Keep a level head, maintain your expectations, and reward only what you desire to see in your child and you will help not only your child but yourself as well. Positive parenting does not mean you allow your child to walk all over you but instead redirects unwanted behavior in a respectful way. At its core, positive discipline aims to discipline without straining or hurting your relationship.

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