Last week, my column dealt with why spanking is not widely approved and why it's not an effective method of discipline. What does work? Here is a short version of Discipline 101: Strategies That Work.
Three basic discipline strategies will work with children most of the time: prevent problems, talk right and do no harm.
Now that you know the three basic strategies of discipline, you're ready for the five useful techniques. See next week's column. Search articles by Dr. Heins in the Arizona Daily Star archives
- Understand and fully accept your role. You are the parent in charge. You are the role model in chief, so how you behave is important, too. You decide on the rules. You decide what's important, what is non-negotiable — such as a safety rule — and what can be overlooked.
- At the same time, respect your child. Validate your child's feelings; don't ever ridicule or demean your child.
- Learn to read your child's signals and pay attention to your child's biorhythms. Then you will be able to prevent many problems caused by fatigue or hunger. Recognize when your child has anger or stress, and teach your child how to handle these states.
- Understand enough about child development so you don't expect a particular type of behavior before your child is developmentally ready.
- Try to be consistent. Although consistency never can be absolute (parents are people, and people feel differently at different times and are different from each other), it helps the child learn parental expectations if you're as consistent as possible.
- Use your child's desire to please you. Your approval is more valuable than anything else.
- Give your child choices whenever possible, because this helps the child with future decision-making. The long-range goal of discipline is that your child will choose to do the right thing when you're not around.
- Use environmental control. This includes everything from childproofing you home when your kids start to crawl to making the atmosphere of your house as quiet and calm as possible.
- Use the three best weapons parents have to redirect a young child before discipline is needed: Ignore mildly bad stuff, such as siblings squabbling but not hurting each other; distract the child from an unwanted action; and remove the child from the scene of brewing trouble.
- Communicate your expectations clearly.
- Keep the volume of your voice down.
- Don't say too much! State the rule, state what you expect, and then zip it.
- Be specific in your criticism and praise. Say "You didn't make your bed," not "You were bad today, and I had to make your bed." Say "You cleaned up your room without being asked; that's being responsible."
- Make rules specific and understandable. Rules must be brief, developmentally appropriate and enforceable. Don't use warnings such as "If you hit him one more time, you'll have to go to your room!" A rule never should be broken.
- Master the "effective command." Be close, be concise, start with the child's name, and use a commanding facial expression, but speak softly. There's no need to say "please," because it's a command. Example: "Jeremy, stop hitting your sister."
- Use humor — it helps.
- Think before you speak.
Do no harm!
- Don't spank. Don't give a verbal spanking (put-downs, screaming, sarcasm, threats, nagging).
- Don't compare children, because both favorable and unfavorable comparisons can be hurtful.
- Don't assign roles. Avoid phrases such as "He's the stubborn one!"
- Don't be a model for unwanted behavior. (Your child's brain is like a VCR tape — what the child saw you do could be there forever!)
- Don't ever threaten to withhold your love. This is terrifying to children.
- Don't be afraid of disciplining your child using the correct strategies. All children need intelligent, informed parenting, even when they protest or grumble.
Address parenting questions to Dr. Marilyn Heins, Arizona Daily Star, P.O. Box 26807, Tucson, AZ 85726, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Heins' book, "ParenTips," is available at ParentKidsRight.com.