Discipline is one of those subjects that can be touchy to discuss. For this day and age, kids seem to be in charge and have so many more freedoms than they used to. I’ve worked in education for quite some time, and I’ve seen a variety of disciplinary tactics that parents use. Some are very useful, while others just seem pointless and will never get the job done. Is there one special formula to get your child to behave at home, in public and at school? No, I wish! However, there are several things that can be done at home to help build a good foundation of discipline that will work.
Consistency, No False Threats and Follow Through
The number one thing I tell parents when they need help at home is consistency, no false threats and follow through. Let me paint the picture for you: Your creative 4-year-old boy loves to color on the floor instead of the piece of paper you gave him. You tell him, “No,” and he looks at you, continuing to color on the floor. You tell him no again, and then you say, “If you do that again, I’m putting you in time out!” He stops for a couple of minutes, then starts coloring on the floor again. Then you either give him something else to do or ignore it and figure that you will clean up the floor later. So what is wrong with this picture? What should this mom have done? She gave him a threat of “time out,” and she never followed through. Ideally, what she should have done was told him “No”, and said, “If you do that again, you will go in time out.” When he continued to color, Mom should have walked over to him, picked him up and placed in him in time out. Sometimes (I have experienced this with my own children), you have to sit there with them in time out in order for them to stay in time out. Especially if they’ve never experienced time out.
Consistency is KEY to actually getting results. Each bad choice they make, whether big or little, must be paid attention to. If you say to your child, “If you do that again, you are going to go to your room,” then that threat needs to be followed through. When threats are not followed through, you are saying to your child, “I am not going to keep to my word.” Listen, being consistent is hard, especially if you have a naughty toddler, but I promise, the more consistent you are and the more you keep to your word, you will eventually see the fruits of your labor.
Find Their Niche
Surprise, some children do not respond to time out. What do you do then? There are several ways to tackle this. One, find their niche! My daughter loved her taggie blanket, she carried it with her wherever she went in the house. Time out did not seem to be working the day she decided to color on her wall with marker. She needed to understand this was not acceptable, so I had to do something big. I took away her blanket and placed it high in the kitchen where she could see it daily. (Side note: I did take away some other things, too, because she needed to know that this was not okay.) When kids are young, the discipline needs to happen in the moment. Time out, taking things away, whatever you decide to do, it needs to happen right then. And sometimes, kids need to be reminded of their poor choices so they know not to do it again, especially when they are younger. Two, if your child doesn’t have a niche (remember when kids are older, taking electronics away works wonders), you need to find out what they respond to. Do they respond to a sticker chart in their home? If they make good choices for five days straight, do they get a special treat on the fifth day? Or does your child just need to be praised more often when they are doing the right thing? You need to find what works best for your child, something that will help them realize that they are making a bad choice.
Good Choices/Bad choices
I always tell parents, “Never say good child, bad child; we say good choices, bad choices.” They are kids! They make bad choices all the time, that doesn’t make them a bad kid. They are simply learning how to differentiate between right and wrong. My friend’s daughter, Lily, hated wearing her seatbelt. Would take it off whenever Mom would drive on the highway. Mom pulled over when she did it again and said, “No, Lily! You need to wear your seatbelt because it is there to protect you while I drive. If I get in an accident you will get badly hurt.” Now, not only did mom explain it was a bad choice, but she explained why it was. Children sometimes need to understand why it is a “No.” Now, did Lily start wearing her seatbelt every day after that? No. However, every time she took it off, Mom pulled over and waited for her to put on her seatbelt again. She was consistent. Key word, CONSISTENT. After two days of doing that, Lily wears her seatbelt everyday now.
Statements, Not Questions
“My child wouldn’t drink water when I asked him to.” “When I tell them to clean up, they throw a fit and don’t want to.” I get many of these concerns from parents when they ask my advice on what to do. When you are talking to your child and need them to do something, it should never be a question, it should be a statement. You are the parent, they are the child. As a parent, you know what is best for them; you are their protector, provider, caregiver, and their mom. Own it! When you want your child to do something, you tell them, don’t ask them. If the child feels they have a choice instead of doing what they should do, they will take it. If the phrase comes out as a question, “Please, can you drink your water?” they will know that they have the option to not do it. The statement is, “You need to drink your water,” or “Clean up your room.” No question, it is a must. Remember, you are the parent. You are in charge, not your child.
Got a stubborn child? One who really just wants to be in control of what they want to do? Give them a choice — two choices that Mom approves of and allows them to have control to pick which one they want. “You can drink your water now or in a few minutes after you are done playing.” Now, you gave them two options where you still get what you want. For the child, it gives them freedom to feel that they have control and have power to make decisions.
If you start using statements instead of questions, your child may respond with a tantrum. Boy, oh, boy have I seen my share of tantrums — kids at school and personally with my girls. The most common tantrum is the give-me-what-I want tantrum or the I-want-my-way tantrum. The most important thing to realize with tantrums is that they are considered bad behavior. You always ignore bad behavior — some tantrums last 20 minutes, but some last hours. If you give in to the tantrum, the child will realize that when he or she acts this way, they get a response from you which is essentially getting what they want. Unfortunately, tantrums happen in some of the worst places like the grocery store, Target, a birthday party, and so on. What do you do? You can’t ignore your child in public places. The solution is that you pick up your child and leave. There were several times that I would leave with a child on my shoulder, carried out of the store, completely leaving a cart full of stuff. I would get to my car, put my child in time out and ignore the crying until they were calm. Seem harsh? I promise you, it is not. A child needs to know that acting like that in public is not an option. Screaming to get what they want is not an acceptable form of communication. One instance, my youngest had an epic meltdown at the beach, so we left. I got numerous death stares from everyone there because my daughter was screaming like she got bit by a shark. But we left, because she needed to know what she was doing was wrong. Thankfully, the next time we went to the beach, she remembered her dramatic meltdown and decided to make better choices. Tantrums are hard and inconvenient, but they need to be tackled head on! As children get older, it becomes difficult to break this unfortunate behavior.
Children seem to behave better when they have a structured and secure home life. Children need to feel loved by their parents. Your child’s outburst of bad behavior could be a cry for attention. Spend time with your child. I had an angry boy in my school who was behaving badly and calling kids names. Finally, after letting him vent, he talked about how much he missed his mom. After speaking with his mom, I suggested just spending one-on-one time with him getting ice cream or going to the park. After a couple of weeks, the boy was a different kid; he was happy! Sometimes all kids need is quality time with the people they feel at home with. Having that security from home makes them feel secure in who they are which translates into them wanting to make better choices.
Lastly, I learned so much from other mothers. Having a community of moms who have walked through this journey of parenting was vital for me. They taught me so much. One thing a wise mom told me was, “Disciplining your child is you loving them. You love them enough to teach right and wrong so that one day, they can be loving and respectful adults. That’s your job.” The younger years were so hard and draining, but when I look at my oldest now, I absolutely see the fruits of my labor.
This guest contributor has worked in education for more than 10 years, teaching classes in elementary school, high school and beyond. Due to her profession, she has chosen to remain anonymous.