Discipline is often considered as the consequence for children after they break the rules. Yet, we should start by understanding the importance of discipline and setting rules, knowing that punishment is in fact the least significant part of the discipline.
Parents want to discipline children for their future healthy behavior. We all want the people around us to be well-behaved and to follow rules. However, have we really thought about the purpose we teach our children to have discipline?
Why do we want our children to clean their rooms after playing? Why do we want our children to brush their teeth before they go to bed? Why do we want our children to have manners and to be polite to visitors and elders? And why do we want our children not to hit others when they become angry?
Why do we want to discipline them?
Because discipline will help them to become good human beings, in our perspective. Because we understand that, one day, such behaviors can be beneficial for them.
Thus, parents want to discipline children effectively.
When you make your expectations clear from the time your children are toddlers, they internalize those expectations and begin to expect the same thing from themselves," says Sharon K. Hall, PhD, author of Raising Kids in the 21st Century
Discipline by definition is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
In today’s world, we think of discipline as a form of punishment for children if they disobey the rules. People establish rules to promote better individual behavior, which ultimately leads to public benefit. Let's think about a time when you were instructed to abide by a rule that didn't make much sense to you, did you follow it? But once you understood the reason and benefits of the rule, were you more willing to follow it then?
Oftentimes, parents focus so much on disciplining their children, but they forget that discipline is really the practice of training people to obey a rule that has a reason behind it. In a family, the reasons and the practices of training, will vary due to upholding different values in our societies. For example, in Asian Culture, holding back and sometimes putting someone else's interests before oneself is practicing good manners. In Western Culture, however, expressing and protecting one’s opinion is an exercise of a personal right. Many Asian parents teach their children to be quiet when elders are talking; on the other hand, a great number of Western parents encourage their children to voice their ideas in the discussion with respect.
The idea here promotes that discipline is a way of training and the purpose and the resulting behaviors of training differs from family to family. Yet, training is never a quick-fix sounding term, but rather a long process that requires effort and detail with each step.
Day 1: Don't React
"The mistake most parents make is responding to the misbehavior, since negative attention is better than none at all," explained Ed Christophersen, Ph.D., clinical child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, in Kansas City, Missouri.
There is a purpose behind a child’s every behavior, either good or bad. If children are yelling and screaming in order to get their parent’s attention, and their parents respond by yelling back, it only reinforces their negative behaviors by teaching them that raising their voice was an effective way to gain attention. By understanding that the negative behavior is attention-seeking, we can begin to starve that behavior by ignoring it, and only give our children attention when they use a polite and positive way to interact with us.
Day 2: Stay Positive
Robin H-C, a family coach and author of Thinking Your Way to Happy!, set me straight: Expecting kids to be bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy. "When you label your child, make sure it's positive so he has something to live up to," she told me.
Parents need to use positive words to reinforce good behavior, instead of disciplining bad behavior. Children demand attention and praise from their parents. Praise them for good behavior, redirect them from bad behavior, and encourage them to continue. Give children love and understand that they will make mistakes, as we once did in our youth.
Say "Wow! All your friends are playing a game with you online! Why don't we host a party and invite all of your friends over before the school year starts. Let's have a BBQ and Swimming party!"
Don't say "Stop playing video games! Why don't you go out and have fun with friends outdoors?!
Day 3: Walk the Walk
Jayne Bellando, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital, in Little Rock, pointed out that I [a parent] was modeling the very thing I wanted to curb in my kids.
Kids see adults as their role models, especially their parents. We can’t expect our children to develop good habits until we do; so we must work to change OUR habits before we can effectively help change theirs.
Day 4: Validate Before Disciplining
No, kids usually act out for a reason," [Gary M. Unruh, author of Unleashing the Power of Parental Love]answered. "That's why you should point out the feelings that caused your child to misbehave, and then give her a fair consequence." This will help her feel accepted and understood, even as she's being disciplined. I [One parent] had the chance to test this approach when Charlotte hit her brother after he accidentally broke her bracelet. Rather than going with my instinct ("It was an accident, and you know better than to hit"), I said, "You must be really mad at Julian for ruining your bracelet." Charlotte' eyes welled up. "He's always messing up my stuff, and you never get mad at him," she said. "I need to correct Julian more," I said. "You have a right to be angry. But I need you to go to your room for a time-out. That's what happens when you hit."
Try to understand your children, they have feelings too. The misbehavior does not come out of nowhere and parents need to make sure their children know that acting out is fine, but it can be done differently. Make sure that they understand what is unacceptable and what is acceptable, teach them like an adult.
Day 5: Be Consistent and Clear
"You need to be consistent, make your expectations clear, and avoid your own outbursts," asserted Bertie Bregman, M.D., chief of family medicine service at New York- Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City.
Training takes a few days, even a few months, and so does discipline. Parents need to be clear with their behavior expectations. Children often will not understand immediately, but consistency is the key to being successful. Parents must think carefully to ensure that they are setting reasonable expectations and being consistent; therefore children are not confused and don’t become stressed when they are not able to meet the expectations.
Day: 6 But Sometimes Change the Rules
"You simply have to deal with the havoc of resetting boundaries," Hickem, author of Regret Free Parenting, insisted
Being consistent doesn't mean parents can never change their rules. Just be careful not to do it too often.
Day 7: Chill Out
Remove children from their daily environments and go out for some freedom. Rules do put stress on children and having fun in life is more important than anything else.
In conclusion, adults need to: be calm, be clear, be consistent, be considerate, be understanding, and be role models for their children.
Michael is an independent college counselor, counseling 8th- through 12th-grade and California Community College students. He assists students to identify strengths and weaknesses, design education paths, teach study skills, plan class selection and extra-curriculum, prepare for SAT/ACT, and college admission. Michael earned a bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in Psychology from Pepperdine University.