5 Discipline Traps to Avoid With Your Children
Mistakes even smart parents make, and what to do instead
After 17 years of being a mom and a paediatrician, I've been able to learn a lot about discipline from my own experiences, as well as from other parents. While there are all sorts of possible blunders here are five biggies that most of us are guilty of - and ways to avoid these common mistakes.
1. Thinking that One-Style-Fits-All
This one's not surprising: The bookstores are teeming with manuals, each touting an expert's best method. Friends and family love to tell you what worked for them and there is definitely something appealing about the simplicity of a one-approach-fits-all strategy. But some children freak out when you speak to them sharply, while others are unaffected. Some learn the first time you tell them something; others need so much repetition, you despair of their ever learning. Some listen right away; others need time to scream it out before you can talk to them. And it's not just temperament; it's age and development.
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The job of a toddler is to push limits, to do crazy stuff that you've told them time and time again not to do. The job of a tween (roughly ages 8-14, who are “between” childhood and teenage years) is to start asserting their independence from you, sometimes in obnoxious ways. And neither one is going to listen to a big lecture.
A toddler is going to need simple, direct, quick discipline. A tween is most likely to respond to a punishment that removes her from her peers. But despite your best efforts, both the toddler and the tween are likely to keep doing the same “bad” thing for a while. Understanding where they are in life is key to picking the right approach to discipline, and preventing desperation (yours).
2. Over-doing it
My husband does this a lot. He metes out punishments that are either more reflective of his mood than the crime or thoroughly unworkable, like saying "You have to stay in your room this afternoon" when he has errands to run and needs to bring the kids with him. The punishment should fit the crime, not your frustration level. And it needs to be something feasible, that doesn't overly affect siblings who've done nothing wrong.
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A friend taught me a great trick. If one of the kids is doing something they shouldn't - being mean to a sibling, for example - I say, "There will be consequences." (It's particularly good to use in public, because while it may strike fear into your kids, it sounds pretty benign). Over the years, it's been shortened to "Consequences!" with the appropriate firm-but-not-yelling voice, furrowed brow, and I'm-totally-serious gaze. If the misbehaving child doesn't stop, there are consequences, but I have a moment to think about them.
Sometimes I'll ask, "What do you think your consequences should be?" It's interesting how often kids come up with a fair punishment (e.g., apologizing and letting the wronged sibling play with his favourite toy for the rest of the day).
3. Under-doing it
We've all been there. Little Jake is throwing sand at everybody within reach from the sandbox, and the responsible (I'm using the word loosely) grown-up is saying, distractedly, "You're going to get into trouble if you don't stop doing that." And little Jake keeps right on heaving sand because he clearly knows his mother isn't going to stop him. Sometimes these types of kids are punished, but they're not bothered by it. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating harshness. But for a punishment to work well, I explain to parents, it needs to be something your child doesn't want to have happen again.
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In our house, taking away favourite toys (the length of time varies with the gravity of the offense), sending the kids to their rooms (our variation on a time-out), or losing screen time (computer and/or TV) generally works. So does "No play-dates for X period of time" and, for the teenagers, "You're grounded!"
4. Being Inconsistent
Once you've said “No” to something, like "No throwing sand," you have to continue saying no. You can't give in sometimes ("Well, okay, you're having fun and nobody seems to mind getting it in their eyes"). Kids get confused and pick up quickly on the fact that they have, well, latitude.
Since you don't want to say “No” to everything, pick your battles and decide what's really important to you. In my case, I'm not so concerned about neatness, but I won't tolerate meanness, lying, or anything violent or dangerous. Once you've decided on your rules, set them clearly and stick to them. The other part of this is follow-through. If you take away your child's TV privileges for the day and then give in while you're making dinner because you don't want him underfoot, he'll figure out pretty soon that there's a good chance he may not get punished if he decides to break the rules.
5. Always focusing on the negative
When you've got a kid who has trouble with rules, it can make for a really difficult relationship when all you seem to do is reprimand. The solution is to catch your child being good. If she goes a solid 15 minutes without picking on her sister, she should get kudos. Even if it's only five minutes, try your best to notice it. You'll be surprised how effective this can be.
It's human nature to like praise, and to want to please the people we love. This can work for you in other ways, too. As you enter a store, instead of saying, "If you don't behave, I'll be really angry and won't get you a treat," try saying, "We have to get the shopping done, and I need help. If everyone is good and helps me, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home."
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Think about it. Which would you rather hear? It's not a bad idea, actually, to ask yourself variations on that question often. What would you rather hear? How would this make you feel? Granted, you're a grown-up, and would probably need to be told only once not to bite. But asking yourself questions reminds you that your kids aren't just crazy beasts put on this earth to make you insane (although it feels that way sometimes) and that discipline isn't just about keeping order. Discipline is about keeping our children safe and helping them grow up to be kind, successful, happy adults.
This article was kindly provided by our friends at SmartKids. For more informative articles on Childcare visit www.smartkidsinfo.com
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