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Discipline is a difficult subject for most parents. Kids don’t come with owner’s manuals and no two parents were ever raised exactly alike. Each new family starts out anew trying to figure out the techniques of discipline that both parents can be comfortable with.
What do we mean by discipline? Some of us think it means punishment. Some of us think it is a necessary evil to enable the child to grow up civilized. Some see a noble connotation as in self-discipline. Some hear an authoritarian word noting control.
My favorite dictionary defines the verb “to discipline” as “to train by instruction” and I find this the most useful meaning for parents.
There are two goals of discipline:
1) As parents we want to stop the child from doing something dangerous, hurtful, or annoying which means the goal is to control the child.
2) We also want to impart values which means the goal is to teach the child.
Compliance is what we want now, in the short term. For the long term, we want the compliance to somehow metamorphose itself into self-control. Instant, unthinking obedience vs. thoughtful, insightful behavior.
There is an obvious conflict here but most parents and kids muddle through! As the child gets bigger, we expect the child to exhibit more self-control so we remind and chastise less. And the child, who has now developed a conscience, can control his or her behavior with fewer reminders.
I must point out that the parent’s goal of compliance is impossible to realize in the preschooler who, regardless of what the parent says or does, is oppositional.
One study measured compliance in young kids and found it to be 40-60%. This means that, under the best conditions, our preschoolers only do what we want them to do three fifths of the time!
Another study revealed that young children are asked to change their behavior — i.e., be compliant — once every six to eight minutes! Can you imagine how you would feel if your boss corrected you every six to eight minutes?
Now that I’ve told you how tough discipline can be, let me try to make it easier for you. Here are the DON’TS:
DON’T spank. Spanking gives a bad message: it ‘s OK for big people to hit little people. Spanking doesn’t work very well. Spanking more often than not leads to a hurt and/or angry child and a guilty parent. Being hurt, angry or guilty are bad states of mind for learning and learning is what discipline is all about.
DON’T engage in verbal spanking. I know many parents who wouldn’t dream of spanking physically but they strike out verbally — and cause as much pain: “You dummy!”; “What a slob you are — there’s food all over the table!”; “You’re so clumsy you’ll never be able to hit a ball!” Avoid put-downs (“Josh is so clumsy I don’t think his father will ever be able to teach him to ride a bike!”) when talking about the child because you will likely be overheard.
Other forms of verbal spanking which should be avoided include threats, screaming and yelling, sarcasm, nagging, and all other such boring, repetitive unhealthy kinds of talk which don’t work. Why don’t they work? Because kids tune them out.
DON’T use lengthy scoldings or tirades. The longer you rant and rave, the less likely your child is to hear you or even listen to you.
DON’T ever say the child is bad, just the behavior. Children have a habit of becoming what they are called.
DON’T compare children, either unfavorably or favorably. Both “Why can’t you hang up your clothes as good as your brother does?” and “You’re neater than your brother!” are bad.
DON’T assign roles in your household. Avoid things like “He’s a handful!” or “She’s the lazy one!” or “You’re stubborn just like your father!” If you do, your house will soon be full of self-fulfilled prophecies!
DON’T expect a behavior before a child is developmentally ready. If you buy one book on parenting get a book which covers child development.
DON’T exhibit a behavior you don’t want your child to do. Someone once reminded parents to think of the inside of their child’s head as a VCR tape where everything the child has ever seen or heard is stored and can be replayed. That’s a frightening thought to all of us but it does call attention to the enormous influence we have on our children.
DON’T say “I don’t — or won’t — love you!” The child is terrified by the thought of losing it’s parents or their love.
DON’T be afraid of your child. Do not avoid legitimate correction of the child’s behavior because you think this will somehow traumatize the child. The truly traumatized child is one whose parents have ignored it, not corrected it with love and understanding.
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