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DISCIPLINE DO’S

What CAN parents do to effectively discipline their children?

DO model the behavior you want your child to have or learn. Want your child to be courteous? Treat your child with courtesy. Want your child to be kind? Treat the child kindly. Parents are more powerful than they realize in shaping their children’s behavior. And behavior is shaped even when parents are not consciously doing anything to modify the children’s behavior.

DO say that you love your child. Say it over and over again. And remember parental love is unconditional which means you love your child because the child is his or her unique self, not because of the child’s achievements, appearance, or acquisitions.

DO respect your child. Every child is a human being with feelings. Yes, your role as parent is to socialize the child but becoming socialized requires learning and learning is helped by feeling respected. Remember the time-honored Golden Rule. If you would not want to be ridiculed by your boss when he or she is correcting your performance, don’t ridicule your child.

DO decide what is important. Safety rules and human feelings were the most important issues in my home. Mothers and fathers should talk over what is important to them and discuss the values they wish to impart to their children. They should also discuss how they were disciplined as children and decide together how they should discipline their own children.

DO communicate your expectations to the child. Start early: “We don’t hit!” or We don’t take toys away from other children!” As the children grow older, your communicated expectations will get more explicit and more complex but should always be couched in terms the child can understand.

DO make rules specific, developmentally appropriate, understandable, and enforceable.

DO keep both expectations and rules BRIEF. Most parents (and I did too) say too much. Keep it short and simple. Rehearse or decide ahead of time how simply you can state the rule.

DO praise good behavior. One of the most important things a parent can do is “catch’em being good.” Too often we are reacting to bad behavior. Make an effort to praise good behavior and make your praise specific.

Specific praise comes in three parts: describe what you are praising (“You put all your clothes away!), tell the child how you feel about what you just described (“I’m so glad you made your room look so nice before Grandma gets here!”), and give the child the word to describe it’s action (That’s being responsible!”).

DO reward good behavior. There are three kinds of rewards: social rewards (a smile or hug, specific verbal praise), material rewards (cook a special dish the child loves), and activity rewards (a trip to the zoo). Nothing is more devastating to a child than, for example, to clean his or her room and get no reaction or response from the parent. Your failure to respond invalidates the worth of the child’s behavior.

DO strive for consistency, especially between parents. But also recognize that consistency is somewhat of a myth because the day we have a headache we may yell at the kids for making noise that we ignore at other times. Nobody is consistent all the time!

DO use the child’s desire to please you. Your child would rather have your approval than any toy on the market.

DO give choices whenever you can. This helps children develop the ability to make decisions on their own.

DO encourage responsibility. Nobody can become mature without learning how to be responsible. Start chores in toddlerhood. Yes, even a two-year old can put folded clothes in the right drawer or put away the pots and pans. Later the child will be expected to assume responsibility for chores which means doing them without being told.

DO learn to use the EFFECTIVE COMMAND when a command is needed. When my children were small I didn’t know any better so I used the most ineffective command there is: “Stop that!” yelled from across the room. To issue an effective command you must be close to the child, start with the child’s name, make a clear and concise statement, wear a commanding expression. “Andy, you may not hit Jesse with the truck!” You are not making a request so no need to say please.

DO structure consequences to be logical and to fit the behavior. Responsibility depends on children learning that their acts have consequences and that they are responsible for these acts. The parent’s job is to help the child make connections between the behavior and the consequence. “Your green shirt will not be washed in time for the party. You did not put it in the laundry.”

DO try to prevent problems. Keep your child from becoming overtired. When the baby starts crawling and cruising, childproof your house not only for safety but also so that you can avoid saying “Don’t touch!”

DO learn to use the three techniques that parents swear by: 1) ignore mildly bad behavior, 2) distract the child from bad behavior, and 3) remove the child from a situation that will likely lead to bad behavior.

DO learn how to use time-out correctly. Time-out means time away from your attention — positive or negative attention. Prepare the age three or above child for what you will do when you use time-out.

Select the place (a dining room chair is good; don’t use the child’s room because there are too many things to play with). Buy a timer and use one minute of time-out for each year of age. Tell the child, “Jamie, no hitting! Hitting means a time-out!” and place the child in the chair. If the child gets up, hold the child in the chair without facing or talking to the child. When the timer goes off, touch the child and say, “Jamie, you may come out of time-out. The rule is no hitting!”

DO take a time-out yourself if you are heating up. Not only does this prevent you from yelling or doing something else you will regret but it models healthy behavior for your child. The child learns that when grown-ups get angry or upset, they go to their room to cool off. A good lesson.

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