By: Susan Glaser
Last week, we talked about the difference between discipline and punishment. In principle, most parents understand and like this distinction but they still have trouble letting go of old practices. To help them think past the present moment, I often begin workshops by asking parents to project themselves into the future. I have them imagine that their child is applying for his or her first real job and that they need a reference from a teacher or counselor. If they could peek at that reference, what description of their child would they like to see? How would an outsider express the qualities their child possessed? Invariably, the parent’s replies include phrases such as: independent, good problem-solver, responsible and so on. Then I ask: How are you helping your child achieve these skills now?
There is usually some nervous laughter at this point as parents begin to examine how their interactions are influencing their child’s behavior. Effective discipline techniques can work with children from twos to teens. So, next time you and your child become embroiled in a conflict try some of the following techniques.
- Describe the situation in neutral terms instead of yelling, nagging: Try saying: I see that you and your brother both want to use the iPad now, instead of “Stop that fighting” or “I’ve told you a 100 times…”
- Use open-ended statements that can empower your child: Questions such as “Why can’t you two learn to share? “are virtually unanswerable and useless. Instead, empower your children with statements such as, “You two are good thinkers; I bet you can figure out how to handle this so both of you get a turn.”
- Add some feelings: You get very angry when your brother gets the iPad first. You wish you had one of your own. Just acknowledging your child’s emotions can defuse a potential fight. And, interestingly, you don’t have to resolve the situation-just put your child’s feelings into words.
- Use more “You” statements than “I” statements: It looks you are having a hard time starting that assignment. Can you think of anything you (or we) could do to make it easier to get started? This is instead of: I see you haven’t started your math yet. I told you, no TV until it is finished!
- Give your child time to think things through: When you suggest to your child that they have the potential to solve their own conflicts you must give them some time to process that request. Even 2 year olds can figure out alternative ways of behaving (with prompts) so start using these techniques early! But if your children are older, don’t despair. Children may be surprised that you trust them enough to handle their conflicts but they will soon be on board. These are first steps in helping your child balance their wishes with the rules of expected behavior.
- Be as consistent as possible and let your child know what the consequences will be before the issue arises. Household rules posted on your refrigerator or on the computer (use pictures if your child is not reading yet) lets your children know what is really important in your home and what will happen if they don’t comply. Children as young as 3 can participate in making up house rules and consequences.
- Keep a neutral stance and take a step away from the process, allowing the child to figure things out for themselves. Keeping neutral is one of the hardest things for parents to do-children seem to be born knowing where you “hot buttons” are but every time you hand the conflict back to the child for them to solve you take another step toward raising a responsible adult. If Rule #2 in your house is “No Hitting”, you refer to Rule #2-and then follow through on the consequences.
- Discipline works even when a child hurts another or is destructive. If another is involved, the child must make amends-to the satisfaction of the target. So if a child wears a favorite clothing item of her sibling without permission, the child must wash and return the item in good condition. If something is damaged, the child needs to replace the item. Older children can use their allowance; younger children can do chores around the house until they have “earned” enough to make amends.
- Consequences need to be logical and do not have to be punitive to work: Making amends for a wrongdoing against another lays a strong foundation for responsibility. That does not just mean saying, “I’m sorry”. That it is an easy out for children. It makes much more sense for a child to have the responsibility of making it “right” than to force an apology or randomly punish a child by taking away a privilege or item. If one sibling hits another, you must stop the physical action but then guide the children through a process which allows the target to get satisfaction. You will be surprised at how inventive and rational children’s deliberations can be.
- Privileges can be taken away when they are the natural consequence of a child’s action. If your child does not put his bike away and you move it so it won’t get damaged, it is logical to say to your child: You did not care for your bike so you have lost the privilege for using it for the next 3 days. And, if it did get damaged, the child would have to earn (in some way) the money to have it repaired.
Many of you are thinking: Sounds good, but who has the time for this? This process becomes more natural and faster the more you use it; children know what to expect and respond accordingly. And, don’t beat yourself up if you fall back into old patterns; no parent is so in control that they always say and do the “right” thing.
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