We have all been there, walking down the store aisle, pushing our cart past the cookies and candies and shiny objects when our child grabs something from the shelf and demands to have it NOW! Or we are at the dinner table when little Jacob starts to talk with his mouth full of food. Or we find ourselves at the park or other venue with kids when to our horror, our little one hits a friend. Is this the end of the world? Of course not. With some perseverance, patience, and love, we can correct all of these issues and more by using positive discipline.
While most of us grew up with the term “punishment” on the tips of our parents’ tongues, many of us have learned that “discipline” is now the choice of action. The word “discipline” comes from the word “disciple” meaning “the follower of a teacher.” Punishment refers to an action that usually leads to depriving a child of some privileges or promoting some form of discomfort. Punishment focuses on how the child has disappointed a parent or the mistakes that the child made, and usually leads a child to behave out of fear of an outside action. Discipline focuses on the behavior of the child, and allows him to take control from inside himself.
I would like to challenge you as a parent to give up punishment. What?! Give up the very thing that keeps my child from misbehaving?! Yes! Because now we are going to work towards the long term and focus on positive discipline, and you will find yourself amazed at the change within your child and yourself.
In order for positive discipline to work, you will need to equip yourself with a few simple steps. The first being to be kind and firm. While these two concepts sound like opposites, you will be pleased to know that they can both work hand in hand to your advantage. Being kind reminds us to respect our children as people while being firm allows us to respect the needs of the situation. Many problems a child faces seem trivial in the face of adults. For example, picture yourself at a restaurant for lunch with your son. He spills some water on his shirt and becomes upset and demands for his shirt to be changed immediately. For those of us in the real world, we do not always carry around spare clothes, but you can easily tell that your son is getting more and more upset by this. Kindly make an “I” statement to your child such as: “Jake, I know that you are upset about your shirt getting wet, I am sorry that I do not have another shirt for you to change into, but it will dry in no time. Now let’s finish our yummy lunch.” Empathize with your child, and allow him to know that you understand that he is upset; this will offer kindness to him. The firmness of your statement should allow him to know that you are not going to change his clothes just because a few drops of water got on him. Being too kind without being firm will make you too permissive as a parent, which will become unhealthy for you and your child. While being too firm about a situation will make you too controlling and disrespectful. Find a good medium for you and your child.
As a teacher, I used this concept many times in my class. I found it to work with flying colors! I even used what I called my “teacher’s voice,” which offered a little more firmness and allowed the children to know that I was serious about the situation. Because I made “I” statements and empathized with the children, I found that this created a very strong bond between us. Because I was offering respect to the children as people, they were giving it back to me as well. It was a wonderful give and take situation!
The next principle you should familiarize yourself with is helping your child find a sense of significance and belonging. Every single person wants to feel as if they belong and are significant, and children rank the highest in this category. Think about it, why did you choose the career path you did, or become a part of a certain organization? You wanted to feel as if you were making an impact and had a place of meaning. Children need this too! When children do not feel these things, they begin to act out or misbehave in order to attribute these feelings in some other way. This misbehavior often appears when basic needs are not met for a child such as being hungry, tired, or not feeling well. Changes in routine and even the weather can alter a child’s behavior. The biggest thing you can do as a caregiver is to offer stability in any of these scenarios.
We often see children misbehave when a new sibling enters the picture. Everyone is doting on the new baby, so big sister feels left out, and if we are not careful, she will begin to act out in order to receive attention. Making your older child feel just as special as the new baby can do wonders for your child’s behavior. For example, most people want to bring the new baby gifts, so make sure your older child receives a little something as well. You can also make her feel important by asking her to help, even in the smallest of ways such as picking out clothes for the baby to wear or “helping” to feed and take care of their new sibling. This will allow your child to feel as if she offers a very important role in the family unit.
It is important to remember that kids will learn valuable life and social skills because of positive discipline. Problem-solving, communication, listening, and self-soothing skills will all be born from your efforts as a parent when disciplining your child. These traits will serve them throughout their entire life, and follow them through relationships, jobs, and even into their own children. Creating good character will allow your child to truly become the person you are raising them to be. Discipline promotes self-awareness and attention to one’s behavior. A great way to practice discipline is to implement clear and concise rules that are easy for children to understand and follow. Rules are necessary to ensure safety and guidelines for children. When setting rules, make sure they are understandable to a child, realistic, positive in nature, and that there are reasons behind those rules. As caregivers and parents, we need to make sure to consistently enforce the rules we create. It can be easy to slack on this at times, or when it is inconvenient. However, children crave consistency and need it at all times. Even when you want to give up, don’t!
Which brings me to my next point: positive tools work for the long term. Punishment works for the short term. If you want a behavior to stop immediately, punishment will work in that scenario. However, if you want a behavior to disappear altogether, you will need to step up to the plate with discipline in hand. As caregivers, we need to be aware of what children are thinking, feeling, and deciding, and how that affects them in the long term. We want our kids to behave because they want to, not because they are afraid of being punished. Imagine yourself at your job, do you follow the rules at work because you are a person of good character and want to, or because you are afraid of getting fired. Doing anything out of fear is not the healthiest way to act. Being equipped with tools that are a reflection of good character traits are what we should pull from when acting. You and your child will enjoy a more fulfilled and happy relationship because of this concept!
You may be saying to yourself, ‘Well this all sounds fine and dandy, but how do I do it?’ Simple! Start practicing today using some practical steps; talk with your child, not at him, and do so while you are on his level. Get your child’s attention before speaking, and make sure to keep the lines of communication open by listening attentively. Encourage and support your child through times of discipline, and at other times as well. Be sure to use positive direction. Nothing is more frustrating when telling your child, “Don’t…” and watching him do the very thing you asked him not to do. Try telling your child what you want him to do. If I said to you, “Don’t think about a red pencil,” your mind instantly jumps to the image of a red pencil! Instead of telling your child, “don’t run,” tell him, “next time, use your walking feet.” Put the image in your child’s mind of what you want from him. This will do wonders if you allow it to!
Finally, using positive discipline will allow your child to develop a sense that he is a capable and accomplished human being, and who doesn’t want that?! Your child will be equipped to use his personal power in useful ways that allow him to grow into a contributing member of society. We all want success and happiness for our children, so why not start right now to help them become people who are able to create that for themselves; you will be glad you did, and your children will thank you for it.
Ellen Simmonds, Program Director