Common Discipline Mistakes Parents Make in Disciplining Their Children
When discipline is poorly handled, it can actually make bad behavior worse instead of improving it.
As parents, we have to discipline our children if we want them to engage in proper behavior and adhere to social norms, but sometimes in our effort to correct them, we end up making mistakes. Here are several things to watch out for and avoid.
Disciplining in anger.
This one seems fairly obvious - when you're not already emotional because your child just spilled grape juice on the rug or colored on the wall. The problem is that it's difficult to discipline in a vacuum, so you need to work on setting aside your feelings when you correct your child. Otherwise, you can create a whole host of potential problems that are not good for you or them.
For one, disciplining when you are angry might not teach your child what you want them to learn; instead of realizing that the actions they engaged in were themselves incorrect, they might come to believe that what they did wrong was make you angry. But since our emotions aren't rational or logical, this can have kids chasing their tails, so to speak, and living in fear of upsetting you. Fear-based obedience can work for a time, but as soon as your kids think you can't do anything to them, they'll revert to previous behavior; what you want to strive for is obedience based on love and respect.
Correcting an emotional child.
Disciplining your kids when they are emotional is simply a waste of time. You'll end up giving a speech to someone who just isn't ready to listen. Best case scenario, they won't absorb anything you're saying and they'll continue to engage in the behavior. Worst case scenario, they'll actually argue with you and cause the situation to escalate into a fight.
Children need to be at an emotional equilibrium before they can process what you're saying and clearly understand. You need to put a stop to the improper behavior as soon as possible, but you can save that chat explaining why what they were doing was wrong until both of you have calmed down.
Attacking the child, not the behavior.
This is one that most of us need to learn in general when confronting others, but it's especially important with children. Using the above example when your child colors on the wall; there are two ways that you can approach correcting them.
The first way is to say that they are being a bad or naughty child. Unfortunately, this teaches them nothing about the actual coloring being wrong, and if continued over time, can lead to them developing a negative self-image. Instead, you can to approach the situation from the second way.
Instead of "You're being bad," you should say something like, "You shouldn't do that; coloring on the walls is bad." In this way, you're letting them know that it is the behavior you're admonishing, which gives them a clear goal if they don't want to be disciplined again: don't color on the walls.
Mandating Instant Compliance.
It is common for children to ignore parents' instructions when they are in the middle of playing. When instructions fall on deaf ears, the tendency is for parents to demand immediate obedience.
It is understandable that it is children's nature to prioritize play more than anything else. A respectful, yet firm request, and praise or reward for good behavior will make them cooperate with you without you being demanding. Example, when your child gets ready for school on time, tell him/her, "You got your things ready for early today, I'm going to prepare a good extra snacks for you when you get home from school."
Threatening, but not acting.
Do you threaten your child when he or she doesn't listen to you? For instance, your child is playing with another child and she kept taking away what her playmate picked. And you say, "If you don't give that toy to her, I'll take it away." Then, you go back to whatever you are doing. Then, you tell your child the second or third time the same threat. What you're actually telling your child is that he or she can keep doing the wrong behavior a few more times before you make them stop. Worse is when you tell your child that you will lock her or him to the room the whole day if she doesn't obey you. Can you possibly do that? So at the end of the day, nothing happens.
Okay, you do not want to be the bad guy all the time. But if you want to discipline your child effectively, you should impose consequences to their wrong behaviors. Give a warning, and then, if your child does it gain, give an immediate consequence. But make sure to set realistic consequences. Give consequences that won't threaten your child's life and that you can possibly execute.
Disciplining in public.
Okay, if you're a parent then you know that there are going to be times when you have to correct your child in public - that's not what this is about. What we're trying to get you to avoid might be better called shaming or embarrassing your child.
Telling them to stop bad behavior is fine. But if they refuse to listen, you should try hard to avoid yelling at them or otherwise punishing them when other people are around. Doing this actually lessens the impact of the discipline because they will be more focused on the embarrassment than what you're saying.
Next time, pull them aside to an isolated area or take them back to the car first. You'll find that they're much more engaged and willing to listen.
Sometimes parents find evidence that their child is engaging in bad behavior, but decide that they want to "test" them to see if they'll tell the truth, then punish the kid not only for the original action, but also the lie. Unfortunately, what your kids will see isn't that they were bad for lying, but that you tricked them.
All this teaches them is to lie better next time. Instead, be up front with them if you know they are doing something and you'll have a more honest conversation.
Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia's provider of child care courses and counselling courses. Jane is an early childhood educator with a background in Psychology, and closely works with children who have special needs for about 6 years now. She loves to travel, paint and read books about childcare and parenting. (Find her on Google+ )