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Use discipline as opportunity to teach children

August 2006 - "My kids are driving me crazy!" Have you ever said this or thought this? Is it because your children won't obey, won't listen to you or other negative behaviors? How do you typically react when they don't do as they are told?

Proper discipline is positive
When children don't obey, the option may be to yell, spank, use sarcasm or other forms of punishment. This is not discipline. Discipline is a positive concept, in the same category as loving, respecting and accepting your child. Discipline is setting limits and establishing guidelines for children to follow. It helps children learn correct behaviors so they can become self-disciplined enough to conduct themselves properly without parental guidance. Effective discipline also includes establishing good communication, building a child's self-esteem and good family management techniques.

Find age appropriate tasks
Building good self-esteem is essential. Giving a child a task that is appropriate for his or her age and developmental level helps build a sense of self-worth. It is important to understand the developmental stage because if the task is too difficult, the child cannot be successful.

Many of us tend to react to negative behaviors instead of focusing on what the child is doing right and making it a teaching moment. For instance, if the issue is leaving toys out, a parent can sit down with the child and explain the importance of putting away the toys and offer two choices. The child can put the toys away or the parent can take the toys and put them in a box for a reasonable amount of time, in a place that is not accessible to the child. Once this is explained and it is certain that the child understands the consequences, it is up to the parent to follow through with the consequence the next time it happens. This sometimes very difficult if a favorite toy or blanket ends up in the box, but the parent must follow through. If there are inconsistencies, the child will learn that consequences can be manipulated and mean very little.

Avoid saying "no"
Another important strategy in promoting positive discipline and reducing negative behaviors is to stop saying "no" so often. It is much more effective to notice what the child is doing right. By reinforcing positive behavior when it occurs, the child is more willing to continue the better behavior. Remember that children want your attention and even negative attention is better than no attention. Often misbehavior is related to the fact that the child just needs someone to pay attention.

Have a family meeting
As children get older it is even more important for families to establish clear limits and rules, as well as consistent consequences for bad choices. Specifically, once a rule is established, it is the child's choice as to whether they will abide by the rule or break the rule. Parents must then consistently enforce consequences. One effective method of developing rules is to hold a family meeting during which parents and children discuss family rules and develop consequences for rule violation. This process, which invites input from both parents and children, allows the children to realize that the choice they make will result in a specific consequence. Once an agreement has been reached, the agreement is written down, all family members sign it and it is posted. When a child chooses to violate the written rules, the consequence is already decided, so the parent only has to refer the child to the contract. This cuts down a great deal of argument and allows the parents to be consistent in their discipline. The child cannot argue that the consequence was unfair since they helped formulate it.

When they do argue that it is unfair, then you can tell them that at the next family meeting, the rule and consequence can be discussed to decide if there should be changes. However, parents should stick to the posted rule until changes are made using the collaborative process.

Always be fair and consistent
The most important rules in effective discipline are to be fair and to be consistent with consequences. Most importantly, when wrong choices are made and a rule is violated, a parent must reassure the child that you love him or her, but didn't like the behavior.

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