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Parenting Guru: Is it wrong to punish kids?

Julie Weingarden Dubin is a Michigan-based freelance journalist, blogger and author with three rocking kids, a loving husband and a trashed minivan. She covers parenting, health, psychology, relationships and pop culture for national mag...

How to discipline so you’re effective

Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time... The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling, says many parents today confuse discipline with punishment. Positive Discipline educators refer to “punishment” as anything that would inflict blame, shame or pain on the child. It’s usually intended to make the child comply out of fear or to “pay” for a poor choice and it usually doesn't work long-term because it lacks the most important component of changing behavior—training. Discipline, however, is a much more positive, effective, way of responding to misbehavior. By disciplining our children with relevant consequences and accountability, we ensure they won’t want to repeat their misbehavior—because we’ve allowed them to learn from it, and not because we’ve scared the daylights out of them, she says. (For every book sold, McCready and Positive Parenting Solutions will donate an online parenting course to a deserving military family.)

How to discipline so you’re effective

Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time... The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling, says many parents today confuse discipline with punishment.

Positive Discipline educators refer to “punishment” as anything that would inflict blame, shame or pain on the child. It’s usually intended to make the child comply out of fear or to “pay” for a poor choice and it usually doesn't work long-term because it lacks the most important component of changing behavior – training.

Discipline, however, is a much more positive, effective, way of responding to misbehavior. By disciplining our children with relevant consequences and accountability, we ensure they won’t want to repeat their misbehavior – because we’ve allowed them to learn from it, and not because we’ve scared the daylights out of them, she says. (For every book sold, McCready and Positive Parenting Solutions will donate an online parenting course to a deserving military family.)

Keep your cool

What's your take on timeouts and counting to three?

Amy McCready: I’m not keen on either strategy – both are fundamentally flawed in that they invite certain behaviors we don’t want (like power struggles) and fail to teach important lessons that will help kids make better choices in the future.

For most strong-willed children, a timeout invites a power struggle pitting parent against child as the child is determined to do anything in his power to escape and Mom is forced to “hold her ground” as she tries every trick in the book to keep slippery Sam in timeout. At its best, the timeout becomes a meaningless game, and at its worst, it disrupts the entire household.

The main problem with the 1-2-3 technique is that instead of training your child to reconsider her actions, you’re actually teaching her to ignore you multiple times before finally (if you’re lucky), listening and doing as you ask.

No parent wants to scream at their kids, but it happens. How can parents keep their cool?

McCready: The best way to break the cycle of repeat, remind, explode and engage cooperation is to connect on an emotional level first. Believe it or not, the most powerful thing you can do to correct behavior quickly is to spend one-on-one time with your kids on a daily basis. Kids have an attention basket to fill and they need our individual, positive attention every day. As little as 10 minutes of one-on-one time, once or twice a day, in which you get into your child’s world and do what he or she likes to do, can make a difference in fending off misbehavior.

Next, focus on using your calm voice. Intentionally using a softer voice and speaking more slowly will bring down the tension and stress in your home. This can be difficult in the moment, but as you speak calmly and softly, your kids will follow suit. You’ll be amazed at the positive shift in energy with this small change. These two changes will make a dramatic difference within the first few days and help you and your kids feel a lot better about your family.

No need for nagging

Any tips for potential parental boiling point times – getting ready for school, after-school transitioning and bedtime?

McCready: Routine, routine, routine. The most important tool parents can use for volatile times of the day is a When-Then Routine. When-Then Routines are structured so the less-than-desirable tasks must be completed before the more enjoyable parts of the routine. For example, parents can say, “When you’re dressed, your bed is made, your backpack and lunch box are by the door, then breakfast will be served.” Avoid nagging and reminding your kids about what they have to do next. Let them be in charge of the morning routine.

What's the most important change parents can make in how they discipline?

McCready: Recognize that misbehavior is a symptom of a deeper issue. When kids act out with annoying, frustrating behaviors, they’re trying to tell us something. In most cases, they want more of our positive attention or they’re looking for ways to exert their hard-wired need for autonomy and control over their own lives.

Our job is to train our kids and help them learn important lessons from their choices – positive and negative. Fortunately, if you begin with the 10 minutes of one-on-one time with each of your kids on a daily basis and use positive discipline, you’ll bring out the very best in you and your children.

Hey, Moms

What type of discipline works for your family? Please share your thoughts and stories in comments below.

Read more on discipline

Positive discipline: Why timeouts don’t work
Evaluating your discipline techniques

What role does discipline play in parenting?

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