As a parent, it’s also your job to teach your child how to behave, which takes a lot of time, patience, and practice. It helps if you learn some effective, healthy and respectful ways to discipline your child’s behavior.
Discipline is not punishment
Some think that discipline is the same as punishment, but that’s not true. To punish is to penalize someone for an offense. In other words, punishment makes the child pay for their mistake. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help young children to learn how to make better choices next time and often creates a kind of tension and power tussle that can be disruptive for the relationship between you and your child. On top of this, punishment gives a child inappropriate attention that can reinforce the very behavior that you want your child to do away with.
What it means to discipline a child
To discipline a child means to teach and guide your child on how to behave. It is completely different from punishment. Instead of punishing a child, you guide your child to behave appropriately through modeling and clear instructions. The key to correcting your kids’ behaviors is giving them the opportunity and capacity to learn positive behaviors that would replace the negative ones.
Focus on the positive
The best way to discipline your child is by modeling the right way to behave and creating an environment that reinforces positive behavior, while avoiding any situation that reinforces negative behaviors. We know that attention reinforces behavior, so create attention around positive behaviors and deny negative behaviors the attention that would reinforce them.
To achieve these, you can develop a discipline plan that proactively prepares your child on how to navigate the day-to-day challenges in life while consistently teaching them that actions have consequences.
Building your discipline plan
A discipline plan is a tool you use when you’re trying to eliminate the behavior that you don’t want and encourage the one you want. Some studies have shown that a discipline plan with short one-minute timeouts can be effective in teaching a child how to behave appropriately.
Here is what to do when you want to create a discipline plan:
- Identify the problem behavior you want to correct, such as breaking toys when angry, refusing to clean up, or any other negative behavior
- Define the desired behavior you want to replace the problem behavior with (for example, instead of throwing toys, placing them carefully back on the shelf)
- Reinforce desired behavior with praise, like high five, when they have behaved as you desire
- Specify the consequences to be expected when the problem behavior occurs — this is where short timeouts come into the discipline plan (make sure your child knows that the consequence of the problem behavior will be a timeout)
- Enforce consequence whenever the problem behavior occurs and be consistent with it until it disappears
Why does this work?
If you reinforce good behavior through positive feedback, the child is more likely to engage in such behavior. If you consistently make use of short timeouts whenever bad behavior occurs, the child will know that certain actions have undesired consequences and the bad behavior won’t get reinforced.
Keep your communication personal
The key to effectively managing your child’s behavior is having a warm and trusting relationship. So talk with your child about behaviors, feelings, and expectations and tell your child why certain behaviors are a problem for you as a parent. Rather than saying “we don’t throw toys, this is bad behavior”, which is too abstract to a child to understand, rather tell your child “I do not like when you throw toys because it can hurt someone, and seeing others hurt makes me sad.”
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (31 March 2021)