So often when we hear the word discipline, we think of punishment. In fact, there is much more to discipline than punishment and consequences. Simply punishing a behavior or action does not teach the child what to do instead. The more important aspect of discipline is skill building and teaching. Before focusing on consequences and punishments (not saying they are not necessary), identify the qualities and behaviors you want for your child. What are they? Patience, Listening, Sharing, Politeness, Generosity, Responsibility, Independence, Relationships? There are so many qualities that foster success. Here are a few rules of thumb for effective discipline:
- Catch your child being good and let them know exactly what it is they are doing when they are “good.” For example, instead of saying, “Great job!” when they waited quietly, tell them, “I really appreciated your being patient and quiet while I finished talking with Sue’s mom.” or "That was a tough problem and you worked it out even though you were frustrated."
- Build your relationship with your child. Notice what your child does. Comment on it. Listen and paraphrase what they say so they know you are listening to them. Include them in chores and activities as helpers to develop their sense of belonging and work ethic - it's never too early.
- Limit attention to negative or undesirable behaviors. Be short and matter-of-fact when addressing “problem” behaviors and provide consequences as appropriate (e.g., A House Rule might be automatic time away from others if aggressive, followed by an apology when calm). Then focus on noticing times when your child is handling conflict better or pointing out others handling conflict better. If your child is behaving in a way that you don't like, find the opposite of that behavior to reinforce and model. For example, if your child is bossy and controlling in play, model and pay attention to sharing, taking turns, and being considerate of others. If your child has trouble following directions, notice when they do follow directions and comment on it.
Essentially, your attention to positive or desired behaviors should always be much more prevalent than comments and attention to negative behavior. So take some time today and appreciate your child's better qualities and watch your child blossom.