Last month the column discussed the latest study to show the negative effects that physical punishment can have on children. We often think of punishment and discipline as the same; however, they are really quite different. Discipline is a whole system of teaching based on a good relationship, praise, and instruction for the child on how to control his behavior. Punishment is a negative: an unpleasant consequence for doing or not doing something. Punishment should be only a small part of discipline.
Effective discipline should take place all the time, not just when children misbehave. Research shows that children are more likely to change their behavior when they feel encouraged and valued. When children feel good about themselves and cherish their relationship with their parents, they are much more likely to listen and learn. Much of this information is from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here are some discipline strategies to use that do not involve hitting your child.
· Natural consequences. The results that naturally occur from a child’s behavior without the parent doing anything. If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not have it to play with. If she spills her juice on purpose, she will not have the juice to drink.
· Logical consequences. Those results a parent provides to teach children what logically follows misbehavior. Logical consequences are logical results of the child’s actions. If he writes on the wall, he cleans it up.
· Loss of privilege. The child has to give up something she likes.
· Parental disappointment. The parent makes a simple statement that expresses the disappointment the parent has in the child’s behavior. “I am really disappointed that I had to ask you three times to pick up your toys.”
· Restitution. If you dirty it, you clean it. If you leave it on the floor, you pick it up and put it away. If you break it purposefully, you pay for it. Young children can “pay for it” by doing age-appropriate chores.
· Being grounded. When a young child deliberately leaves the yard without permission, or when a teenager breaks curfew without calling, an appropriate punishment is being grounded to the house, yard, or room.
· Redirection. When a young child is doing something unacceptable, try to call attention to another activity such as playing with a toy or looking at a book.
· Ignoring. Behavior that is not harmful to the child or others can often be ignored. If children do not get attention for their negative behavior, it will often stop.
· Time-out. A time out is a temporary isolation of the child from others because he has chosen to act inappropriately. The time-out spot should be a boring place with no distractions. Tell the child what he did wrong in as few words as possible. If the child will not go on his own, pick him up and carry him there. If he will not stay, gently but firmly restrain him in your lap, saying, “I am holding you because you have to have a time out.” Do not discuss it any further. Once the child is sitting quietly, set a timer. Wait until the child stops protesting before setting the timer. It should take only a couple of weeks before he learns to cooperate and will choose to sit quietly rather than be held. A good rule of thumb to follow is to set the timer for one minute of time out for every year of age. You can increase the time for repeated or serious infractions. Do not overuse time outs. They work best when other responses have not worked. Time outs can also be helpful if the parent needs a break to stay calm.
· Choices. By giving choices, you can set limits and still allow your child some independence and control. For example, try saying, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red one?” “Do you want cereal for breakfast or scrambled eggs?”
· Material rewards. Sometimes material rewards such as stickers can be used, but be very careful with material rewards. They need to be used judiciously. Your child might come to expect them in order to behave properly.
· Praise your child often. When your child remembers to follow the rules and exhibits the kind of behavior you want from her, offer encouragement and praise on how well she did. You can simply say, “Thank you for coming right away,” and hug your child. Praising, smiling, and hugging for acceptable behavior should be frequent, especially for young children. The old adage “catch them being good” is, indeed, true. If children are getting positive reinforcement for doing what they are supposed to do, they will not feel the need to act inappropriately to get attention.
If you have questions or concerns, talk to your child’s pediatrician.