In the last column I discussed reasons why corporal punishment is not the best methods to use with your child when punishment is needed. Here are some discipline strategies and punishment techniques that you can use instead. This information is adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics and from an article by Kiki Bochi, an award winning journalist and managing editor of Broward County, Florida, Family Life magazine.
Praise good behavior. Children love attention. When they do something right, be sure to recognize it. Your child will feel rewarded for being good and will demonstrate more of the behavior that pleased you. Positive reinforcement is very powerful.
Redirect your child’s attention. Learning self-control is an ongoing, challenging process for children. You can help keep them on track. Bring crayons to the restaurant or books to read at the doctor’s office. Engage your child in conversation or games instead of expecting him or her to just sit there and “be good.” If your child is doing something inappropriate, redirect him or her to an appropriate activity such as a toy, a game, a book, etc.
Be specific. It’s not enough to tell your child to behave. To a child, that can mean many things. Outline what you expect: “I don’t want you to run through the aisles or pull items off the shelves in the grocery store. I expect you to stay near me and help me find the things we need.” Be prepared to repeat these expectations on subsequent visits. Or, if your child is old enough, you can ask him to tell you what he thinks your expectations are.
Set age-appropriate expectations. Young children may not be able to do what you ask or understand what you want them to do, even if you think you are making yourself clear. Be reasonable in what you expect. A toddler will have toileting accidents – that is part of learning. A young child may not have the balance or coordination to carry a glass without spilling it. Older children may not have the maturity to make the right choices. It is up to you to teach them with patience and love.
Use natural consequences. If your child makes a mess, she helps to clean it up. If she throws her food on purpose, she will not have it to eat. If she throws and breaks a favorite toy, she will not be able to play with it. A consequence that is naturally connected to the behavior is more likely to teach a lesson.
Use logical consequences. Here you may need to step in and create a consequence. If your child won’t put away a toy, for example, take it away for the rest of the day. Homework’s not done? No TV or computer time tonight. You must mean what you say, and you should follow through right away.
Remove a privilege. The child has to give up something he likes. Again, be sure you follow through.
Ignore the behavior. Behavior that is not harmful to the child or others can often be ignored. If children do not get attention for negative behavior, often that behavior will stop, especially if they are getting attention for good behavior.
The child is 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.
Use time-out. A time out is a temporary isolation of the child from others because she has chosen to act inappropriately. The place needs to be somewhere boring. Once the child is sitting quietly, you can set a timer. A good rule of thumb to follow is one minute for every year of age. You can increase the time for repeated or serious infractions.
Set family rules. With your child’s help, establish rules that apply to everyone. “We don’t hit.” “We speak to each other with respect.” “We don’t use the belongings of others without asking.” Create guidelines that address issues in your family, and then set a good example. When children forget, you can then remind them, “We do not do this in our family.”
Work toward consistency. Rules should be the same from day to day.
Do not encourage bad behavior by giving in if your child is throwing a temper tantrum or whining or pouting.
Be a good role model. Children learn a lot about how to behave by watching their parents.
Seek guidance. If you want to become a stronger parent or have questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician, sign up for a parenting class, or talk to a counselor.
The bottom line is this: utilize ways to correct unwanted behavior in kids and teach positive behaviors using positive discipline strategies rather than punishment as much as possible. It’s a loving, respectful, and effective way to help your children learn.