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As a parent, it is your job to teach your child the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. But getting your child to behave the way you want is not as hard as you think.
Discipline = Teaching Punishment = Penalty
Many parents think discipline and punishment are the same thing. However, they are quite different. Punishment is negative; an unpleasant consequence for doing or not doing something. Punishment should only be a very small part of discipline. Because learning takes time, especially for a young child, you may find that it takes several weeks of working on a behavior before you see a change. Try not to get frustrated when you don't see the results of your efforts right away.
Effective discipline should take place all the time, not just when children misbehave. Children are more likely to change their behavior when they feel encouraged and valued, not shamed and humiliated. When children feel good about themselves and cherish their relationship with their parents, they are more likely to listen and learn.
In order to learn successful ways of teaching children, there needs to be a basic understanding of physical discipline and how it can affect a child. Children in foster care have frequently come from dysfunctional families and often do not have a foundation of knowing “right” and “wrong”. The following are important to realize about physical discipline of foster children:
- Physical discipline is ineffective for children in general.
- Physical discipline is particularly traumatic for children in foster care placements whose background is one of abuse or neglect.
- Physical discipline of foster children is prohibited in Wisconsin.
The messages that hitting a child can give are:
- In this family, I must fear adults and will not feel safe.
- Violence is an acceptable way to get what I want. I can hit younger children and take what I want from those who are weaker.
- I am not worth caring for, I am unlovable.
- Adults cannot be trusted.
- I must not let adults know when I do something wrong.
- It was ok for my parents to physically abuse me.
Discipline is guidance. When we guide children towards positive behavior and learning, we are promoting a healthy attitude. Positive guidance encourages a child to think before he acts. Positive guidance promotes self-control. Different styles of discipline produce results that are different. Discipline requires thought, planning, and patience.
How a parent teaches (disciplines) a child is a highly individualized choice. No two parents discipline in exactly the same way. One of the most important ideas to remember as a parent is “We are all different, and we all think that we are right.” The following are general attitudes of parents who are successful teachers (disciplinarians).
- Genuine concern for the youth. If a genuine and positive relationship is established between parents and the child, the teaching and learning process will be a natural part of the relationship.
- Teaching without blame or put-downs. Good discipline is good teaching and children learn best when they feel worthy and valued by the instructor.
- Parental self-assurance. The effective teacher (disciplinarian) acknowledges and acts on his or her sense of self-worth and value.
- Honesty. An honest parent will confront unsatisfactory behavior in an open and timely fashion. A weak disciplinarian will overlook inappropriate behavior and allow feelings of anger to build up. After a period of time, the parent “blows up”.
- Firm, but friendly. The effective parent must intervene and set limits with the firm message that living in a family involves cooperation and self-control.
- Neither vindictive nor spiteful. Discipline is not a parent's way of “getting even” with the child. Remember, you are the teacher. Be mindful of what is being taught.
- Behavior focused. Deal with the issue/behavior, without attacking the child as a person. Discipline is teaching different, more appropriate behavior, not judging, blaming, or tearing down the child's self-esteem or self-worth.
- Openness. An effective parent will be open to various options when considering disciplinary actions. An open-minded parent can understand that there are usually two sides to every problem. They will be open and listen to the child's point of view.
- Separateness. An attitude of separateness helps the parent avoid making excuses for the child so that the child is allowed to experience the consequences of his actions. Separateness helps to eliminate “win-lose” competition, which occasionally occurs. Separateness can also prevent parents from feeling they have failed.
- Patience. The effective parent realizes that change happens slowly and never gives up on a child.
Tips to Avoid Trouble
The first thing to remember is to avoid power struggles whenever possible. Instead, address only those issues that are truly important to you. The following tips may help:
- Offer choices whenever possible. By giving choices, you can set limits and still show your child some independence. For example, try saying, "Would you like to pick up your toys yourself, or should I help you?"
- Make a game out of good behavior. Your child is more likely to do what you want if you make it fun. For example, you might say, "Let's have a race and see who can put on his coat first."
- Plan ahead. If you know that certain circumstances always cause trouble, such as a trip to the store, discuss with your child ahead of time what behavior is acceptable and what the consequence will be if he does not obey.
- Praise good behavior. Whenever your child remembers to follow the rules, offer encouragement and praise about how well he did. You do not need an elaborate system of rewards. You can simply say "Thank you for coming right away” and hug your child.
Children are children because they are not yet skilled in decision-making. As parents, our goal is to impart those principals and skills that will provide the foundation for success as adults. We discipline our children so they may;
- Learn those behaviors, which meet the standards of the society in which they will live.
- Learn to live cooperatively with others.
- Develop problem-solving skills to positively cope with the demands of adult life.
- Develop the confidence and self-esteem fundamental to one's self-discipline.
- Gradually mature and become independent.
Discipline should not be viewed as a parent's reaction to a child's mistake. The process of discipline should be a positive, assertive role for the parent, promoting positive options before decisions are made, while increasing the child's sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Basically, a parent's job is to put themselves out of business. We do that most successfully when we:
- Permit children to do things for themselves.
- Support them as they struggle with their own problems.
- Permit them to learn from their mistakes.
Tips to Make Discipline More Effective
- Be aware of your child's abilities and limitations. Children develop at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses.
- Think before you speak. Once you make a rule or promise, you will need to stick to it. Be sure you are being realistic.
- Remember that children do "what works". If your child throws a temper tantrum in the grocery store and you bribe him to stop by giving him candy, he will probably throw another tantrum the next time you go.
- Work toward consistency. No one is consistent all the time. But try to make sure your goals, rules, and approaches to discipline stay the same from day to day.
- Pay attention to your child's feelings. If you can figure out why your child is misbehaving, you are closer to solving the problem.
- Learn to see mistakes - including your own - as learning opportunities. If you do not handle a situation well the first time, don't despair. Figure out what you could have done differently, and do it the next time. If you feel you have made a real mistake in the heat of the moment, wait to cool down, apologize to your child, and explain how you will handle the situation in the future.
Kids are not perfect-teaching requires patience. Kids don't always get things right the first time. Once the child knows what to do, we must shift from patience to determination. Have realistic expectations-know what your child is capable of understanding and don't expect them to do something they can't.