Appropriate discipline is a critically important factor in a child’s life, equally as important as nurturing, loving and giving. It socializes the child, teaches him or her right from wrong. It helps children to control their impulsivity, to respect others. It keeps them physically safe.
As much as children might rant and rave against discipline, unconsciously, they are grateful for it. Being “out of control” is frightening to children and it feels protective and safe to know that someone is in charge.
Discipline changes as children change and grow. In the very early years, distraction is the best ploy. Very young children cannot hold and tame their impulsivity.
A mother was teaching her two year old to crack eggs. The phone rang. The mother said, “Don’t crack the eggs till I return.” When she came back into the kitchen after 10 minutes, the little girl was cracking eggs and saying in a loud voice, “Don’t crack the eggs - don’t crack the eggs!”
If a child cries in the store because he can’t have the candy, offer him a toy car, whisper in his ear that when you leave, there will be a surprise waiting for him, offer him a pretzel. Step up quickly before he hits his brother or takes the plug out of the wall and lead him to another toy or another game. Creative distraction works wonders with young children.
When a child becomes older - 4 or 5 and has more control and a better attention span, time outs can be sitting on the parents lap as the parent says, “right now it’s hard for you to stop hitting, so I’m helping you,” or sitting on a chair in the parents presence. Sending children to their rooms is too close to abandonment, too close to exclusion and expulsion. Emotionally it is critical that the child understand that it’s the act that is not acceptable while he continues to be loved, valued and included.
When children are in the latency years, it is necessary to have a set of limited rules in the house about what’s acceptable and what is not acceptable, limited because too many do’s and dont’s overwhelm children and make them feel powerless. They give up trying at all or become obsessively perfectionistic, feeling unworthy and ashamed every time they make a mistake. When these rules are broken, there are consequences - the child loses their allowance, loses TV time, has to replace items that were broken…These rules and consequences must be discussed by the family so that everyone is aware of the agenda and they must be consistently maintained and honored. A lack of consistency will confuse the child and scare him.
Again, discipline will change with adolescence. As a teenager, the child can be included in an exploration of limit setting and consequences that have meaning and relevance to that particular teen.
What is harmful and ineffective discipline is screaming, humiliating, criticizing, hitting, exploding, excessive groundings and time outs. They make children feel wrong and bad and worthless and shameful and will encourage them toward self-destructive acts and patterns. If you’re a parent who habitually engages in these acts, please get yourself to a therapist as quickly as possible.
Children want to be good and lovable and admired. If appropriately disciplined, they will comply. If they’re acting out in hurtful ways, something important has already gone wrong. Please get them the help they’re “asking” for.
Appropriate discipline is another word for love.