It all starts when your infant grabs your earrings and you say “no.” You’re teaching respect for other people’s boundaries. “Discipline teaches kids that there are principles and parameters they must learn to successfully negotiate life,” says Scott Osterfeld, parenting expert and community outreach coordinator for the Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities. We present some helpful tips to make disciplining less difficult for you and your child.
1. Be consistent.
“Kids feel safe and secure when there are limits and structure,” Osterfeld says. His analogy is a night security guard: He tests the doors and is relieved when they’re locked. “Kids test a parent, and when the parent consistently maintains the rule, kids feel secure and safe because they cannot control their behavior on their own,” he says.
2. Be calm when disciplining.
Osterfeld says parents can talk too much and get too emotional. Be matter-of-fact, but even-keeled.
3. Use time-out effectively.
No toys or distractions. Don’t engage your child. One minute for each year of age, and they may not come out until calm. Have them apologize for the infraction.
4. Use natural consequences.
Meaning, the punishment fits the crime. An example: “For every put-down you give your sister, you have to say two build-ups [compliments].”
5. Model the behavior you expect.
This also means avoiding corporal punishment, as adults don’t settle disputes with physical aggression.
6. Use distraction effectively, redirecting or defusing with humor.
Baby is throwing blocks at the cat? Show her how to build. Brandon won’t brush his teeth? Make up a song about tickling his teeth with a toothbrush.
7. Tell them what TO do—not just what NOT to do.
Your 2-year-old constantly interrupts while you’re talking to her teacher. Instead of saying “stop interrupting,” say, “Please wait until Mommy is finished.”
8. Give them the words to say.
When Brandon has trouble with his zipper, you can say: “Instead of stomping feet and yelling, say, ‘Daddy, I need help with my zipper.’” This is an under-utilized but effective tool.
9. Catch them being good.
“Notice when they are behaving the way you want,” Osterfeld says, “and then enthusiastically give it your attention.” An example: “Awesome job putting your dirty clothes in the hamper!”
10. Build a strong relationship.
Keep interactions positive as much as possible and give your kids one-on-one time every day. The emotional bond you build will deter bad behavior.
11. Be a parent first, friend second.
Otherwise, you may hesitate to discipline and risk your child learning no respect for other people’s boundaries.
12. Don’t punish temper tantrums.
Tune in to your child’s needs. Are they hungry? Tired? Overtaxed by too many activities? Providing what they need might solve the problem.
Originally published in Baby Guide 2014