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How My 4 Kids Taught Me The Right (And Wrong) Way To Discipline

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As a father of 4 kids, I have tried everything with regard to discipline … In my darkest moments I’ve literally smashed an iPad, and once gave a kid’s dinner to the family pet as punishment for transgressions. Breaking addictive electronic devices or letting a stubborn ill-behaved child go hungry are what I would not recommend to a long and peaceful path toward family bliss. But I mention them here to tell you how finding the right path is not a simple task.

I break down discipline into 3 categories:

  • Enforcing punishment
  • Denial or delay of pleasure
  • Rewarding good behavior

Enforcing punishment in our household ranges from “go to your bedroom” to “empty the dishwasher” (we’ve moved on from forced starvation, thankfully). It’s generally counter-productive, as the child will resent the punishment and going forward will attach a negative association to the chores.

The wrong way to discipline is enforcing punishments that create negative associations.

Examples of denial or delaying pleasure in our house range from no more TV/Computer/Music to no dessert until your room is tidy. This is essentially the carrot and the stick methodology — I generally find it more productive than enforcing an arbitrary punishment, but its effect on discipline tends to weaken over time. That’s because the kids will eventually get used to it and cope, ultimately not learning what you’re trying to teach.

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Stubborn kids would rather forgo ice-cream than tidy their bedroom, thus leaving you back in a standoff where you resort back to enforcing punishment.

By far, in my experience, the best way to maintain discipline in the long run is to reward good behavior (positive reinforcement!).

Most parents have a firm idea of what they expect from their kids in terms of discipline and behavior, but this obviously varies by ages and starting point. For me, it’s not having to tell them to do school work — they know to get it out of the way early, to do household chores without being constantly nagged and chided into doing them, to not shout or fight with siblings, and to not antagonize and wind each other up (very important in a household of 4 kids!).

So, if discipline is best achieved through positive reinforcement, then the question is: How do I make that part of daily family life?

The best way to maintain discipline in the long run is to reward good behavior.

In reality, the onus lies with the parents to take the lead — it is up to us to clearly set out what behavior we want to see, and what we don’t. Then to track it over time and have clear and desirable rewards to motivate the kids towards the desired outcome. I’ve used many tools to achieve this, from simple star charts drawn up by hand and pinned to the fridge door to outright bribery at the local toy store!

So to sum it up: from my experience, the wrong way to discipline is enforcing punishments that create negative associations. Yet that’s the primal instinct for most of us, myself included.

Discipline and family harmony stem from a clear outline of what is and is not expected, and to motivate and reward each kid toward that behavior.

Peter McGarry is the a writer and father of 4. Read more from Quora below: