When it comes to raising kids, discipline is an act of generosity masquerading as an act of malice. To do it right is to do it in a thoughtful, planned, and ultimately disciplined way. That means that adults need to get a very tight grip on their horses and stay calm while admonishing their kids. Punitive actions are ultimately pointless and unkind. The idea is to use tools like timeouts, lectures, and withholding to teach children a lesson about appropriate behavior. The goal cannot be to inspire fear because behavioral correction really only works over the long term when motivations change. Teaching a kid to behave right despite wanting to behave wrong (or to lie) is ultimately far less effective – and far more destabilizing for the kid – than teaching a child why they should want to follow rules rather than break them.
Here’s what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend doing to make sure that discipline sticks.
Discipline Rule #1: Stay Calm
- Think of discipline like a parking ticket — there’s discomfort, inconvenience, and guilt, but not suffering.
- Be cool, calm, and consistent. Showing composure will teach your child how to properly manage their emotions from angry to a calm state, as will hugs and kisses after the discipline has been given out.
- Focus on engaging in a calm dialogue. Yelling shuts down all forms of communication between you and the child, and often prevents lessons from being learned through discipline.
- Teach your lesson, then kiss, hug, and make up after punishment has been dished out to keep the relationship strong.
- Stay cool when your child has a public tantrum. They’re not breaking down on purpose. Your child has no concept of public versus private nor do they understand humiliation.
- Don’t combat a tantrum with anger. Instead, deflect with humor, stay empathetic, and negotiate when necessary to downplay the meltdown.
- Don’t use snark out of frustration over a child’s behavior. Instead, have a discipline plan in place, and use it consistently and dispassionately.
- The best remedy for an acting up kid is to use redirection, distracting them away from their defiance with a silly face or a tickle.
Discipline Rule #2: Teach a Lesson
- Turn to timeouts when your kids are old enough to potty train.
- When siblings fight, reestablish the sibling connection after the discipline is served; bringing kids back together helps mend the broken bond.
- Avoid sarcasm that uses abstract concepts. When a parent teases a child with a sarcastic comment, he or she is asking the child to not only understand the world, but understand other peoples’ perspectives, and alternative realities.
- Act as a mediator in fights, not the authority. Kids who don’t get resolution during sibling conflicts will turn them into adults who are unable to resolve disagreements in general with other people.
- Talk first, ground after. Having a conversation will make the child reflect on their actions, which is a better learning experience as opposed to grounding a child, who will just stew in anger in their room.
- Explain to your child that there are immediate consequences for their inappropriate actions.
- Never imply disappointment when threatening a child. Research says coercive parenting is associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and poor peer relationships.
- Don’t use open-ended threats like “Don’t make me…” and “…Or else!” They’re both ineffective and leave no concrete consequence for your kid to think over.
- Avoid manipulating or being dismissive of your child’s perspective, as they don’t have a strong grip on reality yet. Nurture their world instead.
- Don’t attempt to make your child think in a specific way. This could lead to patterns of misrepresentation and mistruth.
Discipline Rule #3: Set Expectations
- Bring up the possibility of discipline and try to articulate that specific rules are not flexible. This doesn’t have to be a confrontation. It can be totally matter-of-fact.
- Agree that kids follow the rules of whatever house they’re in.
Explain and enforce house rules to kids visiting but avoid actually disciplining other people’s kids. Let their parents discipline them. Discipline is more of a family issue anyway.
- Communicate with other parents after a visit about any rule-breaking that may have occurred. Debriefing allows parent-friends to troubleshoot and clarify rules for the future.
Discipline Rule #4: Don’t Tolerate Violence
- Don’t spank them or try to channel their anger through punching bags and video games. The only way to treat anger is to address it directly.
- Don’t use violence. Modeling proper behavior is more practical than telling a child how they should act.
- Look for possible triggers in their media diet and engage in role-playing exercises to help them determine what to do when something angers them.
- Do not take your child’s bad behavior as a sign of emotional release or deep-seated anger. Research has found that a child’s bad behavior can be linked to corporal punishment or violent media.
- Take your child to a pediatrician immediately if you receive repeated complaints from their school about violent behavior. When bad behavior interrupts daily life, it’s a warning sign that your child needs help.