As any parent with more than one child or child care provider can attest, what works in terms of a disciplinary approach for one child may not work as well with another. With differences in how kids react to discipline also comes an increased likelihood for parents to be less-than-consistent in their approach. As a result, it's really no surprise that more than one-third of parents don't think their methods of discipline work well, according to a recent study of 2,134 parents with kids ages 2-11. However, child experts indicate that there are some common basics of effective discipline. Here are techniques to try:
1. Consistency is Key
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Since everyone has a different parenting/caregiver style, it's not practical to say all discipline should be consistent all the time. Do try, however, to instill consistent rules, approaches, and even goals and rewards each day. Kids can find change or inconsistencies confusing, and may test limits or boundaries to see how far they can go with different adults. (Remember the saying, "If mom says no, then just go ask dad?) The motto may be cute on a shirt, but is nothing but trouble in a household where inconsistent rules exist.
2. Seek Out the 'Why' of MisbehaviorWhen Johnny throws a cup and its contents spill on the carpet, a disciplinary consequence SHOULD be rendered. But if you take time to seek out the "why" to the behavior rather than just the action itself, you might be closer to figuring out your child's problem (at least this one). If you determine that he threw his cup because the straw was clogged, for example, you might assess a different outcome or have a different conversation than if he threw it because he didn't want milk for a drink. Maybe he is mad at something else entirely, and this is how he handles it. Parents can then guide appropriate behavior.
3. Avoid Power BattlesChoose your battles very carefully, but once you've picked a battle then a parent/adult MUST win. Always. Only address those issues that are truly important (safety is always a key battle) and let some things go. If possible, offer choices while still setting reasonable limits. But if an issue is important, experts indicate it's vital that a parent not cave and give in to a child, even "just this once." If you do this, then every time this issue comes up again, your child will know that you might change your mind.
4. Emphasize and Praise Good BehaviorIf the behavior won't cause harm, then an effective disciplinary approach often involves praising good behavior and rewarding it through hugs, high-fives or special activities (like a trip to the park), while ignoring bad behavior. This is easier said than done, but a child will learn that good actions result in more positive attention and praise while bad behavior gains her nothing.
5. Keep Your CoolKids often enjoy seeing a rise out of an adult; blowing your top can be interesting to watch and kids sometimes see your loss of control as a victory for them. Keep calm and in control, and if necessary, tell your child you're taking a brief "time out" to assess the situation and appropriate consequence before taking action. Kids will often take advantage of a frazzled, mad, or emotional adult; don't give them this opportunity. If you do mess up, learn from the experience, and take another measure to keep yourself calm, cool and collected the next time (and there will be one!).
6. Seek Out Discipline SupportersWhen someone else is watching your child, be sure to communicate discipline style and request the caregiver adopt a similar fashion. Likewise, if you do not believe in a certain approach (like spanking or a time-out chair), be sure to indicate that to a babysitter or early education teacher as well. If checking out a new day care or pre-school, take time to ask about disciplinary approach. Many parents find that if they match their approach to what methods are used at a child's care setting, the results become more effective. The reason may be that kids respond to discipline tactics that are used with their peers.