Discipline Skills

Five Important Discipline Skills

Discipline is one of the most complicated and challenging responsibilities of parenthood. It involves a mix of interlocking elements, all of which may vary at any given time:

  • Child Traits: such as, temperament, developmental stage, health
  • Family Resources: extended family, finances, neighborhood, friends
  • Family Values: time use, recreation, behavioral expectations
  • Parent Characteristics: temperament, health, skill base, family history

While we cannot control elements such as health, temperament, and developmental stage, we can learn skills and develop an approach that works best for ourselves and our children. As we think about discipline in general, it is helpful to keep in mind that discipline is not punishment; it is instruction. The root word means “teaching and learning.”

Environmental Management

This typically involves placing things out of reach or limiting use. This is a common and particularly useful tool that we use with younger kids, but it still works for older kids. Chaperones at a school dance provide environmental management, as does a lock on a liquor cabinet. It works for adults, too. After all, it is easier to resist cookies when they are behind the cupboard than when they sit out on the counter in the cookie jar.

  • For young children, this involves physically redirecting attention, offering an engaging toy to redirect from an inappropriate one, for example.
  • For older children, we involve them in the redirection (“Looks like that game is upsetting your younger sister, what else could you choose to do?”)

Time In

This is about making amends, noticing others, and how actions affect others. So, if toddler Jimmy, without any intent to harm, bumps too hard against toddler Luke, you make the connection for Jimmy (“Look at Luke’s sad face, you bumped him too hard”) and engage in atoning (“I wonder how we can help Luke”). Jimmy might just watch as you model atonement, he might assist (“Let’s go get him a glass a water”) or have his own idea, perhaps offering a toy or a kiss (just be sure Jimmy’s offer respects Luke’s needs).

When Jimmy is 10 and says he is going to Luke’s house but instead ends up at Sam’s, connect his actions to your worry, and engage Jimmy so that he reflects on his action (can be used with logical consequence of restricting independence, i.e., “Next time I will have to walk with you to Luke’s house.”)

Time Out

The key features of a Time Out are separation and non-engagement. The rule is generally one minute per age of child and it is best reserved for the most troublesome behaviors, typically those that harm others. When toddler Jimmy intentionally knocks Luke over, remove Jimmy, be brief (“No pushing and hurting others”) and do not engage with Jimmy for 2 minutes. When it’s done, it’s done. Don’t ask a toddler to problem solve (“Are you ready to play safely with your friends again? Okay, let’s go”).

With older children, we ask them to use the time to reflect on their choice. Time Out should support self-evaluation of behavior and planning for new behavior. The minutes still match age. After, briefly engage (“What can you differently now?”).

Natural Consequences

Let children (safely) experience the results of their actions. For example, if outside time will be brief (we never allow frostbite to be a natural consequence) when children resist mittens, let them have the experience of cold hands. When your 8-year-old forgets her lunch again, resist the urge to run it to school. Remember, children often find a way to problem solve and experiencing and learning about natural consequences at age 8, is important preparation for the teenage years, when natural consequences can be something much more dangerous than a missed lunch.

Natural Consequences Require:

  • An understanding of the child’s development
  • A context in which no real or long-term harm can come to the child
  • Natural Consequences cannot be used when:

oThe situation is too dangerous

oThe Natural Consequence is too distant for the child to make the connection (lack of brushing and the cavity, for instance, are too distant)

oThe Natural Consequence is too abstract for the child to comprehend (“How can I trust you now?” is too abstract)

Logical Consequences

Create consequences logically connected to the child’s choices. For instance, a logical consequence of a demand such as, “get me a snack,” is no snack until the request is made more respectfully. Remember, it is never bad to remind a child how to be successful. The logical consequence for the older child who said she would do her chores, but by bedtime has not, can be to set a specific time for chores. The consequence of her misuse of time is that she now has less control over her time. Logical consequences help children become aware of the impact of their behavior and to think about their choices at the time they make the choice. Whenever possible, ask children (age 3 and above) what they think the logical consequence might be.

Logical Consequences Require:

  • An understanding of the child’s development—can the child understand choice, does he have some impulse control?
  • To be effective Logical Consequences must:

o   Be related to the event

o   Be clear

o   Allow choice

o   Follow directly after the event

We might have a vacuum, but we don’t live in one

Families exist within a wider community and even wider society. In the past, parenting advice and opinion was something individual parents would seek out—the province of books and private conversation. Today, parenting is a national conversation. On the one hand: well, it’s about time! The art of parenting is fascinating and wonderfully complex, and nurturing the next generation couldn’t be a more essential topic for society as a whole. On the other hand, this new attention can also bring unwanted pressure, stress and influence on those actually engaged in the complicated business of childrearing. The talk gets loudest around the sensational and the controversial, be it, “Tiger,” “French” or “Calorie-Restricting” Mom. And, unfortunately, all this controversy can seep into our life with our children—without us even knowing it!

  • Your child takes a spill at the mall, you hold yourself back from giving comfort, lest eyes around you scream: “Helicopter parent!”
  • Your family’s personal decision about piano lessons for your oldest is suddenly muddied by other voices in your head—“Don’t! You’re overscheduling her;” “Do it, she needs the discipline or she’ll become one of those ENTITLED kids.”
  • A dust-up on the playground gets out of hand, your child asks for help. Your instincts tell you that this spat needs a bit of guidance but out of the ether words form in your head: “These kids have got to learn to fight their own battles.” So instead you say, “Figure it out.”

The good news is, unlike temperament and developmental stage, we DO have control over outside influence, but only if we take a moment to recognize it and evaluate it against our own values and traditions. To stop and find that moment can feel like a luxury. Likewise, it may not be easy to find the time to think about discipline—what you want it to be and what you want it to feel like for your child or children—and then find even more time to discuss it with any parenting partners. But, the pay-off in time, ease, mental energy and family well-being is totally worth it.

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