Effective Discipline and Keeping Your Cool: This month we continue with a Part II follow up to last month’s ASK ANYTHING, where I said when referring to not using spanking, “It would take another column to address what the better techniques are to use, and how to control one’s own temper in the moment, so perhaps I can write about that next month.”
It’s normal for parents to sometimes be at a loss about how to discipline their child. What they’ve tried doesn’t seem to work, or what used to work doesn’t work anymore. Sometimes a parent can become so frustrated and angry that they lose their temper and spank their child. Maybe they were spanked as a child so they view it as “normal,” or think it’s effective discipline.
For many years now, experts have generally agreed that spanking is more harmful than helpful to a child’s development in several ways. Spanking is physical punishment, and hurts a child’s self-esteem and shames them into believing that they’re “bad.” The focus is on the past so they don’t learn what to do differently next time. Physical punishment teaches them that they can’t control themselves so someone else has to, and it also teaches them to make decisions based on fear so they quickly learn to deceive and rebel. The good news is several discipline techniques have been found in research to be far more effective than spanking, and parents would rather discipline with love than hitting. Hitting one’s child happens because parents are at their wits end and/or erroneously believe it is effective so they should/must do it. Thankfully that’s not true!
Discipline builds self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of security. It tells children they’re worthy of respect and helps them develop respect for others. It teaches them about consequences and helps them develop a conscience so they make healthy and effective decisions in the future. It sends the message that they can control themselves and teaches them how to do it. It fits in perfectly with a few of our basic goals as parents: to raise kids with strong self-esteem, the ability to make good decisions, and skills to connect in healthy ways with others.
So when you feel your buttons being pressed, first calm yourself physiologically. Breathe deeply, from your belly, and slowly (at least a 4 second inhale/5 second exhale) without holding your breath. Ten breaths might help; a few minutes would be even better. This diaphragmatic breathing helps on a chemical level. Meanwhile, you want to be thinking rational thoughts about yourself and your child. Remember, they’re not little adults. Think of them as tiny, undisciplined scientists trying to figure out their world – social scientists, chemists, physicists… they’re constantly experimenting to see what happens. The bigger the reaction, the more powerful they feel and the more delighted they are! Throw in some compassion while you’re at it – after all, it’s not easy being a kid. You’re forced to do stuff you don’t want to do, and can’t do much of what you do want to do. If that seems like an adult reality – well, you’ve had much longer to accept this as the harsh reality of life. Part of your job is to help your child accept this.
So now you’re calm – what do you do instead of spank? Good, solid discipline involves a lot of positive, proactive behaviors such as planning ahead, focusing on the good stuff, and positively reinforcing behaviors you want to see. (Again, another whole column! ☺) Here we’ll just focus on what to do in the moment instead of spanking. First, avoid two huge parenting traps: getting emotional and talking too much. Next, ask yourself if you can allow natural consequences to be the teacher here instead of you. Not only is it a powerful learning tool, it gets you off the hook of being the bad guy. If she refuses to do her laundry she’ll wear dirty clothes to school. You don’t have to say or do anything. See the beauty of this?
If natural consequences aren’t available, safe, healthy, or fair, then choose some logical consequences beforehand and let your child know what to expect. Kids learn to trust when there’s consistency. Make sure the consequences make sense, are age-appropriate, proportionate to the crime, and something you can follow through with. Deliver the consequences in a timely manner. Kids live in the moment. It will feel unfair to them and petty to you if you’re administering consequences long after the offense has been resolved and everyone’s getting along, plus it is super hard for you as a parent to be consistent and follow through with your own consequences if they happen later. If your child left your tools out in the rain, they have to clean them instead of playing with their friend that afternoon. If the consequences aren’t working, you haven’t found your child’s currency yet, i.e., what is important to them.
Finally – attitude. Deliver the consequences with a kind and confident attitude. It sends the message that you are calm and in control, your decision is not negotiable, and that you love and respect your child. It also sends the message that you know what you’re doing which helps any child feel safe, even if they protest your methods.
For more information on staying calm and effective disciple, visit: http://www.123magic.com
If you need more information specific to your child and parent coaching, please call for an appointment with one of our psychologists.