Discipline doesn’t have to be stressful. Discipline is meant to teach children to take responsibility, to make choices and to be accountable for those choices. As a matter of fact, the word discipline comes from the Latin root discere, which means to learn and from the Latin word disciples, which means pupil. So to be a disciplinarian, you need to be a teacher.
I believe that there’s never a need for physical punishment as that only teaches negative lessons such as it’s okay to hit people smaller than you and that violence solves problems. The word punishment comes from the Latin word punier, which means to cause pain. Hitting a child may immediately stop their behavior, but it doesn’t teach them anything worthwhile.
Through a strategy of positive discipline techniques, children will learn self-control, self-respect and to be responsible for the choices they make. In the parenting classes I teach, we talk about discipline as being preventive and future-oriented in addition to being a response to unacceptable behavior. As the disciplinarian you need to focus on what you want your child to do when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.
The first step toward achieving that is by creating appropriate consequences and making sure your child knows what those consequences are. For example, you want your child to put their toys away when they are done playing with them. Here’s an easy strategy to make that happen by employing a few simple techniques:
•Model the behavior you want. Have a designated place where the toys should go. You pick up the toy and place it in that specific place. Repeat this a few times over the next couple of days so your child can see the behavior you want from them. Then move on to guiding and supervising your child into putting the toy away just as you did.
Each time you do this exercise explain they have to put the toy away if they want to play with it again. The younger the child, the more patient you need to be. After a few days, it should be enough to ask the child to put the toy away.
If the child doesn’t put the toy away as asked, then don’t allow them to play with it the next time they ask. Explain to them that they did not put the toy away when they were asked so they can’t play with it right now. Be sure to make the time they can’t play with the toy appropriate. I suggest between one and two hours for very young children, two to four hours for elementary school aged children and one day or evening for older kids. Children need to learn that they can have another chance to get it right after having made a bad choice or mistake. When you allow them to have the toy again, remind them that they have to put it away in order to be able to play with it the next time.
•Use positive reinforcement when they put the toy away. This requires consistency on your part, especially for younger children. This can be anything from positive praise to rewards. I don’t recommend rewards be used often as we don’t want children to do things only because there is a treat when they do. That doesn’t teach them responsibility.
One good technique is to use what is important to your child as currency. For example, a co-worker I once had told me her three year old son loved McDonald’s Happy Meals. She saved a French fry box from the meal and used clothespins to represent the French fries. Each time her son put his toys away, she put a “French fry” in the box. Consequently, if he didn’t put the toys away she took a “French fry” out of the box in addition to not allowing him access to the toy the next time he wanted it.
He had to earn one French fry for each day in order to be able to have a Happy Meal on the weekend. She taught him to count the number of fries he needed to get that Happy Meal and he came to understand when he didn’t have enough fries. She provided the opportunity for him to earn back the fry by time the weekend came around by completing some other chore. She said that more often than not, he had enough fries to get his Happy Meal.
You can also use behavior charts with stickers to keep track. It is helpful and makes a bigger impact if children have a visual way to track their behavior so they can start thinking about how to earn those points back to get what they want. This helps children develop logical thinking as well as learning to make good choices.
•For older children you can also include what we call the This for That Rule. This rule reinforces the lesson that there is an expected order of behaviors and a logical way to earn privileges. For example, children have to finish their chores before they can play outside, or they have to finish their homework before they can watch television. In our example of putting the toys away, they can have what they want only after they put the toy away.
Using these methods takes the stress out of discipline. It puts the responsibility on the children and teaches them valuable lessons at the same time. Remember, discipline is more than just reacting to children’s negative behaviors.