The Art of Discipline
by Beth DeFrancis

No two parents set limits in the same fashion, and no two kids are cast from the same mold. The "right" way to discipline is the way that works well for you and your child. While a quiet "time out" may work well with one child, another might simply refuse to sit in the chair or go to the designated room. When deciding on disciplinary approaches, keep in mind the child's age and temperament, and be willing to modify your technique to fit the circumstances.

Some Terms, Tools, and Techniques of Communication. Words are powerful tools, but keep in mind that yelling, shouting, screaming, ranting, and raving are counterproductive. Reasoning with the child, reaching compromises, and offering (making) choices are examples of positive communication techniques. "Consequences." A way of either increasing good behavior or decreasing inappropriate behavior (frequently used the latter way as a disciplinary measure). Parents using this approach might calmly explain to their child (before calamity strikes) that there will be consequences if inappropriate behavior (unwillingness to cooperate, for example) persists. Ideally, parents then follow through with a "consequence" related to the child's action (for example, if the child keeps taking apart his baby sister's "busy box" with a toy screwdriver, a parent might explain that they are taking the tool away for a specified period of time). Some parents teach their children the "logical consequences" of their actions (for example, they ask their child (repeatedly) to put her bike away. She never does, and the chain eventually rusts (or someone steals the bike).

Developmental Techniques. Understanding how your child's behavior changes with the passing of time-- and what disciplinary approaches are the most effective at different ages and stages of development.

Distraction. Steer attention away from negative activity (such as banging on a breakable glass with a metal spoon ) to something more acceptable (like banging on a metal pot with a wooden spoon).

Extinction. A disciplinary technique whereby parents systematically ignore their child when he breaks a rule. Used primarily for annoying behavior (like whining), rather than dangerous or destructive behavior ( Dare to Discipline and Caring for Your Baby and Child: Birth to Age 5 discusses this technique).

Holding Time. Using this technique, parents hold their child, firmly, until his emotions are discharged. Parents accept the feelings the child expresses, whatever they may be, and continue until everyone is feeling better.

Modeling Behavior. Demonstrating behavior you want your child to learn. By behaving in a certain fashion, parents make it clear that they value such behavior. ( A Good Enough Parent discusses the importance of modeling behavior.)

Punishment. Many child-rearing experts distinguish between discipline and punishment and believe that the latter should be avoided. Here are a few wise words on the topic, written by a child development specialist: Is discipline really about telling children what to do and punishing them when they don't do it? To me, it is, rather, about helping children grow into people who will one day do as they should and behave as they ought when there's nobody around to tell, supervise, or punish them. [From "Instead of Spanking," by Penelope Leach, Parenting magazine (December/January 1992)]

Rewards. Positive reinforcement. Appropriate and effective in certain situations, but proceed with caution. Keep the child's age in mind when offering "incentives" for good behavior; make sure the reward more or less matches the child's performance; and remember that rewards don't have to be material-- and shouldn't be eatable (linking good behavior to tasty treats can contribute to life-long eating problems). Remember, too, that a job well done is often rewarding enough. Hugs and kisses from proud parents are icing on the cake.

Structure the Environment. Make your home child-friendly by keeping dangerous or valuable objects out of your child's reach. Baby-proof, so you don't find yourself saying "no" too often, thereby allowing your child to explore freely-- and learn in the process.

Time-Out. The child is asked to sit in a chair, go to her room, or otherwise be isolated for a specified period of time. A popular disciplinary measure, although some child-care experts feel it is emotionally harmful since it requires the temporary withholding of love and attention. Advocates of the time-out approach see it as a gentle alternative to physical punishment. (The Time-Out Solution explains how this technique works. For those interested in the opposing view, see "The Disadvantage of Time-Out," by Aletha Solter, in Mothering magazine (Fall 1992).

Withholding Privileges. A common approach with school-aged children. Most effective when the privilege being withheld is related to the child's behavior. A word of caution: If you opt for this technique, keep in mind that the withholding of a privilege (like television) can make it seem even more appealing in the child's mind.

Family Planet

Copyright 1994, Beth DeFrancis

Copyright 1995 Starwave Corporation. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.