HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline


What's your discipline style?

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By Evonne Lack

Five basic discipline philosophies

Take a look at these categories of discipline approaches and see what appeals to you:

1. Boundary-based discipline: Children need boundaries to feel safe. If they don't know where the boundaries are, they'll "test" until they find them. "What happens if I throw my spoon?" a toddler wonders, clanging his spoon noisily onto the floor. "Hmm ... not much of a reaction. How about if I throw my entire plate?" An older child might test limits by leaving her colored pencils in a glorious mess on the rug, or by taking several decades to get ready in the mornings.

Clearly communicate your boundaries (for example, "Please put my things back in my purse when you're done looking at them"). If this doesn't do the trick, follow through with a consequence. Try to make the consequence a logical fit for the behavior. For example, if your child leaves your wallet, hairbrush, and car keys strewn around the living room floor, she loses purse-inspection privileges for a while.

Use "natural consequences," too. For example, if your child forgets his lunch box, don't rush it to school. Instead, let him experience the consequences.

Provide "limited choices" to give your child some wiggle room. Suppose your 5-year-old is loudly banging on her electronic toy piano, with the volume on maximum. Through your migraine, you respectfully ask her to turn it down. She ignores you. Offer a choice: "You can either turn the volume down now, or I'll put the piano away until tomorrow." This puts the responsibility in her hands.

2. Gentle discipline: A child can't learn much about behavior when she's screaming and crying. She (and you) can benefit greatly from daily preventive techniques — strategies that reduce opportunities for misbehavior.

For example, create routines so that your child feels grounded. Offer choices to give her a sense of control, such as, "Would you like to wear the red pajamas or the blue?" Give warnings before transitions, as in, "We need to leave the playground in five minutes."

Frame your requests positively. For example, say, "Please use your big girl voice," instead of, "Don't whine." When possible, use "when, then" statements instead of outright no's, as in, "When we're done with dinner, then we can go outside."

When misbehavior occurs, turn to diffusion. First see if there's an underlying problem, such as tiredness, boredom, or hunger. Once you address this need, the misbehavior may magically disappear.

If not, turn to what author Elizabeth Pantley calls a "laundry bag" of tricks. This is a large collection, including silly games, distraction, redirection, validation, and self-soothing. You can pull a trick out of your hat — er, laundry bag — whenever it's time to derail your child from the misbehavior train.

For example, if he refuses to take a bath, try making the washcloth "talk" to him in a playful voice. If this doesn't work, you can try something else, such as validation and redirection ("It's hard when you have to do something you don't want to do. How about if we see how quickly we can get it done? I'll get a clock.")

Comments from readers

"--negative words like "no" and "don't." I thought it would be OK to say NO sometimes to my children. The children need to learn how to say NO as well. (example...NO to DRUGS). "
"These stratagies work wonderfully. One other that i would like to see added is when children act up in public. They need to be taught that thier behavior affects others. I explain to my children that if they are too loud at a restaurant than they could ruin the meal for the people next to us and they dont deserve that. I also point out how proud i am of them when we see other kids misbehave. I let them know how helpful it is to me that they do not do that, and it shows other people how they are good kids and i am a good mommy. They appreciate the praise and dont want other people to feel bad so they like to behave and share thier smile with others instead of their tantrums. I have a 7 and 9 year old and have never had an issue with them in a public place due to this philosophy. "
"This has been very helpful, its very frustating trying to discipline but this has giving me better idea of what to do. The reward with stars for a 3 and 5 year old are really paying off. Thanks"