Below are a few principles I have gleaned from wise people and from the school of hard knocks. This list is certainly not exhaustive. Do you know some important principles for effective disciplining? Please join the discussion and share your wisdom in the comments below!
When my oldest child was a preschooler, she often threw tantrums, and I usually felt angry with her for wasting time—“We could be on our way to the beach! Instead you’re lying on the floor screaming!” One day, though, I handled her tantrum better than usual, and as I helped her pick up the toys she’d angrily thrown on the floor, I realized that I was demonstrating patience. I was also giving her a hands-on lesson about responsibility (she had to pick up the toys because she threw them). In that moment I discovered that if I had the right attitude, disciplining could actually be pleasant! All children need to be disciplined, so we should view it not as a disruption but as a teaching opportunity. Keep it positive. Don’t let it become punitive.
The trick to maintaining the right attitude is to think ahead. Children need clear expectations, and they need adults who enforce those expectations in a timely way. Don’t be tolerant when your child is annoying you, especially when he’s testing the limits. Tolerance is for dealing with things that are not your business; your child’s behavior is your business. Deal with it directly, firmly, calmly, before you are ready to blow your top. Once you have become exasperated, your ability to discipline in a deliberate way is greatly diminished.
An essential principle for disciplining effectively is to be fair. When you are fair, you earn your children’s emotional trust. If you have more than one child, being fair becomes even more important and more difficult. Almost invariably, one child in the family is more challenging than the others. Even though parents normally love their children so deeply that it’s impossible to choose a favorite, it’s nevertheless easy to peg children’s personalities and unconsciously treat one more leniently than the others. Again, thinking ahead is important. If your household has clear rules with clear consequences, then you have a ready answer for the child who complains of favoritism: “We all follow the same rules.”
Discipline is minor, training is major
Disciplining to parenting is like weeding to gardening; it’s necessary, but not as necessary as planting. Proactively plant values in your children—kindness, honesty, work ethic—through both word and deed. When you see these values sprouting in your children, talk about it. Praise them. Express your faith in them. Help them form a positive identity.
Scientists have found nothing in the universe more powerful or mysterious than the human mind. They have yet to discover a limit to the brain’s potential. Every child is different. Every child is always changing. Is it any wonder that parenthood is often perplexing? The good news is you too have a powerful, limitless brain! Put it to work. Brainstorm and experiment with disciplining techniques custom-designed by the one who loves your child most.