By Deborah Serani, Psy.D.
Discipline comes from the word disciple, which, in Latin, means to teach. Parenting with discipline teaches children to feel good about themselves, develop self-control and become accountable for their actions. Punishment, on the other hand, focuses on what’s being done wrong instead of what’s being done right – and places the responsibility for behavioral management on the parent instead of encouraging the child to be responsible.
Here are 5 powerful tools every parent should know how to use. Take a look and see how you can incorporate them into your parenting repertoire.
1. Catch your child being good: Giving attention to bad behavior reinforces bad behavior. Resist nagging, reminding, commenting on what your child ISN’T doing. When you focus on good and desirable behavior, however small it might be, you reinforce that positive behavior. Adding the technique where you let others know about your child’s positive behaviors is called The Pony Express – and offers another round of positive reinforcement for your child to experience. You can use The Pony Express in person with others or on the phone. The idea here is for your child to hear you praising her to others. “You know, Jane worked all weekend on her project. All her hard work paid off because the teacher gave her an A.”
Avoid power plays with your child because Tug-of-War will give your rope burn.
3. Use positive direction. Telling your child what you want, instead of what you don’t want is called positive direction. “Hang your coat up” is different than “Don’t throw your coat on the floor.” Listen to how you’re communicating with your child. Change negative directions to positive ones. You’ll be amazed how differently your child will react. Your child will hear Hang- Coat-Up. Instead of Coat-On-Floor. Using positive direction is like the force in Star Wars. When you make use of it like Ben Kenobi, you direct others to do what you want.
4. Grounding is the technique of restricting freedom of movement, use of technology or social connection for a period of time from your child. Make sure, however, the time fits the crime. Making a time period too long for misbehavior can backfire. And never ground your child on a special occasion. Make sure your words are constructive and not demeaning. “I’m disappointed that you went over the text time limits on the phone bill. You need to get better tracking that. Think about that this weekend while you’re grounded from using your cell phone.” Remember, we want the discipline to teach your child what she needs to learn.
5. Understand the benefit of failure. It’s going to be hard, but allowing your child to fail will make him a success. Failure brings discomfort, regret, fear and disappointment – and these can be tremendous tools to teach your child how to self-regulate. Parents often come from a place of good intentions when they micromanage their child’s life, but doing so often prevents children from learning the necessary coping skills to function independently. Instead of nagging about bedtime, allow your child to learn the lesson of being tired the next day. Worried about the upcoming test and your child hasn’t cracked the book open? Let the shame of a poor grade do the talking, not you. Don’t rub the failure in with a snarky comment or an “I told you so.” The point here is not to make you the focus of your child’s anger. Instead, we want him to be angry at his own failure.
– Deborah Serani, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist in practice twenty five years. An award-winning author, her newest book “Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers” comes out in September 2013.