Discipline: Do’s and Don’ts

A “disciple” is a student, and “discipline” is “teaching”–not “punishment.”  Doing it properly is straightforward, but hard.  Implementing effective methods vary with a child’s age, development, and temperament.  Support for the statement “a good hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child” has dropped from 84% in 1986 to below 70% in 2012, and <50% of parents <36 years report EVER having spanked their child.

This is a positive trend.    The American Academy of Pediatrics officially opposes all forms of corporal punishment(CP)–parents should NEVER hit, slap, threaten, insult, humiliate, or shame their child.  There is sound reason for this.  A 2016 study found no evidence of long term benefit to the child from CP and only one study from 1981 could demonstrate any short term advantage.  A 1998-2000 study of >5000 children showed increased aggressiveness among 3 year olds subjected to CP with increased externalized behaviors and lower vocabulary scores by 9–they acted out more and communicated less.  Other studies associate depression in either parent with more negative appraisals and increased frequency of CP.  And there were these increased risks:

  • physical injury
  • more negative parent/child interactions
  • increased–not decreased–levels of defiance
  • mental health and learning disorders
  • child abuse
  • conduct problems in adolescence
  • adverse events(suicide, substance abuse) in adults

There were even biologic consequences–decreased brain volume(both white and gray matter) as well as higher cortisol levels (toxic stress hormones).

So what does work? Basic principles for younger children, but with applicability across the age spectrum include:

  1. “Show and tell”–explain “good” behaviors.  Note that this should be done at a “calm time”–when parent and child’s tempers are under control–NOT when the offense has just occurred and everybody is upset.
  2. Consequences should be clear, relevant, and explained at the same time and in the same way–calmly, when things are under control.  Emphasize the situation and not the child (“if things go well/badly”–NOT “if you are good/bad”)
  3. Appropriate intervention–“the punishment should fit the crime”(so to speak).  Don’t overdo.  If the child breaks something they must make restitution–simple. The intervention should have a beginning, middle, and END. Adjust attitude and MOVE ON.
  4. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Threats are counterproductive, especially when not fulfilled.  “If you don’t hurry we aren’t going to Grandma for Christmas.” STUPID–you ARE going to Grandma’s, of course.  So you cannot back up that statement.  You just lost the battle, and the war. The kid now KNOWS he can call your bluff. And threatening the same thing repeatedly without desired result is similarly foolish–if that intervention did not produce success before, time to think of a new strategy, not just repeating the same thing LOUDER.
  5. Never lose an argument: don’t start something you cannot finish. Example–you cannot make her eat, so don’t endlessly argue over it.  But she cannot make you give her dessert, so when she melts down just ignore her, saying “tomorrow if you eat a good dinner you can have dessert.”
  6. Be prepared–many adverse behaviors are predictable.  You often know when/where they will misbehave.  Yelling and hitting is usually a tantrum on the parent’s part. Know what you are going to do when it happens, explain it (as above) and then calmly implement it when necessary. This is CONTROL.
  7. Ignore tantrums–NEVER try and”get them out of it.”  You cannot–they are unreachable then.  Put the child in a safe place(playpen, bedroom)–“when you calm down we will talk.” Let it blow over.  Then deal with the problem.
  8.  Nobody is perfect about discipline, and everyone will do better and worse at times.  It’s a daily process. So do your best, every day.

Finally–perspective, and humility.  They are children; misbehavior happens. They’ll NEVER be as perfect as we were back then, right? Just ask Grandma!

Thanks for following.

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