How can something that sounds so reasonable, like being consistent in the way we discipline our kids and staying relatively calm, be such an immense and continuous undertaking? Believe it of not, having “disciplined children” is not an unobtainable goal. However, it seems a pretty far-fetched idea when your 3-year-old has just thrown herself on the floor at the supermarket and is exercising her constitutional right of free speech in front of half the community.
Apart from the primary role of keeping our children safe and free from danger, discipline teaches children right from wrong and how to respect themselves and the rights of others. We all know that applying reasonable rules of discipline does not guarantee good behavior, but a consistent approach and clear ground rules help kids understand the consequences of inappropriate behavior.
“Although we all want well-behaved children, I think the most important part of discipline is for mom and dad to keep peaceful,” says Dr. David Saltzman. “Figuring out what your ground rules are is pretty easy – keeping calm while enforcing them takes much greater care, patience and practice.”
According to Dr. Barton D. Schmitt, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, children need external controls after 6 months of age, or by the time they learn to crawl. They don’t start to developinternal controls (self-discipline) until age 3 or 4. Dr. Schmitt suggests the following discipline techniques are most effective when used at the appropriate ages, as follows:
- Birth to 6 months – No discipline necessary.
- 6 months to 3 years – Structuring the home environment, distracting, ignoring, verbal and non-verbal disapproval, physically moving or escorting the child from the scene and temporary time-out are appropriate.
- 3 to 5 years – Preceding techniques (especially temporary time-out) plus natural consequences (dressing in a swimsuit in the middle of winter feels cold after awhile), restricting places where the child can misbehave, logical consequences are in order (if your child draws on the wall, the crayons are taken away).
- 5 years to adolescence – Preceding techniques plus delay of privileges, “I” messages and negotiation in family conferences. (“I” messages tell your child how you feel, “I” am upset when you do that.”) Structuring the environment and distracting can be discontinued.
- Adolescence – Use logical consequences, “I” messages and family conferences about house rules. Time-out and manual guidance should be discontinued.
“There are many positive aspects of parenting. Discipline can be one of them,” adds Dr. Susan Sheinkop. “I believe that children should understand that moms and dads have feelings, too. I also feel strongly that parents take time for themselves.”
Here are some other ideas the doctors at Lake Shore Pediatrics suggest with regard to discipline:
1) Set the rules and then apply them consistently. Make sure the rules are fair and attainable. Some behavior is just part of normal development like thumbsucking and toilet training accidents. For younger children, give top priority to two or three rules such as not running into the street, behavior that harms others, or work on annoying behaviors like whining, tantrums, etc. For older kids, write rules down and post them.
2) Develop discipline techniques. Not every technique works for every child and those techniques that work most of the time won’t work all of the time. Distracting misbehavior, ignoring harmless misbehavior, verbal and nonverbal disapproval, time-out, natural and logical consequences, privilege delay and family conferences are techniques that work when applied with consistency and control.
3) Avoid negative discipline. Yelling and physical punishment teach that shouting matches and aggression are acceptable modes of behavior.
4) Apply consequences in a controlled way. Mean what you say and direct punishment against the misbehavior, not the child. Ignore your child’s arguments while you are correcting him or her, and make the punishment brief – toys out of circulation for o more than a day or two, time-out limited to one minute per year of the child’s age.
5) Follow consequences with love and trust. Welcome your child back into the family circle and avoid comments on the misbehavior and don’t ask for apologies.
If your child is having behavior problems at school, seems depressed, or is behaving in a way that may be dangerous to himself, please don’t hesitate to call our office.
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