Disciplining children can be a parent’s worst nightmare. No one enjoys having to tell children that they are acting inappropriately but on occasion it does need to be done. Disciplining children, however, is an integral part of teaching children about our cultural norms. Discipline is distinct from punishment in that all discipline strives to show children what is considered appropriate, and why this is the case. Through discipline children learn personal responsibility, societal norms and how to function healthfully and happily in their society.
Warn Children before DiscipliningIf children are acting inappropriately they need to be alerted to this fact and given the opportunity to correct their behaviour before they are disciplined. Many children, due to their ages, developmental stages or even simply the activities in which they are engaged, will not be aware that they are misbehaving. Other children may engage in behaviours that are inappropriate because they want to test rules or boundaries, attract attention or simply find out what the consequences will be. Whatever the reason, parents should alert their children to the behaviour before disciplining them. Even a statement as simple as “It’s not nice to steal other children’s toys” teaches little ones that this is not acceptable behaviour.
Set a Good ExampleOf course, one warning is not always sufficient to teach children right from wrong. Setting a good example is something that every parent must do, particularly if children are having trouble with a certain skill or behaviour. For example, children who are being taught not to snack between meals will receive mixed messages if every time they turn around a parent has a packet of crisps in his/her hands. Avoid this confusion by practicing what you preach and your entire family will reap the rewards.
Find Teachable Moments“Teachable moments” is a relatively modern phrase that describes opportunities in everyday life that can be used to teach children important lessons. Almost always, the times that children must be disciplined lend themselves as teachable moments. When a child is throwing DVDs, for example, the opportunity is there for a parent to teach how to properly care for one’s possessions. Expecting such care and consideration for possessions in the future then reinforces these expected behaviours and shows children the cultural norm.
Praise Children for their Appropriate BehavioursDisciplining children does not need to be a purely negative experience. Instead, parents must remember to praise their children when they do act appropriately. Not only will the children feel as though they have learned a lesson and master appropriate skills, but they will enjoy the positive attention. Telling children how nicely they share, how well they put away their toys or how generous it was of them to spend their time making a get well card will certainly make them more inclined to repeat these behaviours in the future. Praising children for their appropriate behaviours also makes the home a more positive environment, one from which every family member will benefit.
Disciplining children teaches them how to behave appropriately. Giving children warnings about their behaviour, modelling appropriate behaviours, looking for teachable moments and praising children for appropriate behaviours are all ways that parents can discipline children and help them be the best that they can be.