While some desperate parents resort to yelling or spanking to control their children's unruly behavior, Barbara Unell and Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., authors of "Discipline without Shouting or Spanking," say that these forms of discipline can reinforce the kind of behavior parents seek to correct. Shouting or smacking reflects a lack of control and teaches children that aggression is an appropriate means of expressing frustration. Parents should remember that discipline isn't to merely punish but to teach children appropriate behavior. Effective discipline begins with acting in a manner consistent with the values you want to impart.
Set clear rules. Give your child a fair opportunity to follow your rules by stating the rules clearly and making sure that your child understands them. Be sure to explain to your child why these rules are important. You may find that you have less need for discipline when your child understands why certain behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate.
Inform child of consequences of misbehavior. Your child also should understand what happens if he breaks your rules. This way, he will learn that his choices and actions bring consequences. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) notes that consequences should be reasonable and relate to the rule that is broken. For example, if the rule is "no television before finishing your homework," the consequence for an infraction might be a 1-day suspension of television privileges. You should calmly and clearly state the consequences for misbehavior before an infraction occurs. The AACAP suggests that when children are old enough, you can decide on the consequences for inappropriate behavior -- or rewards for good behavior -- together.
Enforce consequences immediately. When a child doesn't follow the rules, you should enforce the consequences immediately. If there is too much of a lag time between the act and the consequence, children will fail to associate the consequence with the misbehavior. Moreover, if you wait to execute the consequences, you might be more likely to lose your temper and be tempted to yell and spank if the infraction occurs a second time.
Be consistent. Once you set these rules and consequences, be consistent in enforcing them. Don't be swayed by crying or pleading on the child's part when an infraction occurs. Inconsistent behavior on your part will simply confuse the child or she won't take the rules seriously. When she has no doubt that you will enforce the consequences, she will be more likely to follow the rules.
Praise good behavior. Kids should be praised, thanked or otherwise encouraged for good behavior. Unell and Wyckoff say that you should praise the child's behavior more than the child himself. For example, you might say, "That's really wonderful that you finished your homework before turning on the television. Good job." This type of encouragement is a positive way of restating the rule and reminding children of your expectations for them.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Discipline
- Discipline without Shouting or Spanking; Barbara Unell and Jerry Wyckoff; 1991
- Healthy Place: Three Stage Discipline Plan