One of the most controversial topics in parenting is discipline – everyone has their own opinion, on what it means to raise your children with respect. I’ve been a parent for nearly 14 years now and while I am, by no means, a licensed child psychologist, I do feel confident enough to call myself an “expert” in parenting.
My kids are happy, healthy, well-rounded and respectful individuals, they are doing well in school and socially. I attribute this to our discipline as a family. There are several definitions of discipline: Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement alternatively it is also, using punishment to correct disobedience.
My husband and I defer to the first definition – using good habits, a stable routine and clearly communicating boundaries and limitations to help our kids build character. If that falls short, punishment can correct undesirable behavior. So, first things first and let’s get this out-of-the-way, we do not believe in spanking or hitting our kids, it doesn’t feel right, it will demoralize them and in my opinion, makes us look like bullies as parents.
You can raise respectful, compassionate, ambitious children without the use of corporal punishment, here’s how:
- Mean what you say. In my home it’s all about the warning – “if you act up in this store/movie/school function/etc. you will be going to bed early, no TV, no dessert.” Once the warning is made it’s up to them to behave, act up and there will be no second warning. I meant what I said the first time. Be sure to define very clearly what “acting up” is so they can’t say “I didn’t know I was acting up.” Fair is fair after all.
- Don’t make empty threats. Like sharks to blood, children can smell weakness from a mile away. They know when you’re being wishy-washy and they will swoop in for the kill, as soon as they sense it. Kids push buttons and test limits so don’t make empty threats, if you tell them they will receive consequences for bad behavior then you better follow through. If you don’t you run the risk of ruining your kid for the rest of the world.
- Lead by example. If you want your children to lay off the snacks, then start eating veggies. If you want them to read more, then open a book. If you want them to listen then pay attention to what they have to say. Children very rarely listen but they surely pay attention to what you do and emulate you as they grow. The most important advice I give to any new parent is to do as you would like your kids to do and don’t expect them to do what you say.
- Be consistent. Kids thrive best when they know what to expect from their parents. We live by these rule, consistently. Doing so means my kids know what to expect whether they are behaving well or not. Consistency also builds trust and creates a safe environment for my kids to make mistakes, learn, and grow.
- Routine is key. My household is a predictable one. We eat at the same times every day, unless there is a special occasion or event to plan for. And family movie night is the same day every week. This type of routine keeps my family running like a well oiled machine. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for spontaneity or surprises. We aren’t that strict or boring but for the most part, a stable routine makes for a happy household and really well-behaved kids.
- The punishment should fit the crime. My kids still misbehave, they’re not perfect human beings. Sometimes they have bad days, it’s not easy being a kid. There are academic, peer, and societal pressures that can make life tough. Sometimes, though, like every other human being on the planet, our kids can be rebellious jerks. When this happens, you have to bring down the hammer (figurative, not literally). Just make sure the punishment fits the crime. For example, missing homework means a loss of TV privileges – if you don’t have time for homework, you don’t have time for TV. Arguing over the Xbox will get you banned for the day. We don’t use punishments to assert power or make an example, we use them to correct disobedience.
- Shame or demoralizing is never appropriate. Recently, I’ve noticed parents posting punishments for their kids on social media. I can’t get behind this. It’s not cool to shame your kids, their self-esteem is fragile and embarrassing them is demoralizing. Punishment isn’t meant to prove you’re better than your kid – punishment is meant to correct behavior for your child’s benefit. Don’t be a dick about it…if your daughter signs up for a social media account without your permission – take away the phone – don’t post a picture of her on her new account with a long caption about how disobedient she was and how everyone should know it. Shaming your kid will breed resentment and entice rebellion. The focus shouldn’t be on the punishment but rather the lesson behind it.
- Positive reinforcement really works. My eldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome and he struggled with the transition from elementary to middle school. Homework was missed and we struggled with how to correct it. Removing privileges didn’t seem to work, so we began to focus on the positives. When we reached out to his teachers and they informed us of even the slightest improvement we celebrated and he responded. Not every situation calls for correction to the child’s behavior, sometimes a situation calls for a correction to our behavior.
What are your rules for discipline? Do you agree with my rules, do you have more to add? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.