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Parents, Kids, and Discipline

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How can you provide discipline to your child so that he or she can function well at home and in public? Every parent wants their children to be happy, respectful, respected by others, and able to find their place in the world as well-behaved adults. Nobody wants to be accused of raising a spoiled brat.
But sometimes it seems that these goals are miles away from your child's current behavior. Read on for barriers to good behavior, effective discipline techniques, and when to get help for dangerous behavior patterns.
What Is Discipline?

Discipline is the process of teaching your child what type of behavior is acceptable and what type is not acceptable. In other words, discipline teaches a child to follow rules. Discipline may involve both punishment, such as a time out, and, more importantly, rewards. It sounds so straightforward, yet every parent becomes frustrated at one time or another with issues surrounding children and discipline.
Barriers to Good Behavior
Parents run up against several barriers when trying to teach good behavior to their children. How many of these have you experienced?
  • Children who are disrespectful and don't listen: "I must have told you a thousand times!"
  • Children who do listen, but defy or deliberately disobey your request for good behavior.
Accept the Challenge of Establishing Discipline

Your responsibility as a parent is to help your child become self-reliant, respectful, and self-controlled. Relatives, schools, churches, therapists, health care professionals, and others can help. But the primary responsibility for discipline rests with parents.
How do you proceed with this challenge? Take a look at your current parenting style and how you use discipline. The American Mental Health Association describes three styles of parenting:
An authoritarian parent has clear expectations and consequences, but shows little affection toward her or her child. The parent may say things like, "because I'm the Mommy, that's why." This is a less effective form of parenting.
A permissive parent shows lots of affection toward her child but provides little discipline. This is a less effective form of parenting.
Choosing Discipline Techniques
The discipline techniques you choose may depend on the type of inappropriate behavior your child displays, your child's age, your child's temperament, and your parenting style. The following techniques are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the National Mental Health Association:
Reward good behavior
Acknowledging good behavior is the best way to encourage your child to continue it. In other words, "Catch him being good." Compliment your child when he or she shows the behavior you've been seeking.
Natural consequences
Your child does something wrong, and you let the child experience the result of that behavior. There's no need for you to "lecture." The child can't blame you for what happened. For example, if a child deliberately breaks a toy, he or she no longer has that toy to play with.
Natural consequences can work well when children don't seem to "hear" your warnings about the potential outcome of their behavior. Be sure, however, that any consequence they might experience isn't dangerous.
Logical consequences
This technique is similar to natural consequences but involves describing to your child what the consequences will be for unacceptable behavior. The consequence is directly linked to the behavior. For example, you tell your child that if he doesn't pick up her toys, then those toys will be removed for a week.
Taking away privileges
Sometimes there isn't a logical or natural consequence for a bad behavior -- or you don't have time to think it through. In this case, the consequence for unacceptable behavior may be taking away a privilege. For example, if a middle schooler doesn't complete her homework on time, you may choose to take away television privileges for the evening. This discipline technique works best if the privilege is:
  • Related in some way to the behavior
  • Something the child values
  • Taken away as soon as possible after the inappropriate behavior (especially for young children)
Time outs
Time outs work if you know exactly what the child did wrong or if you need a break from the child's behavior. Be sure you have a time-out location established ahead of time. It should be a quiet, boring place -- probably not the bedroom (where the child can play) or a dangerous place like a bathroom. This discipline technique can work with children when the child is old enough to understand the purpose of a time out -- usually around age 2 and older, with about a minute of time out for each year of age. Time outs often work best with younger kids for whom the separation from the parent is truly seen as a deprivation.
What about corporal punishment and spanking?
Corporal (physical) punishment, such as spanking, isn't recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics or mental health associations. Why? Primarily because nonphysical discipline techniques work better with fewer negative consequences. According to the AAP, spanking may result in the following problems:
  • Spanking may make children more aggressive
  • Spanking can become more violent and harm a child
  • Spanking may cause children to think that it's OK to physically hurt someone you love
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