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Discipline your children before it's too late

  • Published Oct 12, 2001
Discipline your children <I>before</I> it's too late
Most parents think about discipline only after the negative behavior starts in their children. Then it is too late. If you expect to change behaviors, you need to work on them well in advance of the crisis state. Discipline is merely a tool to help children make wise choices. It has a forward purpose in training them to be the best they can be.

How to discipline your children:

  • Make sure your children are listening when you speak. Make eye contact and minimize distractions. Have them repeat your command to make sure they have fully understood.

  • Speak clearly and firmly. Let your child know that you are serious. Don't pose your commands as questions or favors.

  • Don't speak in a threatening or militant tone. While you are trying to be firm, don't become a drill sergeant. Remember, you are talking with your children.

  • Cut down on unnecessary commands. Make sure that what you ask of your child is truly necessary. This will help keep your child from feeling overwhelmed and makes it easier to measure compliance.

  • Be as matter-of-fact as possible. Keep your cool and give negative consequences in a simple, calm, and factual manner. This helps reduce emotional tension and keeps the interchanges short and to the point.

  • Use "choosing" language. Tommy, you can choose to listen, or you can choose a Time-Out. If Tommy doesn't listen, you say, OK, Tommy, you chose not to listen so you just chose a Time-Out. If you make this a regular habit, you will be teaching your child that he/she is responsible for his/her behavior. You will be helping him/her to learn that he/she is constantly making decisions and that wise decisions are always within his/her grasp.

  • Make sure the reason for discipline is clear. Make every discipline situation a learning situation. Help your child see the connections between inappropriate behavior and the resulting consequence. Time-Out is a consequence of Tommy's behavior, not your anger.

  • Teach your child how to avoid the consequences. You are trying to teach and encourage your child to make the right decisions. Good decisions do not have negative consequences.

  • Encourage better choices in the future. Remind your child that the same negative consequence does not have to happen again. Tomorrow is a new day when wise decisions can be made.

  • Practice positive behavior. You need to make sure that your child knows how to do the proper behavior that can replace the inappropriate behavior. Talk about what behaviors would be more appropriate the next time the situation arises.

  • Be consistent. Misbehavior must be addressed consistently if you want your children to learn the rules. You need to teach them that misbehavior virtually never pays off and that negative behaviors are consistently followed by an appropriate negative consequence.

From The Parent Lifesaver by Dr. Todd Cartmell. Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Mich. Copyright (c) 1998 by Todd Cartmell. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company.

Todd Cartmell, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is part of a group private practice in Wheaton, Ill., where he specializes in work with children and adolescents. He and his wife have two young children.