Don’t read this section on the subject of “Discipline” until you’ve read “Warmth and Structure.”
Who’s in Charge
You are in charge. You already hold the power as the parent and as the adult. Don’t give it away. Children want you to be in control. It makes them anxious when you’re not the one in control.
- You have already set limits and rules (see warmth and structure section).
- You can also plan consequences before problems arise so that in a heated moment, you can follow through calmly and consistently.
- You can avoid some misbehavior ahead of time by making sure everyone has enough sleep and the household isn’t stressed.
- If misbehavior often looks like a power struggle, give them some independence, choices, and responsibilities when everything is calm.
- If misbehavior often looks like they want attention, try doing chores together or having fun together when things are calm. Give them positive attention so they don’t seek negative attention.
Is it Actually Misbehavior?
- Sometimes you’re annoyed but it’s not actually misbehavior.
- Your child is not exactly like you - they may be different from you in temperament, personality, and areas of strengths and weaknesses. Different is not necessarily wrong.
- Some things can be solved with a conversation. Why are they doing it? What were they trying to accomplish? Be calm and listen. Notice their feelings. You may be able to avoid a big misunderstanding, or you may be able to help them do things a different way.
- Whose problem is it? Do you really need to get involved? Let children problem-solve on their own when possible.
When Your Child Misbehaves
- Discipline is about helping your child learn self-control.
- For that, you need to have self-control yourself.
- PAUSE! Take a moment between stimulus and reaction.
- Don’t hit or scream.
- Decide how important the problem is.
- Follow through with consequences.
- Watch your tone of voice and body language - keep it calm and keep the authority.
- Use few words (you can talk it out more when everyone is calm if you need).
- Don’t fight or argue, and don’t get caught up in trying to get in the last word.
- For mildly annoying behaviors, just ignore it: save your attention for when they’re being good.
- Never threaten a consequence unless you’re prepared to follow through.
- Give consequences with love and empathy: “I’m sorry you chose to …. That’s too bad… now you’ll have to ….”
- Consequences should fit the misbehavior and be firm and consistent.
- Rules should be the same, no matter what mood you’re in.
- Consequences should be immediate with younger children.
- Older children can wait for consequences, they can even wait to find out what it will be.
- Sometimes natural consequences are best: if you don’t eat you’ll be hungry, if you forget your coat you’ll be cold, if you make a mess you must clean it up. Don’t ruin the natural consequence by making a second meal, bringing them their coat, or cleaning up their mess for them.
- Consequences to try: quiet time, time out, take away screen time, earlier bedtime, take them away from the situation, give them a chance to back up and do it or say it nicely, no sweets, no playdate, extra chores, written apology.
You can learn more about discipline in STEP classes
Read here for more discipline strategies and tips for different age levels: https://healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Disciplining-Your-Child.aspx