Disciplining Your Child
How discipline ultimately creates a happier, healthier child
As a parent, one of your jobs is to teach your child to respect others, obey authority, be kind and share. In other words, to exhibit good behavior. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we feel strongly that appropriate discipline, along with praise, is an important way to help your child develop into a responsible, well-adjusted adult.
Successful discipline strategies
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, after years of helping our parents work through the ups and downs of disciplining their children, we’ve come up with the following strategies to make life more pleasant for everyone:
When your child is not listening
1) Consequences. There are times when you must let your child experience what happens when he/she misbehaves (as long as it does not place your child in danger). For example, if your child keeps dropping his/her cookies on purpose, soon there will be no more cookies left to eat. If he/she throws and breaks a toy, he/she will not be able to play with it any longer. The goal is for your child to learn not to drop the cookies and to play carefully with toys.
Similarly, there are times when you will need to step in and create a consequence. For example, telling your child that if he/she does not pick up the toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. When you use this method, it is important that you mean what you say and stick by it. Be prepared to follow through right away, in a firm but calm way.
2) Withholding privileges. This involves telling your child that if he/she does not cooperate, he/she will have to give something up that’s enjoyable (playing on the swings, favorite TV show). When you use this technique:
- Choose something to take away that your child values that is related to the misbehavior
- Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal
- Follow through on your promise
For children younger than 6 or 7, withholding privileges works best if done right away. For example, if your child misbehaves in the morning, do not tell him/her that he/she can’t watch TV that evening. There is too much time in between to connect the behavior with the consequence.
This is a technique that works well when a specific rule has been broken. It is best for children from 2-5 but can be used throughout childhood.
1) Establish the rules ahead of time. Determine which 2 or 3 behaviors will cause you to impose time-out and explain this to your child.
2) Start the time-out. Give your child one warning (unless it is aggression). If the behavior happens again, send him/her to the time-out spot right away. Explain to your child what he/she did wrong in as few words and with as little emotion as possible. Do not respond to pleas, promises, questions, excuses or outbursts.
3) Set a time limit. We’ve found that it works well to set a timer so that your child knows when the time-out is over. A rule of thumb is 1 minute of time-out for every year of your child’s age. With older children, it’s productive to tell them they can come out of time-out when they’ve thought through their behavior and are ready to apologize and behave differently.
4) Resume activity. When the time-out is up, allow your child to return to play. This is also an important time to remind your child that you love him/her, and that the discipline of the behavior is separate from your ongoing love.
Ways to make discipline more effective
Even though some days it seems impossible to get your child to exhibit acceptable behavior, here are some ways to avoid unnecessary conflict.
1) Be aware of what your child can and cannot do. Children develop at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses. When your child misbehaves, it may be that he/she simply cannot do what you are asking, does not understand or is hungry or overtired.
2) Don’t give in or be wishy-washy. Once you make a rule or promise, stick to it. If your child throws a temper tantrum because he/she can’t have a piece of candy and you give it to him/her so the tantrum will stop, your child will quickly learn that this is a way to get what he/she wants. Do not encourage bad behavior by giving in.
4) Be consistent. Try to make sure that your rules stay the same, day in and day out. Children find frequent changes confusing and they may push the limits just to find out where the limits are.
5) Pay attention to your child’s feelings. Maybe your child is feeling sad that the playdate is over and his/her friend is leaving. However, the toys still need to be picked up. Watch for times when misbehavior has a pattern, for example, if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this rather than just imposing consequences for the behavior.
6) Learn from your mistakes. If you mishandle a situation, think about what you could have done differently and try to do it the next time. If you feel you have made a substantial mistake, cool down, apologize to your child and explain how you will handle the situation better in the future — and keep your promise. This gives your child a good model of how to recover from mistakes.
Why spanking is not the answer
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we do not recommend spanking, for many reasons. Spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re angry or want to maintain control, even with those you love. Children are unlikely to see the difference between getting spanked from their parents and hitting a sibling or another child when they don’t get what they want. In addition:
- Although spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while
- Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent
- Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility
- Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, then regret the spanking later
- Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even harm the child
While many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted today, research has shown that when compared with those who were not spanked, they are more likely to become depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses and engage in crime and violence.
Please come in and talk to us about any aspects of discipline; we’re here to help
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand the many challenges of raising a child and the part that discipline plays. Please come in and talk with us if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, have questions or would like some advice and guidance. Together, we will find solutions so that you, your child and your family can enjoy these years together.
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Please contact us to discuss any of these topics. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.