Monday, November 12, 2012

The Truth About Discipline

 In my work with children and their families I have found that we often forget what discipline really is and what it is intended for. Discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplinare” which means “to teach”.  We so often associate the word with punishment and consequences but when we do that we lose sight of the reason we discipline our children. We discipline them to teach them. We need to teach them how to move around the world safely, treat others, treat themselves, and how to navigate various social situations. Ideally we teach them all this in a loving and supportive way so that they have healthy mental and emotional health.

People often equate discipline with punishment and consequences but this isn’t really what discipline is all about. Remember that discipline means to teach. We discipline our children not only with providing consequences to behavior, but also through setting clear expectations, setting limits, and modeling the behaviors we want to see. What we often don’t realize is that the way we discipline our children teaches them just as much, sometimes even more, than consequences and punishments.   How we respond to our children teaches them how to respond to others. An out of control tantruming child for example, needs a calm parent who can model and teach them how to calm themselves. I know this is WAY easier said than done, but it is so important for parents to find ways to teach their children what they are lacking in that moment…the ability to self soothe and words to express feelings . If we respond with a “tantrum” that consists of yelling, spanking, threatening, then how can we expect our children to behave any different.

We often forget that discipline doesn't just occur after a behavior. It happens all the time. Discipline is what happens when a parent intervenes before a behavior gets out of control. It is what happens when we give our child choices, or when we talk to them about our expectations in regards to their behaviors. Good discipline consists mainly of instructions and only a small percentage of actual correction of behavior.  It includes praising the behaviors we want more of not just correcting the ones we want to see less of.

Below are a few discipline basics:

  1. Use  praise  to increase behaviors you want to see more of. Praise should be used more than correction.
  2. Model the behavior you want from your children. 
  3.  Make clear what the unacceptable behaviors are as well as acceptable behaviors, provide options. So for a child that is running in doors one can say “running is not for inside the house, you can go into the yard and run there.”
  4. Consistency: respond consistently, have consistent expectations of behavior. All caregivers need to be on e the same page in terms of rules and expectations.
  5. Ignore unimportant misbehavior such as leg shaking, fidgeting, etc. The more rules you have the less effective they can be. Pick your battles for the rules that truly matter. Children bombarded with rules struggle because they are constantly being corrected/punished so it can lose its effectiveness. Try praising the behaviors you want more of  such as “you are sitting so nice and still” (for a child who is fidgeting). 

Remember that your child is learning about the world and how to navigate it. We often forget that when we learn anything we need to practice it and often have it explained to us more than once. Think back to learning to spell. I remember doing spelling drills and practicing the words over and over to learn and remember them. I didn't get them right after seeing the word just one time. We all need repetition to learn.  Try to keep this in mind as you are disciplining your child. They may have to make the decision to behave a certain way a couple of times before they get it "right".

Claudia Glassman, LMFT, RPT is a licensed therapist and Registered Play Therapist specializing in working with children and adolescents ages 2-17. To learn more about how she can help you and your child go to 

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