How to Discipline: Dos and Don'ts

Remember when you brought your adorable little newborn home for the first time? Remember how cute they were as they gurgled and smiled at you? Are you wondering what became of that peaceful and agreeable baby? It was bound to happen. You finally manage to figure out how to effectively parent an infant and then they turn two and all your hard work goes out the window. Gone is your adorable, gurgling baby and in its place is a miniature tornado who thinks they get to call all the shots.

A lot is going on. Your child is caught between an internal battle of asserting their independence and still having to rely on your parental help. Not to mention, they are rapidly developing intellectually, socially and emotionally yet may still have limited communication skills and a lack of self-control. This is a normal stage of development that your child is going through and it is up to you to help guide them through the best way you can.

Sugar coating aside, the road will be bumpy but as with all things that involve parenting, you and your child will get through it. Disciplining children isn't easy but following these dos and don'ts can help.

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10 A Solid Starting Point

Begin by figuring out what rules are most important to you and your partner. Once these are in place, you can then begin putting together a plan to help teach your child about facing consequences for their negative behavior. Like any aspect of parenting, it’s not always as clear and simple as you hope but it is doable.

9 Don't Spank

When it comes to child-rearing, if spare the rod and spoil the child is your mantra, you may want to consider updating and moving into the 21st century. While still legal in Canada and the U.S.A, the highly controversial discipline of spanking has been banned in over 40 countries worldwide. According to parenting experts, spanking is considered a negative form of discipline. The fear of harm and pain are really the only motivators for a child’s future good behavior.

Spanking as punishment can easily become a slippery slope. How hard is too hard? As well, most experts agree that spanking encourages aggression in children while instilling feelings of helplessness. It can also damage their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. All of these negatives can lead to one angry child.

8 Do Enforce Time-Outs

The time-out method of discipline seems to be the one of choice among many parenting experts. For a time-out to be an effective punishment, it needs to occur immediately following naughty behavior. Children (especially toddlers) have short memories and need to connect the time-out with their preceding behavior. So, don’t wait until supper is finished or after you get off the phone to enforce it. And don’t feel like you are required to provide any long-winded explanations or have a discussion about it either. You simply state your child’s misbehavior and enforce the time-out. Case closed.

The purpose of the time-out is to provide your child with some space in order to calm down and regain control of their emotions. It’s basically just a quiet break for them but be sure they don’t have a toy or book during the time-out or this will defeat the purpose.

As you may already know, it’s difficult to get a toddler to sit still for any amount of time, so the unofficial rule of thumb is to make the time-out one minute per year of your child’s age. So, two minutes for a two-year-old, three minutes for a three-year-old. Anything longer and you’re setting your child up (and yourself) for failure and that’s just not fair.

The advantages of time-outs as discipline include your child learning self-control as well as how to accept responsibility for their behavior. You may need to remind them that their naughty actions are what gives them a time-out, NOT you. However, the time-out is not without its fair share of criticism and controversy. Some parenting experts feel that time-outs are a scarce notch above spanking when it comes to negative forms of discipline. The reason behind this criticism is the isolation it encourages.

7 Don't Argue

When it comes to dealing with negative behaviors within children, there is no room for negotiating, compromising or arguing. You are not dealing with another adult here. This is a parent/child relationship and should be treated as such. You are the boss.

Getting caught up in a power struggle can happen before you even know what hit you, especially if you are dealing with a sharp child quick to strike a bargain with you or one who knows how to push your buttons. Your best bet is not to get drawn into any negotiation. Simply ignore their attempts. They’ll soon realize there’s no point in wasting their breath when nothing comes of it.

Be clear with the rules and be clear about the consequences when rules are broken. Any discussion from you should be phrased in concise statements. Make sure it doesn’t sound like you are asking them a question. And where rules are concerned, if your naughty monkey is looking for loopholes, don’t get angry--just shut those down immediately as well.

6 Do Choose Your Battles

When your toddler starts developing a stubborn will of their own, it may seem like you are constantly saying “no” and enforcing time-outs. If you are using the time-out method as your discipline of choice, consider only using it to deal with one specific negative behavior at a time.

For instance, if you’re trying to curb your child from biting, use time-outs only for this particular misbehavior. That’s not to say other bad behavior should be overlooked or ignored. You can still take necessary measures to stop it by removing the trigger, distract them and/or respond with a clear and firm “no.”

If your child has been acting up quite a bit lately, consider the fact that there may be a specific reason behind this behavior. Is there a possibility they are stressed, worried or unhappy? Were they tired or hungry at that point in time? If so, don’t be too harsh with them. Of course, they still need to understand their behavior is unacceptable but you can probably go light on the punishment.

Now, if their misbehavior is deliberately willful or they are testing boundaries to find out how much they can get away with, then quick and efficient discipline may need to be doled out so they know where they stand.

In some cases, what may at first seem like misbehavior from your child may just be them taking a step to assert their independence. For example, your child prefers to wear mismatched socks. Yes, the behavior is out-of-the-ordinary, but does it really need to be turned into a disciplinary situation? Take a deep breath and see the situation for what it is before you make that decision.

5 Don't Be Inconsistent

Everyone lives their lives governed by rules and boundaries. Which is why it’s important that you provide your children with a solid foundation of rules to follow. And when misbehavior occurs, your children should know exactly what to expect every time. Your level of discipline should not become stronger when you are having a bad day and weaker when you are having a good one.

Consistency in consequences immediately following a negative behavior are vital when parenting. This is something that pretty much all parenting experts agree on which shows you just how important it is! Just as babies and young children crave routine and predictability within their environment, consistency is required as well. It builds trust and makes your child feel comfortable and secure within their life as there are no surprises. It is through consistency on your part that your child will learn that their actions have reactions. This is an extremely important life lesson and should be taught to them by you.

4 Do Stay Calm

You may be a parent but you’re still human and bound to have a bad day now and again. And losing your cool with your kids on occasion is a part of life. Don’t beat yourself up over it but do what it takes to make things right afterward. Once you’ve calmed down, talk to your kids, apologize for your overreaction and promise you’ll work hard to do better as they should too. And don’t underestimate the positive power of a good hug.

Part of becoming a parent means keeping your patience. This can be easier said than done, especially if your child knows how to push your buttons. Do what you need to do to remain calm when your child misbehaves. Take a deep breath, bite your tongue, enforce a time-out and give yourself one as well. Use this opportunity to focus on the bad behavior and why it’s happening.

Losing your cool can easily result in you inadvertently punishing yourself in the process. Think before you threaten as it’s important that you follow through on the threat if your child pushes your hand. If you are looking forward to going out for a family dinner or to the movies, don’t tell your misbehaving child that if they “do that one more time, there’s no dinner out or movie”. Because if they “do it one more time”, then the whole family will be punished, you included.

If you are constantly losing your patience, it may be time to delve deeper to figure out why. Is something going on in your life that is causing you stress and worry? Are you getting a good night’s sleep? You may need to fix the underlying problem before you can start focussing on keeping your cool.

3 Don't Make Punishment Confusing

Don’t let emotions (yours and theirs) muddy the clear waters of discipline. Where toddlers are concerned, keep it clear and simple. The appropriate punishment needs to come immediately following the negative behavior as toddlers have short memories. These aren’t teenagers you’re dealing with, so there’s no sense in taking away a fun activity planned for later that week.

If you and your partner are clear on the house rules as well as the consequences for breaking them and are consistent with your follow through, your child is likely not to be confused by the issue. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s not always the case but it does become easier the more you put in the effort to communicate clearly and always keep your word.

2 Do Follow Through

Do waterworks make you immediately renege on your punishment strategy? Do your children smirk knowingly when you threaten them with punishment? Do you sometimes ignore their bad behavior because it’s easier than calling them out on it and following through with some form of appropriate discipline? If you routinely answer yes to any of these questions, then you may be a follow-through wimp!

When it comes to punishment and discipline, following through is more important than calling out the bad behavior and dictating the ensuing consequences. By following through on your threats, you are providing yourself with credibility and teaching your child an important lesson about the consequences resulting from their behavior.

If you think you are helping out your child by avoiding the issue of discipline, think again. In fact, you are setting them up for a rude awakening once they enter the real world. In the future, they won’t be able to use their puppy dog eyes in order to sway a demanding boss. And how will they ever be able to fit into society if they’ve never been properly guided in how to behave respectfully?

If you have a hard time punishing your child, take a look at the situation from a positive perspective. Remind yourself that it is your job as a parent to help steer your child down the road of proper and acceptable behavior. And as you hit bumps along the way, you may be required to follow through on discipline. In the long run, you will both be thankful that you did.

1 Personalize Your Method

When it comes to disciplining your child, if you’re uncertain, definitely take the time to do some research and talk to other people who are in the midst of raising their children but remember there is no one-size-fits-all perfect method. When you are devising your approach for disciplining your child, you will need to keep in mind their temperament and personality as well as what you and your partner are comfortable doing.

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