Disciplining your child is never easy and kids don’t come with instructions. One thing that can make it extra tough is that not all kids are the same. Each has different motivations and fears and insecurities. This can make figuring out what in the world to do with them a really tough job.
In general, however, there are common discipline mistakes that a lot of parents make that could hamper their child’s growth. Here are fifteen that you might want to check yourself for.
15 Failing to Recognize a Problem
Sometimes we get so over-familiar with our kids that we think we know them inside out. One of the major mistakes that some parents fall into is to think that all negative behavior is the child’s fault. Granted, negative behavior does require discipline. However, when it’s caused by something your child cannot help, your child will need plenty of support to go along with that discipline.
A child may, for instance, be impulsive. He may not be able to keep himself from taking toys from other children. He may not pay attention in class. He may even hit and bully others. While these are acts that are worth calling him out on, if it persists no matter what you do, it may be the sign of a developmental delay or a behavioral disorder such as ADHD.
Now, no parent wants to know that something is wrong with their child. However, it’s important to consider that early diagnosis and behavioral treatment can help the child learn to relate to others and cope better as he grows up. As can be the case with ADHD. Most think that people grow out of it, but it is most likely that they simply learn or have been taught what is acceptable behavior.
14 Punishment for Being Annoying
Parents sometimes scold and punish their children for simply being kids. This can include asking too many questions, or for playing loudly, or for just running around all the time. But often your kid may not understand off the bat why this is wrong. All they know, after all, is that they’re full of energy and that they just want to let it out. You must have the patience to explain to them that you’re busy, or that the neighbor next door can’t sleep over their noise, or that they might knock something over. If possible, give them alternative outlets or games in which they can express that energy without disturbing or damaging something.
13 Permanent Negativity
Another common mistake is to focus solely on your kid’s mistakes and not on the things he does right. It is, after all, easy to exact discipline after he’s broken a vase or hit his brother. However, you may not be noticing when he has been careful not to make noise while his grandfather is taking a nap, or when he split a meal with his hungry classmate. Being chronically critical and light on support and encouragement can do a lot of damage to your child’s self esteem. It may get your child to behave immediately, but children who grow up with primarily negative parents are at greater risk for developing problems such as depression later in life.
12 Unrealistic Expectations
If a toddler takes a poo in his underwear before reaching the potty, it’s pretty pointless to punish him for it. According to pediatricians, some kids don’t gain full bowel control until they’re almost three years old. Punishing him will only make him think that something is wrong with him because he can’t meet that expectation. In truth, his body is just not yet developed enough to do it right all the time.
This is a single example of how having unrealistic expectation can result in unwarranted and unreasonable discipline. There are plenty more examples of that, too. As a parent, it’s important to know what your child is capable of at his developmental age and discipline him accordingly.
One of the keys to effective discipline is consistence. That is, you must set specific and clear rules and enforce them steadily. You may, for instance, set a curfew for bedtime, but not follow through with them. Even worse, when you’re away and your partner is looking after the kids, he may not enforce these rules as strictly as you do. This can make kids confused and a bit more likely to break the rules. You can, of course, give them some leeway. If their favorite cousin is visiting, for instance, you may allow them to stay up an hour later so they can catch up. You must, however, make it clear that this extra freedom is only granted in special situations and on other days, the regular rules will still be enforced.
10 Words vs. Actions
You can’t expect your child to take you seriously if you tell them not to eat too many sweets but you, yourself, can’t help but gorge on candy bars. Basically, you’re saying one thing: candy is bad for you and you should not eat too much. But you’re showing them another: candy is good and I’ll eat plenty of it. These mixed messages can confuse kids. They might not do what you say because, after all, even you don’t take it seriously. Do your kids a favor and save the candy bars for when they’ve gone to bed.
Don’t get us wrong: it’s natural and even human to have a favorite. But as you may well know by now, it can be damaging to you and your children if you take it too far. Again, the key here is consistency. Don’t let one child get away with something wrong just because they’re in your favor. This can make your other children resentful if you punish them for the same thing. Also be consistent in your praise. Praising one child for sharing but ignoring the other can also harbor resentment and may result in rebellious behavior.
8 Giving Your Child Too Much Power
Now, it’s great to teach your child to become an autonomous and independent thinker. However, it’s important that they know who’s in charge. This may sound easy but it’s challenging to accomplish. Basically, you must achieve the balance where they can talk to you and explain their side, but they must still know that the final decision will always lie with you. They may, for instance, plead to extend their TV time. However, they should know that when it’s homework time, it’s definitely homework time. You can record their favorite show as a compromise, but there are definitely some battles they should never win.
7 The Punisher
In some families, one parent takes on the role of the punisher, exacting discipline for all the child’s mistakes. The other parent, on the other hand, might take the role of the “nice” parent. As you may expect, this is not the best idea if you want to be consistent. It’s also a great way to harbor affection for one parent, but fear for another.
As much as possible, the two of you should be parenting as a team. Agree on disciplinary measures that the two of you can enforce and make sure you both follow through.
6 Not Being Specific
As much as that would be convenient, kids definitely aren’t mind readers. Telling them that you didn’t like what they did or that you need them to be a good boy can be confusing. After all, they don’t know exactly what you want.
It can be tempting to just give them a blanket statement that covers every single thing that could go wrong. While you might think it tedious to explain it all to your kids, they will need you to spell it out for them at least once. Be specific with what you want them to do.
5 Not Teaching a Lesson
Needless to say, “because I said so” is not going to cut it. Discipline is not just teaching them to do this and not to do that. It’s also teaching them values that they can take with them even well into adult life. If they hit another child, hitting them in turn may just teach them not to do it in front of you. Instead, you might want to channel their inner values so they can learn empathy and respect. You may ask your child, for instance, what they would feel if someone hits him. Allowing him to put himself in someone else’s shoes will ultimately make him a better person.
Bribery can be an effective tool when trying to egg your kid into doing something, but it’s probably not the best for discipline. For instance, giving your child a toy to make him stop crying isn’t going to prevent crying in the future. It will only encourage him to cry to get what he wants. It can be tempting to seek a quick solution, but if you try to look ahead and see the implications this kind of discipline can have on your child, you will quickly realize that it’s not worth it.
This is basically another take on the adage “love the sinner but hate the sin.” That is, if your child falters, you should tell him that what he did was wrong. It’s counterproductive to call him a “bad boy” for it, and more so when you use this against him in the future as in “don’t be a bad boy again like last time” or “you’re always a bad boy.” This may not seem like much to you but for kids, labels can stick. You well know that your kid is so much more than his actions on a single day. Make him feel that.
2 Not Listening
Listening to your child is important. Even if you’re imposing sanctions on them, it’s still important to let them feel that you’re open to what they have to say. If, for instance, they come home with bad grades, it may be all too easy to tell them they’re not trying hard enough and that you’re going to reduce their play time so that they do. However, it’s also important to listen to why this thing has happened. Perhaps they’re being bullied in school, or they’re just having a tough time with one subject. That way, they feel like they’re important to you and, at the same time, you can work out a more appropriate solution together.
This doesn’t apply only to when they’ve done something wrong, though. Make sure you regularly set aside time to listen to their thoughts.
1 Being Shallow
Don’t take each problem at face value. Put all the cues together and you may see a better picture of your child. It helps if you have a solid understanding of how your child’s mind works at this point in his life. If your child is doing poorly at school, don’t limit your conversation to just grades. Look into what your child is saying, as well as his nonverbal cues. Talk to his teachers and friends. You may find that there’s so much more to what he’s experiencing than just an academic problem.