Experts’ tips on effective child discipline
There’s no perfect way to parent, nor is there a single way to discipline a child. But parenting experts have studied discipline methods, so we asked them what they wish parents knew about disciplining their children.
Here are what some experts said:
■ Regulate rather than discipline
For a long time, we believed that children were misbehaving when they acted out, says Carrie Contey, a human development specialist based in Austin, Texas.
“We now know that when children are misbehaving, they’re actually stress behaving, and they aren’t rational at all times,” she says.
When children are tired or hungry or excited, their brain is in a state of stress. When they are in a state of stress, the last thing they want is for someone to tell them to use their words.
“The stress brain doesn’t process words,” Contey says. “We need to say, ‘Wow, you are really having a hard time. I’m going to help you calm down.’”
Instead of yelling, parents should literally get down to their child’s level, communicate that they’re not a threat to them and hold them if they want to be held.
■ Prevention is best
Making emotional connections throughout the day will prevent bad behavior later. Contey says that touching and hugging children is incredibly important. Her rule: Eye-toeye, skin-to-skin, heart-toheart. This can be done for 20 minutes or 20 seconds, as long as the child knows that you hear him and he’s safe.
“It helps them not slip into the part of the brain that feels like he needs to be disciplined,” Contey says.
■ Use an inductive statement
Instead of yelling when a child does something wrong, you should say, “‘I’m disappointed in that behavior because I know you’re a caring person,’” says Michele Borba, a Palm Springs, Calif.-based educational psychologist and author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. “The result is that the child is more likely to think about what he did, and more likely to be a caring person because he wants to please you.”
Instead of putting a child into defense mode when he has done something wrong, it’s more effective to problemsolve with him so he learns what he did wrong and doesn’t do it again in the future, says Bonnie Harris, New Hampshire-based author of Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With. For example, instead of yelling at him, you should say, “‘You want this and I want that. How do we make this work for both of us?’” Harris says. ■ Allow the child to experience the natural consequences
Parents get too involved and fix the problem for their children or take on the problem as their own. If John hits Sam, the parent will typically yell at John or send him to his room. But the parent might not know what actually happened. John may have coped until he couldn’t cope anymore, and he finally hit Sam.
“If he is yelled at, he feels completely misunderstood, and nothing is learned,” Harris says. The parent in that situation is simply setting the children up for their next fight. Instead, Harris says, allow John to experience what he did. He was impulsive and he hit Sam, but he probably didn’t mean to do it. The parent can coach them by explaining that they both seem to be having a hard time. What do they both want to say to each other and how can they make amends?
■ Be firm and kind
It’s possible to do both, and this helps children see that you’re being fair, says Vanessa Lapointe, Vancouver, British Columbia-based psychologist and author of Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up.