How To Discipline A Child

Often when adults think of how to discipline a child they imagine it as a method for correcting bad behavior and getting the child to behave. If we can expand that view to include more, you can build a foundation for strengthening your relationship with your child while teaching your child social skills. Let’s begin with the idea that “Discipline is teaching”. This is tenet of Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, or S.T.E.P. Begin to see challenges as opportunities for teaching and learning and the whole approach to discipline becomes one that is more guidance oriented and compassionate. Children look to their parents for cues as to how to be a person in this great big world. Patience is necessary with young children because their development is an ongoing process that creates new awareness and challenges. If adults can be flexible and resilient they will be better able to move with the flow or growth and development.

To build a foundation for positive discipline answer the following questions:

Are my expectations reasonable? If you find yourself struggling with your child over many situations it is wise to consider what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Two year olds most likely will not spontaneously share. Three year olds still have accidents even after they are toilet trained. Four year olds may still have melt downs and temper tantrums. Five year olds may regress if there are big life changes or if they are getting sick. Understanding what is reasonable to expect from your child will set you up for success.

What is the nature of my child’s temperament? Some children by nature are more sensitive, active, or easily tired. Adults that understand the child’s temperament have the advantage of being able to work with their child instead of against his or her nature. An example might be knowing that taking a very sensitive child into a large crowd will be difficult; or asking a very active child to sit through a performance will probably end in a minor disaster. It is best that the adult make choices that will not challenge the child’s ability. As the child gets older it is possible to help your child learn how to cope with some of their temperamental challenges.

Does your home environment foster independence? If you feel that your child is always demanding and needing help, analyze the environment. Is it designed so that your child can help herself and take care of some of her needs. This goes beyond stools at the bathroom sink. Think of your child being able to help herself to a snack or choose appropriate clothing to wear. These simple things foster self- esteem and a sense of independence.

Do you offer a transition time when it’s time to change activities? Offering a ten minute warning allows your child to shift gears and move more gracefully to the next activity. This is helpful when calling for meal time, bed time, morning departures and ending a play date. It’s respectful and encourages cooperation. You can set a timer and it will be an auditory reminder that time is up. Think of how the child is often moved through the day by the demands of the adult’s schedule. This transition time offers some respect and understanding.

Are you consistent? This means saying what you mean and meaning what you say. If you are tossing out empty threats to get good behavior it won’t be long before your child stops listening to you. The important thing with positive discipline is that it is honest and respectful of the child’s innate dignity as a human being.

Do you honor your child’s feelings? Allowing your child the full range of expression of emotions doesn’t mean you allow tantrums to become destructive and violent. It does mean that you avoid shame, blame and negative judgments of feelings. It’s normal for children to feel furious, sorrowful, aggravated, disappointed etc. Please see my blog article on Reflective Listening. It will help you help your child to cultivate a “feeling vocabulary” and this in turn gives one a sense of personal power. When we can name the feeling we can integrate it into our experience and move more easily through it.

Are you making conscious choices while you are parenting? Often we slip into the “default mode of parenting” if we are not making intentional choices to change old patterns. If your parents were wonderful role models then you have an advantage that others may lack. If they struggled with parenting in a way that didn’t nurture and support you then that is what you are inclined to repeat. I recommend looking to good parenting practices like Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.

Are you picking your battles? If you are struggling with your child over many things throughout the day then you may need to back off and let some of it go. It can be oppressive to the child to be often corrected and found lacking. Children can lapse into patterns of seeking negative attention in some cases. The real desire is to belong so pay attention to everything that is right instead of everything that is wrong. In other words, catch your child being good. It reinforces good behavior. If it is safe to do so, ignore misbehavior.

Does your child have an active role in the life of the family? Not only does this help develop strong self- esteem, it supports independence and practical life skills. Even very young children can help set the table, chop bananas, match socks in the clean laundry, carry dirty laundry to the washer etc. Think of ways to include your child and you will help the child to feel like a contributing member of the family. You will also be channeling the energy in a helpful way.

Are you letting go? By this I mean are you allowing your child to become the person s/he needs to be. If the challenges of parenting are making you feel guilty and inadequate, take some time to reassess what you expect of yourself. You need not be perfect and certainly this applies to your child too. Sometimes parents are embarrassed and angry because their child behaves like a Child.  Let go and learn from your mistakes. After all your child is learning from you what it is to navigate this world as a human. There are bound to be bumps in the road as you learn how to discipline a child, set- backs and trials. Strive to be your best self and this is the gift you give your child.


About The Author

Lois Olson

Founder of The Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, Wyoming Montessori Primary Certification 1973
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting facilitator certification
Thirty eight years of experience working with children ages 3-6
Twenty five years facilitating parenting groups
Ten years facilitating teacher training
B.A In Psychology

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