Guiding Children Through Discipline

For many of us, the word discipline conjures up images of spanking and verbal whippings. Such were the discipline methods of our parents. Luckily for our children we know that such punishment is ineffective. Furthermore, it is downright dangerous.

Our job as parents and child care providers is to teach our children appropriate behaviour, to instill a sense of self-control, to teach respect, and to help our children to learn to manage their emotions. It is a lifelong process that requires consistency, understanding and love.

Children misbehave for a number of reasons. Sometimes they are tired, sick, or angry when things don't go their way. There may be a lot going on in their little lives that they are having trouble dealing with, like the arrival of a new sibling or the parent's separation. Understanding the causes of misbehaviour can help you and your caregiver choose an effective method of guidance.

Effective discipline begins with love, says Dorothy and Robert BeBolt, in their brochure, Discipline Is Love. "Always let your child know that he is good but the behaviour at the moment is not good. In other words, condemn the act but not the child."

Other guidance strategies include:

    * establishing clear, consistent and simple limits. For example, "No running in the house.", or, "We clean up before we go outside to play.";
    * explaining the reasons for rules when necessary, like, "We don't throw blocks because we could hurt someone or break something.";
    * being positive in your approach - saying something like, "Hitting the baby will hurt him." instead of "Don't hit the baby.";
    * letting your child know what is expected of her, for example, "In our house we have three rules. You may not hurt yourself. You may not hurt others (hurt can be emotional as well as physical). You may not hurt things (like toys, the furniture, etc.).

Positive discipline works well when good behaviour is reinforced with hugs, kisses, and words of praise. Children instinctively want to please. When you thank them for behaving appropriately you acknowledge their good actions, giving them a clear indication of what is acceptable. Other guidelines include being prompt, taking control of your emotions, thinking before you act, and avoiding empty threats.

What actions should you take when your child misbehaves? Some tired and true methods include redirecting your child's attention; using time out to give an ill-tempered child a chance to cool off; removing privileges like television or a favorite toy; explaining why the behaviour needs to be corrected; helping the child to find better solutions to her problems; providing opportunities for the children to make amends; and in severe cases, holding the child until he calms down.

While each situation will require its own form of discipline, caregivers and parents need to work together to establish a set of consistent guidelines for certain behaviours that will help the child learn what is and what is not acceptable. And of course, children learn best by example. "Your actions do speak louder than words."