Parenting Guild

Discipline: Love and Limits

What are your long-term goals for your child's behavior? Most parents want their grown children to be independent, self-confident, capable of making wise decisions, and respectful of other people's rights and property. Self-discipline is necessary to achieve these goals. A person with self-discipline has the inner controls necessary for dealing with frustrations and the demands of daily living. The goal of parental discipline is to develop self-discipline in the child.

Discipline is simply teaching good behavior. It's something you do for and with a child, not to a child. You help children learn to think for themselves. The approach or method you choose for this teaching may be critical to your child's emotional development and your enjoyment of parenting. Because of individual differences, there is no one right way to teach good behavior. All the guidelines that follow will help you build self-control in your child.

Guidelines for Self-Control

Define Good Behavior - Make sure the child understands what you expect. Decide ahead of time what the rules or limits will be. Keep the limits as few, as simple, and as consistent as possible.

Set Reasonable Limits - Set the limits so that success is possible and then gradually raise these expectations as the child's abilities mature. If it is difficult for you to judge whether or not a limit is reasonable, you may want to ask the Extension home economist in your county for guidelines.

Make Positive Suggestions - Give commands and suggestions in a positive way:

    Instead of saying "Don't jump on the couch,"
    try "If you want to be on the couch, you must sit on it."
Some people think that putting discipline in a positive way is being permissive. Actually, positive discipline is based on the idea that children need and deserve guidance and direction from parents. If you give these guidelines in a positive way, your child will be more apt to cooperate with you.

Give Choices - Making choices gives the child valuable experience in decision making; however, it is unfair to pose a command as a choice. If you say, "Are you ready to come in for dinner now?" you give the child the option of saying no. It saves time and frustration to say, "It is time for you to come in to dinner."

    Instead of "Do you want to get dressed now?"
    try: "You need to get dressed now. You may wear the red or the blue shirt. Which do you want?"
Redirect Behavior - If the child is behaving in an unacceptable manner, give a positive alternative. If the child is restless or overactive in the house, suggest outdoor play to run off some energy. As the child gets older, give him or her specific jobs to do.

Be sensitive to the emotional needs of your child. Poor behavior may mean the child is dealing with anger, hurt, or fear. Encourage your child to talk about these feelings. Then direct attention to an activity such as playing with dough, water, or painting, where the child can express feelings in an acceptable way.

Respect the Child - Be as considerate and courteous to your child as you want him or her to be to you. Children must get respect from others before they learn to respect themselves. When correcting or guiding, remember to:

    (1) address the behavior, not personality or abilities,
    (2) go directly to the child rather than yelling across the house or the yard,
    (3) sit on a chair or crouch down so you are talking face-to-face, and
    (4) admit it if you have made a mistake.
Change the Situation - It may help if you take delicate and tempting articles out of a child's reach. You do not need to childproof your house completely, but a compromise between parent and child often avoids stressful situations. If possible, ensure that the child has some space that is just his or hers, where there are relatively few restraints.

Promote Good Self-Concept - In all you do and say, help children feel good about themselves. People who feel badly about themselves often do not even try to act as they know they should. People with a good self-image usually want to act right and will try to learn what is expected of them.

Show your child love and respect even if you do not consider his or her behavior acceptable. Children have so much to learn that they often feel overwhelmed. Help the child but do not degrade the child's self-concept.

Be a Role Model - As a parent, you are your child's role model for behavior. Be sure that you are a consistent and good role model. Otherwise, this quote may be true of you: "My child acts like me no matter how often I tell him not to."

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