‘Discipline’ is an often misunderstood or misinterpreted word in parenting context. Still it is quite an important life skill that needs to be learnt and taught. Here are 15 steps to positive discipline in children, which will introduce the general concepts about disciplining children, and offer some proven strategies to inculcate discipline without resorting to the negativity of punishments.
What is discipline?
With the dictionaries listing its meanings such as ‘Punishment’ or ‘Control’, the word ‘Discipline’ is often misunderstood by parents.
Behavior theory’s ABC (Antecedent- behavior-consequence) model and positive-negative reinforcement techniques are used in disciplining. Positive behavior followed by positive consequence is reinforced and negative behavior followed by negative consequence is avoided.
The said discipline training for a young child usually begins at home from parents and care-takers; then it continues further by teachers in educational system, and also, by various individuals (family, friends or other influential persons) coming across over the course of life. The rules, routines and training methods will keep changing as per the age, maturity, cultural or family norms. Finally, through these rules and routines promoting desirable behaviour are supposed to become part of the trained individual’s make-up, serving as a self-guidance system.
The main goal behind this process is to make the individual practice behaviours that will make him/her happy, healthy, productive, and self-reliant.
What are 15 steps to Positive Discipline in children?
- Understand Parenting Styles.
- Understand the ‘temperament’ of the child.
- Understand that each child is unique.
- Start early.
- Learn to say ‘No’ for the right reason, and accept momentary crying.
- Set clear limits and guidelines.
- Be inclusive and flexible.
- Creative communication.
- Consistency and fairness.
- Positive Parental Role Model
- Strategies to modify and model behavior
- Keep cool.
- Find ‘Me Time’.
- Seek expert guidance SOS
Steps to Positive Discipline in Children: Explained
1. Understand Parenting Styles.
With a good balance of affection and authority, Authoritative parenting style works the best. Here the word ‘Authority’ is about setting up clear system of expectations and consequences about desirable and undesirable behaviours.
Permissive parenting, with affection sidelining authority; Authoritarian parenting, with excess authority leaving affection little place and Neglectful parenting with neither authority nor affection, are parenting styles to be avoided.
2. Understand the ‘temperament’ of the child.
Temperament is the basic behavioural style of the individual, which determines the common patterns of body rhythm, mood, adaptation to people/situations and emotional responses. 40% children are easy-going, 10% slow to warm up, 10% difficult and the rest a mix of these different traits.
3. Understand that each child is unique!
Tailor disciplining approach as per the age, personality, and temperament, understanding and respecting unique strengths and weaknesses.
4. Start early.
By the second half of infancy, the baby starts to acquire various physical, emotional, cognitive, and speech-related skills, and starts exploring them. The growing-developing infant and toddler may start indulging in things like pushing, pulling, throwing, scratching, shouting or using bad words.
Showing parental approval or disapproval for desirable-undesirable behaviours through facial gestures or simple verbal commands needs to start at this stage itself.
5. Learn to say ‘No’ for right reason, and accept momentary crying!
Many parents avoid saying ‘No’ for their young children’s undesirable acts and demands, in order to avoid making them cry or feel disappointed. This misplaced love fosters misbehaviors. Facing parental disapproval or rejection for undesirable behaviours, and learning to handle the resultant dejections and disappointments is an important process in positive disciplining of children. Of course, this ‘No’ needs to be used in a limited and measured way, in order to remain effective.
6. Set clear limits and guidelines.
Identify the desirable behaviors in terms of attitude, manners, communication, socialization, core values and general lifestyle (hygiene, sleep, physical activity, digital use).
Set clear limits (boundaries) and guidelines (rules) in these areas. Work on developing mental resilience, the ability of the mind to bounce back from adversity.
7. Be inclusive and flexible.
Rather than commanding, offer limited choices of desirable behaviours to make the children feel included in the process.
Disciplining is a continuous process and needs to be recalibrated often.
8. Creative communication
Communicating with children is an art. Use creativity and humor to get your points across, rather than long-winding logical explanations.
9. Consistency and fairness
Practice disciplining measures consistently and fairly, not making confusing variations as per the mood or preference for specific family members.
Parents and all family members should work as a team with common goals. They should be on the same page about the disciplining rules, routines and strategies. Healthy discussions and debates are to be encouraged, and conflicts resolved amicably.
11. Positive parental role model
Imitation comes naturally to children, and that’s why setting up a positive parental role model about the desirable habits and behaviours is more likely to yield good results.
12. Strategies to modify and model behavior
The desirable behaviors can be positively reinforced with encouragement (rewards) and the undesirable behaviors can be negatively reinforced or curbed with negative consequences. Some of these strategies are as follows;
Instead of immediately providing gratification for the child’s material demands, teach them to let go of the temptation of the immediate small reward and to be able wait and work for a later greater reward.
The famous ‘Marshmallow Test’ experiment (where a child is offered a marshmallow and is told that s/he could either have 1 now or 2 later after waiting for 15 minutes) showed that the children who chose delayed gratification showed better health, happiness and academic/professional success as adults.
Encouraging (Rewarding) good, desirable behaviours immediately through words (like ‘Well-done’ or ‘Keep it up’!) or gestures such as a pat on the head/back/shoulder, claps or high five is a positive reinforcement strategy. Material rewards (like offering a gift or a treat) is not necessary, and not really advisable.
While encouraging, identify and point out the positive behavior immediately to make it effective.
No violent punishments
Punishment in the traditional sense, is an obsolete strategy in discipline.
Physical punishments do not induce a long-term positive behavioural change and besides the potential for physical injuries, also foster a wrong belief that ‘It is okay to hit other person’.
Verbal punishments like shouting or emotional punishment like threats or blackmail or withholding love scar the minds.
It is the strategy to switching the child’s mind from a negative behaviour to positive behaviour by offering constructive engagement through an interesting object or an activity.
e.g. Offering a toy or a game or an enjoyable activity (paper-crayons) to a toddler/preschooler throwing a tantrum.
Ignoring the frequent, annoying and relatively harmless negative behaviour, removes attention and reinforcement. Useful in toddlers’ and preschoolers’ temper tantrums, whining or crying for no reason.
Initially the intensity and frequency of misbehavior may increase for weeks but later it subsides.
Sending an out of control kid on a Timeout (in a safe, solitary space); 1 min per year of age after the age of 2 years is a popular strategy. Some experts recommend a quiet boring place for timeout, while some suggest making it a positive time-out (a small cool-down corner with a beanbag or a chair, few books or pictures, a squishy squeeze-ball, paper-pencil-crayons etc.) Useful to calm down an agitated child in toddler-pre-school age-groups, and make him/her reflect.
Delaying or Taking away privileges
Showing logical or common-sense negative consequences of bad behaviour is the strategy used here for negative reinforcement of misbehaviors. (e.g. Taking away a toy for a day for destructive play or fights over its use in younger children.
For older age children, taking away privileges like a favourite book/game/gadget or a playing or going-out opportunity or pocket-money works in the same manner.
13. Keep Cool.
14. Find ‘Me’ Time.
Handling and grooming children is a challenging task, and can take serious physical, emotional and financial toll on parents. Parents should not lose their cool, and always keep enough ‘Me’ time for rest, recuperation and recreation, to recharge.
15. Seek expert guidance SOS.
If the disciplining children is becoming an arduous overwhelming task, try and consult an expert. A pediatrician will be the first support line, and if needed, he may refer you to other experts like a child psychologist.