In a perfect world we would have a book specifically written for parents, with exact answers to every question we may have about our kids. A book that would keep us from questioning ourselves or feeling guilty when we have to lay down the law. Essentially, a book that makes us THE perfect parent.
Unfortunately, there really is no such book.
We learn from our mistakes, reading self-help books, taking advice from our own parents or just guessing. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, although the most rewarding and sometimes we just have to lean on other parents for support. The toughest job as a parent, is discipline. Even the best parents in the world will tell you that they have days when their kids have really pushed their buttons. It is ok to be human. And as parents, that’s what we are. Human.
As a child of the 80’s, I knew what my punishment would be. And I certainly knew that my parents would follow through and not give me a free pass. Maybe it was a spanking or maybe it was dad, raising his voice in a terrifying tone that said, “Yep, you have crossed the line.”
In today’s age, we have worked hard to change the patterns of discipline and for most that means finding methods that do not involve yelling or spanking our children. Even with all of the unconditional love I have for my kids, I admit there have been times that I have been pushed to the edge and a yelling match ensued. Did it help? That answer is a residual NO. All that really comes from screaming back and forth is more anger and separation between you and your child.
According to Barbara Unell and Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., authors of “Discipline without Shouting or Spanking,” using harsh discipline can actually reinforce the kinds of behavior that parents are seeking to correct. Shouting at your child or slapping/spanking them can show a lack of control and will teach your child that these results of anger are actually the answer to solving the problem.
A discipline method we have always used in our home is an old fashioned time-out. A small bench or a step works for younger children and a chair for the older ones. Be sure to use age appropriate times when sending your child to sit. Toddlers have a short attention span, so having them in time-out for a long period can actually be confusing to them, as they will have forgotten why they are even there. Explain to your child that this is the result of his or her actions. If they get up and run away, sit them back down and restart the timer. However, always communicate and explain why it is being restarted so that they may learn from the punishment. If you have older children, use a longer period of time for them to sit. This will give them time to think about their actions that led into a consequence. After the timer has gone off, sit and talk with your child and have them explain why they were put in time-out. By doing this, you are reinforcing communication and letting them know that if the behavior continues, this will be their punishment. Remember to always end in a hug and let your child know that you still love them.
Be sure you are setting expectations. Deborah Sendek, program director for the Center for Effective Discipline (CED), said kids want and crave limits and structure, so it’s important to set boundaries and stick to them. It is easy to threaten punishment 3 or 4 times without really following through, however it is crucial that parents follow through immediately. In our home, we have had to learn that we only threaten with a consequence that we are willing to stick to. Such as, telling our children to get their chores completed immediately. If they choose not to abide, there is an immediate consequence, rather than empty threats. It is a challenge and you may even feel guilty, however think of the important lessons you are teaching your children.
Another way to help control behaviors and create an appropriate punishment is by letting your child choose the consequences. Sit down together and have him write down three separate consequences that you both think are fair. Maybe he loses his Xbox for two days. Or cannot talk on the phone for the week. Whatever you both decide, be sure to let your child know that when expectations are not met or behaviors become unacceptable, these will be the repercussion. By doing this, there is already a plan written down so there is no need for yelling or even spanking. Be sure to also have a separate list of rewards to promote good behavior. Never focus only on the bad outcome. By seeing rewards wrote down, you are helping your child create a desire to have positive behaviors.
No matter what method you choose to try, consider what you are teaching your child. If you are spanking and yelling, you could be telling him that it is ok to have all of the control and power when you are older and bigger than them. But if you choose an alternative method, your child just may learn from your positive reinforcements and feel as though you are treating them as an equal.
Remember, being a parent doesn’t come with a specific handbook and sometimes we have to fly by the seat of our pants and learn as we go. But if you really stop and work as a team, you and your children just may be able to teach each other a few things about setting limits and effective discipline.
If you need help and resources to help change the patterns of discipline you can find support websites that are there for you. Project NoSpank (www.nospank.net) and the Center for Effective Discipline (www.stophitting.com) have some very helpful information for parents who would like alternatives to spanking.