Ten Most Important Discipline Rules

1. Never praise your child too much or too little: “You put your dirty clothes in the hamper? Wow! You are the best!” To bolster self-esteem parents sometimes turn kids into praise junkies. “A praise-dependent child doesn’t pursue goals for her own satisfaction,” explains psychotherapist James Windell. She may expect lavish thanks for routine chores or be unable to finish a task without more approval.

Over-criticizing can also be harmful. “If you only point out haw kids fall short, failure becomes a self fulfillment prophesy” says Windell.

Complements should outweigh corrections by about three to one. If your ratio is far higher, your praise may be insincere or exaggerated, if lower, you may be too critical.

2. Don’t phrase commands as questions: Don’t feel the need to talk trough every rule. Toddlers respect actions better than words. As kids get older and begin to question rules, it’s ok to reason with them and ask for input. But make it clear that you have the final say.

Let the child wield some influence by offering choices where appropriate—whether to brush his teeth before or after putting on his pajamas, for example. Don’t phrase commands as questions. Asking “Shall we go to the doctor now?” invites arguments by implying that a child has a say.

3. Never lose your temper: the older kid is fighting, and the youngest kid is whining, and suddenly you’re screaming louder than anybody. Your children are momentarily cowed, but you have lost control.

Take a break, “Go into the bathroom, ask your spouse to take charge,” suggests Charles Schaefer, a professor of psychology. Once you are calm, stoop down, look into your child’s eyes and speak sternly (you can’t set limits in a chatty tone). You must save shouts for emergencies, such as warning a toddler away from a hot stove, etc.

4. Stay consistent at all costs: consistency should not be confused with rigidity. “What works well at one stage may fail in the future,” notes Windell. Vary your discipline technique for instance,

a) Giving a timeout. Calm a disruptive child by sending him to a designated chair or room.
Let timeouts corresponds to a child’s age—two minutes for a two-year-old, four at age four

b) Revoking privileges. Depending on the child’s age and personality, limit access to the TV, Telephone or your services as chauffeur.

c) Ignoring annoying behavior. Whining, sulking or quarreling may cease if it fails to get attention. Be willing to experiment with limits, but make ground rules clear.

Don’t neglect to admit mistakes, “Saying you are sorry doesn’t signal inconsistency; it signals mutual respect” says Schaefer. “It teaches kids to apologize when they are wrong, instead of digging in their heels”.

5. Never treat children the same: You wouldn’t tell a toddler that she is grounded or give a 13-year-old a timeout. Kids’ personalities should also color your discipline decisions. “There is no one ideal technique,” says child psychiatrist Stanley Turecki. What works for your even-tempered daughter might only inflame your hot tempered son.

6. Avoiding punishment every time won’t help: If the child doesn’t see the consequences of his misbehavior, he is less likely to learn his lesson. “There is nothing wrong with punishment, provided you are fair and humane,” says Windell. Though spanking may halt misbehavior temporarily, over the long term physical punishment will back-fire. A kid who’s smacked doesn’t learn self-control; he learns fear—and that it’s ok for a bigger person to hit a smaller one.

7. Playing therapist: Your little girl is kicking her brother’s toys across the floor and screaming that she hates him. Don’t sweetly inquire, “Honey, what’s wrong? Tell me what you are feeling.” This kind of “over-psychologizing” is usually not helpful.
Children listen when parents are decisive. “Halt unacceptable behavior before exploring the reasons,” Windell says. “If your pre-schooler is hitting you, grab his wrist and say, ‘You can’t hit Mom. ‘Stop right now.’ Then ask ‘Why are you upset?’”

8. Never misuse rewards: “Stop pouring bath water on floor, and I’ll let you have ice-cream after dinner,” you promise your misbehaved child. Problem is, when you are not doing out the goodies, kids have no reason to behave. “A reward used to stop misbehavior is a bribe,” Windell says. “It implies that the rule itself has no intrinsic valve.”
Use rewards only to reinforce behavior after the fact. Offer the ice-cream not as a bribe but as a gesture of appreciation when you find the children straightening up the play room together.

9. Never disagree in the open: When parents debate family rules within earshort of kids, the kids get confused and insecure. “Children learn to play one parents off the other,” cautious Schaefer.
Be united when it comes to discipline. Settle disagreements in private, and make sure both of you are in agreement on general guidelines for homework, chores and bedtime, plus prohibitions against hitting, stealing and lying. You must compromise on issues about which your partner feels strongly.

10. Never assume the worst: Your 12-year-old complains that a classmate punched him. Don’t reply, “You must have done something to make him mad.”
“If you automatically assume that your child is at fault,” says Windell, “you send a message that he is intrinsically bad.”
Instead, focus on the action, not the person. Avoid the word always (“You always leave your junk around”) and never (“You never obey me”). Instead phrase correction in specific terms such as, “You forgot to hang up your shirt”. Let him know he can meet your expectations, even if he didn’t this time.

If your child is having problems, first listen to his point of view. “Your support will help him calm down and view the situation rationally,” says Dr. Turecki. When children know you are on their side, they’ll feel and behave better.


8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child: A Failsafe Program for Toddlers Through Teens By James Windell: M.A., parent trainer, family counselor and author, specialized in work with children and their parents for 40 years.

Innovative Psychotherapy Techniques in Child and Adolescent Therapy (Wiley Series on Personality Processes) By Charles Schaefer: Professor of Psychology, BBA, Fairfield University, Ph.D., Clinical Psychology – Fordham University

The Difficult Child: Expanded and Revised Edition By Dr. Stanley Turecki: A child, adolescent, family and adult psychiatrist, certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

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