Effective Discipline is Child's Play, isn't it?
By Michael Grose
The term "discipline" makes most parents feel uncomfortable.
It is often associated with smacking, embarrassment or other types of
punishment or negative experiences. Some of those old disciplinary phrases
such as 'spare the rod and spoil the child' or 'teach them a lesson' or
'set children straight' are enough to send shivers up the spine of any
Make no mistake. Discipline is a necessary part of parenting, however
it is often misunderstood. Good discipline teaches children how to behave
and encourages them to take responsibility for their own actions. It
doesn't involve physical harm or verbal put-downs. However, it does
require a good degree of firmness and a willingness to treat children with
respect, even if they don't always respond to us in kind.
As a guide to effectively handling toddlers or teens (or anyone in
between) keep the following ESCAPE formula in mind.
Establish clear limits and boundaries for children. Kids like to
have rules. They may dispute them but they feel secure when they are in
Rules need to be clear and specific. 'Be home by six o'clock' is more
effective than 'don't be late'. 'Pack the toys away before dinner'
generally gets better results than 'don't forget to clean up your
Involve children in deciding family rules and be willing to negotiate,
particularly with adolescents. Like it or not children have a great deal
of choice these days and parents need to be flexible enough to negotiate
with children particularly when it comes to what they can and cannot do.
This does not mean that children can behave as they wish. Instead, parents
need to use some give and take when dealing with children.
Self-control is essential. As children's misbehaviour often has
the purpose of involving parents our initial impulsive reaction sometimes
encourages further misbehaviour. If you constantly nag dawdlers at
bed-time, coax attention-seekers to cooperate and argue the point with
determined teenagers you are probably involved in a game of their
Train yourself to stop, think and go against your natural instinct when
children misbehave and look for more positive or creative approaches. One
mother who was tired of constantly reminding her children to go to bed
found that she had more success when she turned the television off and
quietly said goodnight. This was a sensible approach to an annoying
Cue children once when giving instructions or directions. Often
the way we give instructions will determine if they cooperate. When you
want cooperation make sure you gain children's attention, state what you
want and give them some time to carry out your instructions.
Avoid repeating your requests more than once as you will only encourage
your children to become 'parent deaf' which is a common affliction these
days. Be willing to follow through your request with a consequence or some
form of action.
Avoid making unreasonable threats that you cannot carry through. If you
lose your cool and threaten to ground your child for a month or some
similar unrealistic consequence be prepared to back down. Not only is this
good modelling but your child will be more likely to respond to a more
Act when children break rules or refuse to cooperate. Rather
than coax, nag or constantly remind children to do the right thing
implement a consequence that is related to the misbehaviour. Children who
constantly come home late can stay home next time and toddlers who leave
toys around can lose them for a short time.
It is the consequence or the knowledge that they will experience the
consequences that generally prompts children to change their behaviour and
Pinpoint the purpose of children's misbehaviour. Look at what
children gain from behaving in certain ways. Watch a toddler who makes a
fuss in the supermarket when his mother refuses him a treat or a teenager
who raise her volume levels when she doesn't get her own way at home. What
do they get from these behaviours? The purpose of these temper tantrums is
to break down parent resistance so that they get what they want. Could you
imagine a child throwing a tantrum when no one is around? It would not
happen because tantrums have a purpose and require an audience.
Sometimes misbehaviour that is unusual or out of character, can be a
sign that a child may be experiencing difficulties in some area of his or
her life. If this is the case, support through listening and problem
solving, rather than correction, is the best approach.
Encourage children at every opportunity. Corrective discipline
needs to be balanced by liberal amounts of encouragement. Children who are
difficult to deal with generally lack self-confidence and doubt their
self-worth so they need persistent encouragement. It is a paradox that the
children who are most in need of encouragement are often the hardest to
Consistency rather than severity is the key to effective discipline.
This, as any parent knows, is the real challenge when trying to deal with
children's misbehaviour. Consistent limits and parental responses promote
self-control as children can readily predict the consequences of their
About the author: Michael Grose is a parenting and
work-life balance specialist who always makes good sense. Michael helps parents
raise happy, confident kids and resilient young people, through his parenting
courses, seminars, keynote presentations, books and articles. Visit his website