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 reasonable-minded parent. 

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 place. 

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 mess'. 

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 making. 

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 problem. 

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 reasonable approach. 

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 cooperate. 

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 build up. 

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 actions.

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 at www.parentingideas.com.au

The original version of this article can be found at www.positivepath.net/ideasMG5.asp