Rethinking discipline

Many times, parents equate disciplining their children with punishment. But there is a completely different way to think about discipline and still raise productive, respectful adults who are successful members of society.

If you get to the root of the word, discipline actually means to teach or give instruction to someone. So if you think about disciplining your children as providing constructive teaching or instruction, then you can build a level of respect while still strengthening your bond with them.

Some parents can be too hard on their children and berate them for making mistakes. This is not the best response as it can make a child feel like they are bad or have done something wrong. As they get older, children who have had their parents berate them throughout their adolescence, tend to hide things from their parents. On the other hand, making excuses for a child’s bad behavior is not the best form of discipline as the child does not learn to take responsibility for their actions and as they grow, they tend to blame others for their shortcomings.

Appropriate discipline teaches your child that mistakes happen, and it’s ok to make them as long as you own up to the mistake and have a plan to correct the situation so it doesn’t happen again. When your child makes a mistake or disobeys you, explain to them why it was a mistake and allow them to brainstorm ways they can correct the mistake both in the immediate future and for the long-term. Using this form of discipline, children learn to become responsible for their actions while developing problem solving skills. At the same time, their self-confidence and self-worth remain intact.

You should set boundaries and have behavioral expectations for your children. When determining those boundaries, be flexible and consider your child’s age and developmental abilities to ensure they are something the child can easily follow. Boundaries should be implemented for a child’s safety or to teach them and not just for your comfort or convenience. Pushback is a natural part of boundary setting as it’s a child’s way of testing the security of their environment and trustworthiness of their parents. As a parent, children want to know if you are going to be consistent, that you have their best interest at heart and that you are still going to love them if they make mistakes.

Remember parenting and disciplining is not easy, and things may not go as smoothly as you would like. You should celebrate small victories in a child’s behavioral improvements. A good way to measure these improvements, is to think about DIF, which stands for duration, intensity and frequency. If any aspect of your child’s behavior is improving using DIF, then you are on the right track. When school’s in session, another good indicator of positive behavior changes is to check with your child’s school about their classroom behavior. Often children will behave better at school than at home because home is their safe place to break down and relax. Home is also a safe environment to try new behaviors.

More parenting information is available at the Bell County Extension office.

Rebecca Miller is the Bell County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin. Source: David Weisenhorn, senior extension specialist for parenting