Tips for Disciplining Children

Feb 7, 2007

As discussed in the February 26 newsletter, discipline remains a very difficult area of child rearing for parents. How do you balance being a parent and a friend? How do you show unconditional acceptance of your child but also set clear limits on behavior?

Studies show that discipline is most effective when several key components are present. One of the most important elements is consistency. Parents who respond in the same manner every time, provided the expectations have already been set, have greater success with discipline. Another way to look at it is consistently following through with consequences when a child chooses not to abide by rules or limits.

One of the easiest ways to effectively communicate limits and rules is to be on the same level with the child, while maintaining eye contact. This not only establishes you are fully attuned to your child, but also indicates the level of seriousness of the limits or rules.

If you yell from another room that your child must pick up his clothes off of the floor, you are communicating that you are involved in something else and the expectation is an after-thought. Your child will learn to recognize that you are not able to enforce rules when presented in such a manner. If, however, you wait until you are in the same room with your child, kneel down in front of them, look them in the eye, and tell them they need to immediately pick up their clothes, they will understand you are willing to ensure it gets done.

As noted in the newsletter, the rule of “Your toes follow your nose”, will help you implement this concept. Imagine talking to someone whose body is facing away from you, but their head is craned to see you. This communicates you are a distraction from what they are truly focused on, and they are waiting to return to their other activity. Likewise, if your head has to turn to talk to, look at, correct or in some other way acknowledge your child, you are not giving him/her your full, focused attention. By allowing your toes to follow your nose, you will then spin your body to be fully engaged with your child, in conversation or discipline.

There are many elements to healthy and effective discipline, and this is just one small piece of a larger puzzle. However, I encourage you to try to take enough time to calmly and respectfully communicate limits and expectations while looking your child directly in the eye. Keep in mind, after setting the expectation or limit, give your child time to comply. (i.e. walk away). Check back within several minutes and, if necessary, repeat the same process of getting on their level and more firmly stating the rules. Your child will learn that you are serious and consistent about limits and will begin to abide by your rules without resistance or defiance over time.

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