A lot goes into raising tiny humans. Hugs, kisses, nurturing, teaching, laughing, loving — you know, the usual suspects. But one of the most important and challenging parts of being a parent is steering your child in the right direction. You’re the mold, Mama. It’s your job to shape your kid into a decent, productive member of society. This is no easy task. However, knowing healthy child discipline techniques (like healthy parenting styles) can definitely help you guide your child.
The first time your little one does something that merits a course correction can make you wonder, What’s the best way to discipline my child? What are the most effective methods? How do I make sure I’m picking positive child discipline techniques? Fortunately, a lot of very smart people have come before us who have put together salient pointers about discipline strategies that manage behavior and promote healthy development.
Here are some of the most effective — and positive — child discipline methods you can follow to keep your cute but sometimes naughty nugget in line.
Lead By Example
The first rule of journalism you learn in school or on the first day of the job is to show, not tell. Show the reader what your point is, paint the scene, and they will understand better than if you just told them a conclusion. The same thing can be said about children. One of the best ways you can teach your child right from wrong is to show them — be a role model of acceptable behavior for your child, including in disciplinary moments. “Effective and positive discipline is about teaching and guiding children, not just forcing them to obey,” underscores the Canadian Paediatric Society.
Without consistency, you’re undercutting any disciplinary measures you might take. Ultimately, the goal of these measures is to help your child form the foundation for self-discipline so that they can become an acceptable, appropriate adult. If you lack consistency, though, the foundation can fail to form.
“Although it’s sometimes easier for parents to ignore occasional bad behavior or not follow through on some threatened punishment, this sets a bad precedent,” according to Nemours Children’s Health System. “Consistency is the key to effective discipline, and it’s important for parents to decide (together, if you are not a single parent) what the rules are and then uphold them.”
Discipline works best when the lines of communication between a parent and child are clear. In other words, make sure your child understands what you expect from them. Set limits and consequences for crossing those limits. When your child acts out in defiance of those limits, follow through with the disciplinary measures you’ve established. “The earlier that parents establish this ‘I set the rules and you’re expected to listen or accept the consequences’ standard, the better for everyone,” says Nemours.
Keep in mind that children raised without rules and limits can have a much harder time adjusting socially later in life. But remember, keep it reasonable. If you threaten to ground your child for a month for every tiny transgression, it’ll break down trust and can breed resentment, which is counter-intuitive to the entire process. But if you warn your preschooler that you will turn the TV off or take their tablet away if they don’t watch their behavior, then you should follow through, no matter what kind of stink or tantrum they pull after. Those repercussions get bigger and bigger as the child gets older, but they punishment should always be age-appropriate and transgression appropriate.
Avoid Toxic Words
Just as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages the use of physical punishment such as spanking, they strongly advise against harsh verbal punishments. In an updated policy statement, the organization notes that yelling at or shaming a child can elevate stress hormones to the point that it leads to changes in the child’s brain architecture. Even if you’re an otherwise warm and nurturing parent, harsh verbal discipline can have an adverse effect on your child’s behavior and mental health.
Of course, we’re all human and sometimes we say things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. As a rule of thumb, though, it’s best with kids to try to use positive language to steer them in the right direction. So, for example, instead of chiding them, “Don’t do [that]!” Instead say, “Let’s give [this] a try,” or “Time to do [this].”
Teach Them to Communicate
While we’re on the subject of positive verbal communication, it’s never too early to start teaching your child to identify and express their emotions. Especially when children are young, their frustration — and subsequent misbehavior — can stem from the fact that they don’t know how to tell you what they’re feeling.
Give Them Attention… Or Not
Often, children act out because they want one thing in particular: your attention. So, when you notice good behavior, celebrate it. Let them know you see and appreciate it. On the flip side, if your kid is misbehaving, you might think about not giving them attention — as in, yes, ignore them. As long as they aren’t doing anything dangerous for themselves or other people (and as long as you are balancing this out with plenty of good attention elsewhere), not giving your misbehaving child attention can curb the bad behavior. Your kid wants attention. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll likely move on sooner rather than later.
One Word: Diversion
It doesn’t take long for mamas to realize that parenting young children is essentially one gigantic sequence of diversions. You probably already know this is an effective tool and, fortunately, it’s also a positive one. The main idea here is that you want to redirect your child’s bad behavior. Kids can act out due to sheer boredom sometimes. Or sometimes they meltdown because they can’t get what they want. A solution? Distract them from the negative behavior they’re engaging in by finding something else that might hold their attention or funnel their energy into a more positive place.
Let Someone Else (Famous) Do The Work
Say what you want about “screen time” and the evils of television. However, sometimes you can find the answers you need on the screen. Daniel Tiger, for instance, has a great segment that helps kids learn to calm down when they are angry. And Abby Cadabby and Elmo often talk about sharing. You are your child’s first friend and most important and long-lasting role model. You are also human and will eventually be replaced in their “best friend” category by Muppets and cartoons. Does it suck? Yeah, Mama. Of course. But, can you use it to your advantage? Also, yeah. When words fail you or you feel like you’re talking to a wall when approaching the same behavior again and again, see who else can help. Add PBS Kids and Nick Jr. to your village. Somewhere out there is an episode of your child’s favorite show that deals exactly with the issue you’re having. Google can help you find it.
Come from a place of calm
Sometimes our kids are just bonkers. You can see the look in their eyes — they’re “ignoring” you when you try to divert or distract. You could blow a whistle and they’d be so intuned with what they’re doing, they probably wouldn’t even notice. Positive parenting resource, Empowering Parents, suggests you pause, breathe and think. Unless your little boo is sticking their finger in a light socket or halfway up the bookcase, you don’t need to react immediately. Take a step back (maybe even turn your back, if that helps), count to 3, 5 or 10 (depending on the situation and your emotions), take some deep breaths and then decide how you want to address the situation.
Finally, forgive yourself
No one wants to lose their ish when their kid takes a flying leap off the couch. In the moment, though, you’re often guided by your initial emotion (in this case: fear) and may not address it with the calmness you’d hoped. While you need to set a good example, you’re going to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Not even you, Mama. Apologize to your kiddo, even if they can’t understand. If they’re old enough, explain why you reacted how you did — it’s another good excuse to talk about feelings and emotions. As soon as you possibly can, take a few minutes to yourself to cry, sniff some oils or shove some chocolate in your face. Apologize to yourself and then move on. You’ll have more opportunities to make positive discipline choices tomorrow… or, like, after dinner.