Positive Discipline

Disciplining a child is a very important but perhaps one of the most difficult roles of a parent. When done effectively, discipline provides a healthy foundation for self-discipline throughout life. Effective and positive discipline teaches and guides children, it doesn’t force and scare them.

Physical punishment may have an immediate effect, but we believe there are better ways to teach children than by hurting them.

How Can I Teach My Child Good Behaviour?

Be prepared to work at it. Children often misbehave to test the limits and learn what kind of behaviour will be tolerated. Be patient; talk and listen to your child.

Parenting can be stressful at times but it is easier to cope when you also take proper care of yourself.

As soon as you realize that you are getting angry, stop what you are doing and make an effort to calm down. Take a deep breath to help regain your self-control. Wash your face or phone a friend for support. If you can, find a reliable person to babysit for a few minutes and go for a walk.

After you have calmed down, think about what made you angry. What are the reasons behind your child’s misbehaviour? Is there anything you can do to prevent this situation from happening again? Think about ways you can reduce the stress on you and your child.

When you have problems that you can’t solve alone, it is okay to ask for help. Talk to other parents and childcare experts in your community. Violent outbursts, setting fires, hurting pets, and stealing are all signs of trouble. Get help with these problems from an expert before the problems get worse.

Encourage good behaviour. Try to prevent misbehaviour fromhappening in the first place.

Getting Started

Make your home a safe place for your child to play in and explore. Don’t let your child get too hungry, tired or bored. Set clear limits on your child’s behaviour with a few fair and simple rules. Focus on safety. The rules should allow children to explore and learn in a safe way.

Communicate

Make sure your child understands what you expect. Explain the reason for the rule if the child is old enough to understand. Be positive, and focus on what to do, instead of what not to do. Teasing, name-calling and insults can hurt as much as hitting; don’t compare your child negatively to other children.

Give children time to respond, they don’t like to stop doing things they enjoy. Give children a chance to prepare for change. For example, try saying “In five minutes, it will be time to turn off the television and start your schoolwork.”

Praise and encourage your children when they do behave. Try saying “I like it when you help your little sister.” Show your approval with hugs, kisses and smiles. Make sure that good behaviour gets more of your attention than bad behaviour.

Be a good role model, and live what you teach. It doesn’t make sense to hit a child for hitting someone else.

Ignore minor incidents; learn to accept some noise, clutter and attention-seeking behaviour. Remember, mistakes happen.

With Babies

Never shake or toss a baby, even playfully. A baby’s neck is weak and shaking can result in brain damage or death.

Respond to your baby’s cries. They cry to communicate their needs, such as for food, comfort or a clean diaper.

Develop a daily routine around feeding, sleeping and play to help your baby feel safe and secure.

Show your love and affection; cuddle, talk and sing to your baby. Babies are too young to understand limits and rules.

With One And Two Year Olds

Young children have short memories; gently remind them about the rules to help them learn.

If your child begins to lose control, move close and put your arm around the child. (This is also a good way to deal with hitting, biting, or kicking.) If necessary, gently hold your child with just enough force to keep the child from getting hurt.

If holding makes the child angrier, then let go, remain calm and wait until your child calms down. This may be hard to do but it often works. Tantrums are frightening for children. Be ready to comfort your child when the anger turns to tears.

With Two And Three Year Olds

If your child is frustrated and unable to solve a problem, try a different activity. For example, take a restless child outside for some physical activity.

Let children experience the consequences of their actions if it is safe to do so. For example, say “If you can’t play with the blocks without throwing them, the blocks will be put away.” Then follow through and put the blocks away if the child continues throw to throw them. If your child is doing something that is unsafe, you can explain the consequences later, but remove your child from danger immediately.

Use a “time out,” removing a child from a situation for refusing to follow the rules. It can be effective with children between the ages of two and 12 years. Take your child to a safe, quiet place where the child can calm down and regain control.

Explain that you are having a time out because of the child’s misbehaviour. Do not argue or discuss at this point. When the child feels ready to try again (or when five minutes have passed), bring the child back to play. Praise the child’s first acceptable behaviour after time out.

With Older Children

Problem solving and making choices help prepare children for their teenage years. Offer choices, this help them learn how to make decisions. Offer simple choices, but don’t threaten, for example, say “You can wash the dishes or dry them. You decide.”

Teach problem solving. Help your child to define the problem. Ask questions, such as “what would happen if you tried to…?” Together, think of some solutions. Choose the best one. Afterwards, talk about what worked and what you could try next time.

Solve problems together; as children approach the teen years, they still need clear limits but parents should be willing to negotiate a little. When children start thinking for themselves, their talking back may anger you. However, to keep communicating, parents must do more listening and more explaining with older children. Work with your children to solve problems together.

Excerpted with permission from the Child Welfare League of Canada brochure “Discipline without Hurting.”