While limits, and consequences have their place in discipline, these strategies are most effective when built on a strong foundation of love, respect, and understanding. A strong relationship is your number one strategy to manage and even avoid behavioural challenges.
Here are some tips to help make your discipline strategies more effective:
- Make time for your child. Set aside a time every day to engage with your child. Play is a very effective way of connecting with your child and strengthening your relationship.
- Create opportunity for your child to take the lead in the play. Avoid asking too many questions during the play time. Constantly asking questions may seem like a teaching opportunity, but too many questions can interrupt the child’s play and impose your agenda.
- Catch your child being good! Look for positive behaviours and ensure that your child knows that you noticed. Use praise specific praises to let your child know what you liked about their behaviour. For example, instead of saying “good job!”, say “Thank you for cleaning up”. Also, be sure to praise “process” rather than “outcome”. For example, instead of praising a child for a good grade on a test, saying “Congratulations! You studied very hard for that test!” praises the effort and process rather than the results. Praise should relate to a “growth mindset” meaning that we don’t want to praise children simply for their success. Rather, it is important that we encourage learning. Phrases such as, “you did it!” or “that looks hard. I can see you keep trying!” tend to be more effective than praise.
- State your requests using positive language. Instead of saying, “no!”, “don’t!” and “stop!”., let your child know what to do. Children tend to “tune-out” instructions when they are bombarded by no’s. Saying, “please walk” instead of “don’t run” for example, is more likely to yield success.
- Separate emotion from behaviour. Remember that all emotions are acceptable but how we choose to respond is important. It is understandable that your child might feel angry if a playmate takes a toy away, but hitting the child is not an appropriate response.
- Validate your child’s emotion. Describe the emotion and show that you understand before imposing any discipline strategy. Begin by saying “it made you mad that she took your toy”. Then, let the child know that the behavior was not okay.
- Be your child’s emotion coach! It is not enough to simply tell your child what not to do. Children experience emotions very intensely and they need help dealing with those emotions. Provide strategies such as deep breathing, counting to ten, writing in a journal, or talking to a friend, to help them manage difficult emotions in the moment.
- Model the behaviours you want to see. Remember that your child is watching you and learning how to manage emotions. Before you respond to a situation with anger and frustration, keep airline safety recommendations in mind and put your own oxygen mask on first! Once you are calm, you are better able to manage a situation.
- Follow through with consequences and limits. When children are emotion coached, the need for consequences is often reduced. However, when limits and consequences are used, it is important to follow through. Make sure that consequences that you create are realistic and logical.