It’s hard to deny the importance of discipline. "Discipline has to do with civilizing your child so they can live in society," says psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD. Yet many kids repeatedly test their parents’ limits. When it comes to disciplining children, there is no quick fix and no magic bullet.
If you, like many parents, have tried to discipline kids who don’t want to listen, this article is for you. WebMD asked parenting experts for tips on how to discipline kids without being a drill sergeant, or a pushover.
Discipline Tip # 1: Reward Good Behavior
When punishment is the centerpiece of discipline, parents tend to overlook their children’s best behaviors. "You’ll get a lot further with positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement," says Mason Turner, MD, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center. Rewarding good deeds targets behaviors you want to develop in your child, not things he shouldn’t be doing.
This doesn’t mean you should give your child a pound of chocolate every time he picks up a paperclip. "There are grades of positive reinforcement," says Turner. "There’s saying ‘good job. I’m really glad you did that,’ when your child cleans his room." And there are times when your child does something extraordinary that may warrant a larger reward.
Discipline Tip # 2: Be Clear About Rules
If your rules are vague, or discussed only when one has been broken, your child will have a hard time following them. "It’s up to the parent to make clear what’s expected of the child and what isn’t," says Brody, who chairs the Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Be sure to explain the rules of the house when you can speak clearly and your child is not too upset to listen.
James Sears, MD, a pediatrician in Southern California, suggests practicing discipline when it works for you. For instance, when you have 30 minutes to spare, interrupt your child’s game and tell her you need help with something. If she helps, great, do a quick and easy chore together and let her go back to her game. If she throws a tantrum, you have time to deal with it. "If you do that every once in a while, your child will understand that when Mommy says I need to put my toys away, I need to do it," says Sears.
Discipline Tip # 3: Neutralize Arguments
How do you deal with a child who wants to argue into submission? Steer clear of no-win arguments.
Instead, "go brain dead," advises Jim Fay, co-author of Parenting with Love and Logic. For instance, if your child says, "This isn’t fair," say, "I know." If your child says, "All of my friends get to have this," say, "I know." Or you can use the phrase, "And what did I say?" to enforce rules you have already discussed with your child. Sometimes the less you say, the more clear your point becomes.