For children to want to listen, they must feel loved. Discipline without love is worthless. For children to grow up to love themselves, they must learn responsibility. Both love and discipline are necessary for healthy, happy children.
Rule #1 – See The World Through His Eyes
One thing they do which backfires is to minimize what is important to their child.
If being in the in-crowd is important and she wasn’t asked to a party, that hurts. If he wasn’t chosen for the team, that hurts. Don’t ever act like it’s not and they should get over it. That would be the same as telling you, “Oh, your boss fired you today? Well, it’s not important! Get over it!” Each person is entitled to see the world through his or her own eyes.
Rule #2 – Give Constructive Criticism with Plenty of Praise
Let’s ask the following question: How necessary is constructive criticism? To answer it, imagine you are helping a child with math. What will work better, pointing out how he got the idea right in two or three places, or saying over and over, “that’s wrong, that’s wrong”? The truth is, he does need to be told when he does it wrong, just so he doesn’t accidentally think it is right. But you know from experience that he will become demoralized if everything seems to be wrong. SOMETHING’s got to be right! John Gottman, the eminent researcher, found that people need 5 positives for every negative. So, yes, you sometimes can’t avoid constructive criticism, but make sure there’s 5 constructive praises for every one of them.
What Exactly Is Positive Discipline?
This question is big-time important. In fact, it is half the battle. Obviously, you have to love your child in order to start him or her out right in life. It is hard–but not impossible–to raise a child to be a healthy adult without love.
But if there’s no discipline, the entire battle is lost. Without discipline, the child will be a brat who grows up to be a juvenile delinquent or worse.
Here are the elements of positive discipline:
Rule #3 – Don’t Micromanage
If the sun didn’t rise every morning, we wouldn’t know night from day. (Go ask the Norwegians what it’s like.) If we didn’t get paid when we complete a job, we’d stop working. There’s got to be rules governing life. Some parents have too many rules. They try to micromanage their child’s behavior to the degree that the child would become a little miniature of them if they followed all the rules. Those parents shouldn’t be surprised if the child is rebellious and resentful.
Rule #4 – But You Need Rules!
However, I think the worse problem is the parent who has too few rules or no rules. The child may say he likes his freedom, but what really happens is that this makes the child feel insecure. Follow my logic: A child is just a child. He can’t know the ways of the world. So how does he know how to handle himself if there are no rules? Who can he look up to for guidance if the parent seems uncertain of what’s what? I mean, really, who else is there for the child if not the parent to teach the child what life is about? The child who has no guidance feels as though its up to him. Now he may say how great that is, but he has no clue what life is about. How can he not feel nervous about this?
So what would he do to avoid that uncertainty of navigating life in a chaotic world? Obviously, join a peer group where there are rules. Study after study shows, for example, that adolescents with rules in their parents’ home are less likely to do drugs. Very simple equation.
There are a lot of reasons why parents might not create rules or require that their child follow them.
- the parent was harshly treated as a child and is afraid that real discipline would wound his own child
- the parent is too involved with her own life and doesn’t want to take the time and energy to raise that child
- the parent feels guilty for something, usually a divorce, and thinks that leniency equals love
The only item on this list that is unforgiveable is the selfish one. The child should not have been conceived if the parent is too selfish to take time to nurture her. The other problems are understandable but the parent must get past them in order to raise that child to be a healthy, happy, successful person in life
Rule #5 – Make The Rules Clear
Rule #6 – Stick To Them
Rule #7 – Create Realistic Consequences
Realistic means the penalty fits the crime. For example, I once was working with a family in which the 15 year old daughter was very rude to her mother. She did not curse at her, but she was just short of that in her degree of rudeness. To me, this is a very severe infraction. I mean, it totally violates the 5th Commandment. No matter what religion you are or if you don’t believe in God at all, it seems to me clear that anyone should consider respect to parents of the highest importance.
So the mother agreed and decided to ground her daughter for one week. This was a repeated infraction; it was going on for months with many warnings by the time they came to me. To me, one week punishment was lame and I told the mother so. If it were my child, that would have been the end of chauffering her around for the entire rest of the school year. It would have been the end of doing her laundry, shopping at the mall, parties, friends, you name it. For the entire school year.
This mom just didn’t understand how bad her daughter’s behavior was. This daughter was destined to not even have a relationship with her mother when she was old enough to be on her own. This is the stuff that makes for family feuds going into generations. Have you seen the news stories about rich people fighting over wills or over how their family should be buried? It all began with disrespect.
An Example: Not doing so well on homework
On the other hand, the penalty fitting the crime also means exercise a little common sense. If the child didn’t work as hard as she might on her homework and got a C in a test, it may be ok to confine her to her studies for a month or perhaps the marking period, not the whole school year. Certainly, if I saw an immediate improvement, I might even shorten the confinement along the way. Being strict and sticking to the rules does not mean they can’t be eased provided easing them is itself a rule. For example, in our home, my kids knew that “repentence” would ease a rule. Repentence had it’s own requirements.
Rule #8 – Make Consequences Educational
Some parents are way, way too strict on rules and I often wonder whether they are really trying to teach their children a lesson or they are so sad and unhappy themselves that they just want to make everyone around them unhappy. The second requirement is that the penalty be educational. That is, there must be some aspect to it that reminds the child (a) what she did wrong, (b) what was wrong with it, (c)and what she should have done instead. So if the mother is the one who drives her around all the time, then not having that mother be the chauffer any more is a really powerful reminder of the mother’s value. Ditto laundry.
Further, if the child values her friends more than her mom, then not partying and getting together with them reminds her who really ought to be valued. It also reminds her that how she talks to mom is so important that she will lose an opportunity to talk to friends as much as she wants.
The child should always know what the consequences of infractions are–and not because you repeatedly remind the child, but because you repeatedly follow them yourself in handling him or her.
Rule #9 – The Child Must Know What He Did Wrong
Taking responsibility for the infraction always requires that the child STATE WHAT HE DID WRONG. Apologies are lame (as the kids would say) and absolutely insufficient. They must know what they did wrong; then they can apologize. Moreover, they must be able to explain WHAT THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE INSTEAD. When they know what was wrong and what they should have done, they have taken responsibility. It will be a lot less likely that they break that rule again. And when they do, they will recover from that fumble a lot quicker.
Rule #10 –What NOT To Do: Abuse Is Not Discipline
Parents who want to be strict are to be commended; however, NEVER, ever be abusive and call it discipline. Abuse
crushes the spirit
ruins your relationship with your child
makes impossible or very unlikely the possibility of your child having a healthy adult relationship in the future
increases the likelihood of child drug and alcohol abuse, gang membership, criminal behavior and other forms of rebellion
may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder
may lead to borderline personality disorder
may lead to uncontrolled anger
Rule #11 – Follow the Guidelines for Positive Discipline
1. Never yell when you want to discipline. Take some deep breaths, clear your mind, relax your body, then talk calmly to your child.
2. Be clear in your mind of the facts. Don’t get on the child without double and triple checking what happened with more than one authoritative source. (I have known siblings, teachers, other parents to be wrong on the facts.)
3. Always, ALWAYS talk with respect to your child. If you have a warm, loving, respectful relationship the rest of the time, the discipline will go down well; there will be no rebellion.
4. Make sure expectations are clear. For example, exactly how do you define rudeness?
5. Make sure everyone knows and both parents agree on the consequences.