Effective child discipline is
as much art as science. Every child comes to a family “pre-wired” with
certain predispositions, and each one is unique. In the eternal debate
between “nature” and “nurture,” it is certain that every child has his or her
own personality. Every child is reached in different ways to influence
his or her behavior.
As I have parented my children, and as I have researched what has worked for
other fathers, these ten discipline strategies have seemed to me to be most
effective at modifying behaviors. They help children learn how to exist
peacefully in a family and effectively in society. How they are applied –
how often and at what level – depend entirely on how the child might respond to
them. Sometimes it is a “trial and error” process, but in the end, these
tools and strategies are pretty effective and useful as we develop our own
disciplinary style as fathers.
Setting Limits. Children seem to respond best when they
operate within established limits or norms. Their world is more
predictable, which tends to help them adapt to it and find their place in it.
Tools like setting limits and consequences at the
same time, applying limits consistently, and being firm without being cruel are
Praising Effectively. Children always respond best when they
are praised for the good things they
do, rather than being disciplined for their wrong choices. Catching a
child doing something right and then telling them that they did a good job is a
critical tool in our child discipline strategies toolbox.
Intervening with Time-Out. Separating children from a
stressful situation where their behavior is inappropriate is a time-tested
discipline strategy. It gives them time to think about their behavior and
the situation, allows the parent to calm down as well and not respond in anger,
and teaches effective coping skills for life in general. Time-Out is a
very effective tool in working with our children to modify behavior.
Using Behavior Contracts. One very effective but often
underutilized tool for child discipline is the use of a behavior contract.
Behavior contracts are written agreements between children and parents
that define expectations on both sides – the behavior that is expected and the
consequences that follow violation of the expectation.
Making Grounding Effective. Many of us, particularly those
who are parenting teens or tweens, find ourselves resorting to grounding as a discipline
technique. Maybe it is because it is easy, or maybe it is what our
parents used on us. But grounding can be tough to implement and make
stick if it isn’t done right.
Using Natural Consequences. While often we implement
consequences as a response to less-than-desirable behavior in our children, we
often don’t take the time to make a natural and logical connection between the
behavior and the consequence. The idea of natural consequences is that they follow from
the behavior, thus helping kids connect the two, not just now but later in
Breaking Power Struggles. There are few things more
frustrating for a father than finding himself in a power struggle with a child.
We think we are more powerful, and when the child is willful and battling
with us, we can’t see ourselves ceding ground to them. But the fact is
that we can effectively break a power struggle without giving in AND without
escalating it to an unhealthy level.
Stop the Whining. Whining is a most unnerving habit that our
children seem to develop almost innately. I am not sure how they develop
this habit, but it is one that tends to grate on a father’s nerves. There
are several good approaches to helping our kids stop whining once it starts
(and it will), and simply applying those will break the mold and get them
communicating more effectively about their wants and needs.
Expressing Anger Appropriately. Sometimes, our children’s behavior
gets the best of our better selves and we lose our temper. Losing our
temper suggests that we lose control, which a dad simply can’t afford to do.
Finding ways to express our anger appropriately keeps our worst self in
check and also teaches our children by example how they can express themselves
when their anger is pushing limits.
Uniting in Child Discipline. Have you ever been in a
situation where a child plays one parent off of the other with a discipline
issue? That sort of lack of unity between mom and dad is a killer for a
marriage relationship as well as for consistently approaching child discipline.
Dads and moms need to get on the same page and support one another in
order for child discipline to be most effective.