Family routines are changing and stress levels are running high. Now, more than ever, the need to properly guide and direct children at home has reached the forefront of many parents’ minds. Here are a few tips from ThedaCare Pediatrician Sharon Rink, MD, for how you can implement healthy discipline to restore order in your home before your patience runs out.
1. Create a “no-no” list with consequences.
Parents should set up expectations, so their child knows what a “no-no” is. The rules need to be explained clearly, in age-appropriate terms, and enforced consistently. For example, will the child face a timeout? And for how long?
“You may need to write down these rules and consequences to remind you and other caregivers what is expected,” said Dr. Rink. “That way, when the undesired behavior occurs, the consequence is consistently administered by all.”
2. Apply consequences immediately.
Make sure consequences are carried out at the time of the “offense”. In addition to following through right away, parents should make sure the consequence is something they can do as well. For example, if the rule is “no television” that means no one in the house, including parents, can watch television.
“If the television is on, and it isn’t the child’s show, it’s still on, they win—no consequence given—so parents need to spend time figuring out actionable consequences,” she said.
3. Identify new “offenses”.
If there is a new situation that is not included on the “no-no” list, all activity should stop immediately, Dr. Rink suggests. The offensive behavior should be identified, and a consequence should be determined. Be patient — what constitutes as unacceptable behavior will continue to evolve throughout the safer at home order, and beyond.
4. Model appropriate behavior.
Parents need to model the behavior they want to see in their children. If parents are having a particularly bad moment controlling behavior, experts say step away from the situation for a few minutes – be sure your child is in a safe place – and take a few deep breaths. When you are calm, return to your child, and apologize if your behavior was not what it should have been. Demonstrate a positive way to recover from the mistake, and explain how you will handle the situation in the future.
“It’s all part of healthy development,” Dr. Rink said. “We need to help children manage their behavior to keep them from harm and build healthy relationships throughout life.”
Additional guidance from The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP):
The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. When the family is heading into a situation where trouble is anticipated, parents should spend time with their child to explain the activity and how best to behave while participating in it. Sometimes best efforts fail, so if your child is bored or he or she is not responding in the way you had hoped, redirect the child into another activity.
Two disciplinary actions pediatricians say parents need to avoid: spanking and harsh words.
According to the AAP’s Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children report, research reveals “corporal punishment (spanking, slapping and other forms of physical punishment) is both ineffective in the long-term and associated with cognitive and mental health problems.” Evidence notes the same about verbal abuse.
For specific healthy discipline tips based on a child’s age and stage in life, check out this resource by the AAP.