Making mistakes is part of being a parent, and discipline is an area where we slip up constantly. To discipline properly, we have to make clear, sensible, big-picture decisions at exactly the same moment when we are angry, frustrated, or embarrassed. And that is just as hard as it sounds. Here are some of the slip-ups that most of us are guilty of and ways to avoid them:
Thinking that one style fits all: The bookstores are teeming with manuals, each touting an expert’s best and only method. Friends and Grandma love to tell you what worked for them. And there is definitely something appealing about the simplicity of a one-approach-fits-all strategy.
But some children freak out when you speak to them sharply, while others are unaffected. Some listen right away; others need time to scream it out before you can talk to them. And it is not just temperament; it is age and development. Understanding where they are in life is key to picking the right approach to discipline, and preventing desperation.
Overdoing it: The punishment should fit the crime, not your frustration level. And it needs to be something feasible, that doesn’t overly affect siblings who’ve done nothing wrong. If one of the kids is doing something they shouldn’t, for example being mean to a sibling, you should say, “There will be consequences.” It is particularly good to use in public, because while it may strike fear into your kids, it sounds pretty benign. If the misbehaving child doesn’t stop, there are consequences, and you should take a moment to think about them. Sometimes you should ask, “What do you think your consequences should be?” It’s interesting how often kids come up with a fair punishment, such as apologizing and letting the wronged sibling play with their favorite toy for the rest of the day.
Be inconsistent: Once you’ve said no to something, you have to continue saying no. You can’t give in sometimes “Well, okay, you’re having fun and nobody seems to mind.” Kids get confused and pick up quickly on the fact that they have, well, latitude. Since you don’t want to say no to everything, pick your battles and decide what’s really important to you. In some parent’s case, they are not so concerned about neatness, but they won’t tolerate meanness, lying, or anything violent or dangerous. Once you’ve decided on your rules, set them clearly and stick to them.
The other part of this is follow-through. If you take away your child’s TV privileges for the day and then give in while you’re making dinner because you don’t want them underfoot, they will figure out that there is a good chance they can break the rules and get away with it.