How to Discipline Your Child Appropriately and Effectively
What constitutes appropriate discipline? When should you administer discipline? While there is no one right answer to fit every family and every circumstance, there are some general guidelines that are recommended.
First, let’s cover why a parent disciplines his/her child. The immediate purposes of discipline are usually twofold: to help a child learn what behaviors are ok and what behaviors are not ok, and also to punish a child for exhibiting behaviors that are not ok (“misbehaving”). The ultimate purpose of discipline is to ensure that the child does not repeat the misbehavior. This may be to ensure the child’s safety, to bring the child in line with societal expectations, or for any number of other reasons.
With that in mind, what constitutes appropriate discipline depends on the age and mindset of the child, the culture in which the child is being raised, and the gravity of the behavioral violation at issue. For example, if a two-year-old child has loudly voiced her displeasure in the middle of a nice restaurant, her parent may remove her to a more private setting (for example, her parent’s car) where she can receive a two minute time-out, be told how to express more appropriately what she is feeling, use that information (hopefully) to express her feelings according to the proscribed boundaries, and experience the love and patience of her parent without simultaneously receiving validation from her parent about her misbehavior. If, however, the child is eight years old and the errant behavior is playing in the middle of a busy street despite repeated parental instruction to the contrary, her parent may remove her from the street and take her to a more private setting (for example, her room) where she can receive an eight minute time-out, be reminded of the dangers of playing in the middle of a busy street, be provided options for alternate locations for play, be grounded for one full week, and experience the love and patience of her parent without simultaneously receiving validation from her parent about her misbehavior. During the week of grounding, the parent may take the child to a local emergency room’s lobby where the child can observe people coming in with major injuries so that the child will see how serious and painful accidents can be. Note that the length of the time-out is proportionate to the child’s age. (Typically, the length of the time-out is one minute for each year of the child’s life. So, a four-year-old will experience a four minute time-out and a nine-year-old will experience a nine minute time out.) Punishments should be age-appropriate. Punishments should also be appropriate for the mindset of the child. One child may be very emotive while another is very logical. A parent needs to select punishments that work for the unique nature of the child. Punishments should be culturally appropriate. For example, in our culture, physical punishment is typically considered inappropriate at this time. Finally, punishment should be proportionate to the misbehavior: stronger punishment should be reserved for recurrent or serious misbehaviors.
Once the method of discipline is chosen, timing should be determined. Ideally, discipline is administered immediately following the misbehavior. If there is a delay, the child may lose the connection between the misbehavior and the punishment. This is true even when the parent explains the connection. Typically, acceptable delay occurs only in taking a child to a private location. When a delay is necessary, a parent should quietly state to the child, at the time of the misbehavior, that discipline will follow at a more appropriate place and time. A child should not be disciplined in front of others.
If the ultimate purpose is kept in mind when selecting discipline for a child, a parent will usually fulfill that purpose eventually (although the purpose may not be achieved in the parent’s ideal timeline). The ultimate purpose of discipline is to ensure that the child does not repeat the misbehavior.
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