Few things will turn your hair gray faster than discipline problems with your child. The first time your kid swings a punch on the playground, you’ll probably wonder if you’re raising the next Al Capone. Even scarier, you’ll wonder if your attempts at discipline are making things worse. But if you’re worrying that much, chances are your efforts at discipline are going to work out just fine.
Discipline comes in three main styles: authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. But don’t get confused by choices — only one is the best model for parents. Authoritarian parents are too strict, insisting on “my way or the highway” every time, which tends to make kids rebel in secret. Permissive parents let kids get away with everything, which makes everybody happy in the short term but results in spoiled kids who can’t handle rules. The best discipline style is a balanced approach: an authoritative style that sets reasonable limits and sticks to them.
Strategies for Bad Behavior
When your toddler bites his best friend at a play date, you need to act fast to break up the fight. In the short term, you can choose from a lot of strategies — from a firm “no” (good) to a threat (not good), a time-out (usually fine), or a spanking (bad). But in the long term, the most effective models are ones that teach your child why it’s bad to leave teeth marks on Johnny’s arm. Too much talking confuses young kids, but even a toddler can understand a simple, “Look! Johnny is crying because you hurt him. Friends get sad when we hurt them.” And sometimes, life is the most effective teacher. When possible, let your child experience the natural consequences of his actions, and he’ll be less likely to make the same mistake again.
Strategies for Good Behavior
Your child’s bad behavior might be what keeps you awake at night. But the best discipline models focus on the good stuff. Strategies such as redirection and praise emphasize what you want your child to do and reward good actions with attention and approval. Special privileges, or simple expressions of appreciation, can help motivate your child to finish harder tasks like cleaning her room or completing her homework. And if you want to encourage internal motivation, avoid rewards and just point out the intrinsic benefits of good behavior: “You’re sharing your toy! Your friend Sara looks happy that she gets a turn.”
Key Discipline Principles
Ultimately, the best discipline model will look a little different for every family. Two factors will determine what the best strategy is for you. First is consistency. Most discipline strategies will work if you follow them, but if you’re constantly making threats and not following through, your kids won’t follow through, either. You need to choose strategies that fit your parenting philosophy and personality so you’ll be able to stick with them.
Second is your ability to set an example. Nobody’s perfect — not even Mom — but kids learn more from your actions than your words. So don’t attempt a discipline model that asks too much of you; you need a method that will help you keep your calm, even in the midst of the worst toddler storm.