One of the most difficult moments is when you have to select the consequences for the child in your care, when she is not complying with your rules or is just completely defiant. It is such a challenge to be consistent with rules and even more difficult to choose consequences that are contextually appropriate to the behavior that needs to be changed. Here are some helpful thoughts for when that moment occurs.
Effective discipline: choosing contextually appropriate consequences
Principle #9 in effective discipline is to select consequences for not complying with rules and let the child know ahead of time what they will be.
Parents and caregivers need to have several strategies that can be used to let their child know the behavior is not acceptable. Further, as children grow and mature, methods used to discipline will need to change.
For example, in a child’s first two years, methods of discipline will rely on distraction and on removing the child from certain situations. That means the caregiver will have to constantly be present in this age range. For children between ages 2 and 6, it will be helpful to have multiple strategies and various kinds of consequences for undesired behavior. In the middle years of childhood (7 to 12 years), have consequences but increasingly use reasons and explanations, expecting that rules become internalized. Later in adolescence, there should be a balance of maintaining rules and standards and monitoring the adolescent while allowing more discussion of decisions.
Regardless of age, certain fundamental principles about discipline can make it work:
- Caregivers need to be consistent, because even occasional failing to enforce rules will keep a behavior going indefinitely.
- Basic rules must be enforced in all contexts (such as public places and in other people’s homes as well as in the child’s home).
- A way of disciplining that worked for a time may not work forever; so, it is important to be flexible and employ different methods when needed.
- When rules are changed, improvements may take a long time if a child is very noncompliant. It is necessary to stay with the new strategies for several weeks before determining that they do or do not work.
- If a discipline method seems to be unsuccessful, a simple change in the plan may be all that is needed to make it work.
- Expect small changes at first when working toward better behavior. Then increase expectations gradually.
- Some reasoning and explanations are necessary around certain limits (such as not hurting or being mean to others) to encourage the child to internalize these limits and rules and to develop a conscience and a sense of guilt.
- There is no point in arguing and giving reasons and explanations when a child already understands why a rule is in place. Just enforce the rule.
- It is critical to notice a child’s positive behaviors and efforts towards improvement.
- Lecturing constantly can turn children off to listening. Short instructions or requests that are given clearly and have the child’s attention are far more effective.
- Believe in and respect yourself and your child.
- Provide structures that are firm, fair and flexible.
These general guidelines are designed to help caregivers be consistent and effective in how they design their disciplinary consequences to children. In my next few posts, I will continue to suggest some more ideas related to helping caregivers use consequences that will help children when they are struggling to obey the rules and live positively in their family or community.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, LakesideEducational Network
Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 408-409