Child discipline can be the most frustrating aspect of parenting; it certainly is not fun! Nobody enjoys having to set consequences, make the rules, and lay down the law. But the role of disciplinarian is one of the most important jobs you have as a parent.
Reasons Parents Struggle with Discipline
In my practice, I’ve found there are many reasons parents struggle with disciplining their child(ren). Some reasons are easy to fix, but only if you’re aware of the part they’re playing. As they say, knowing is half the battle. So here are a few of the usual suspects when it comes to difficulty with disciplining:
1) Fear of rejection: Parents often simply don’t want their kids to be mad at them. They don’t want to be unpopular in their own home. They’re afraid their child will turn on them or they won’t love them anymore. They’re afraid that their children won’t want to be with them.
2) Concern over mirroring their parents’ methods: Some folks were disciplined very harshly as kids and don’t want to be like their parents. They may be afraid that they will go too far with the only discipline methods they know. They think, “I’m not going to do that to my child, but I don’t have any other ideas.” They just don’t have a toolbox of good discipline methods. Sometimes, parents don’t know what to do because their parents didn’t discipline them at all, or they were so well-behaved that they never needed it! In this case, their child’s bad behavior is baffling. They don’t know what to do because they were never that way when they were kids.
3) Limited options: Some parents want to discipline, but they don’t know what to do beyond timeouts, banishing kids to their room, or taking away iPads, cell phones and other toys. They, too, just need more discipline methods in their toolbox.
4) The opinion of others: We worry about what other people are going to think of us. We’re afraid that people may flash judgmental looks, either when we have a badly-behaving child or when we’re implementing discipline. (Darned if you do . . . darned if you don’t!) Everybody’s got an opinion! There will always be someone saying, “Well, if that was my kid . . .” Your parents, siblings, best friend, and next-door neighbors will all have opinions on how YOU should parent.
5) Spousal sabotage: Sometimes, spouses don’t agree on discipline methods. Or one rejects being the “bad guy” all the time or resents the “fun” parent. If one parent is very strict, the other parent may be more lenient to “balance” it out. Or vice-versa, if one is too lenient, the other thinks they have to be strict in order to achieve balance in the family. Of course, it doesn’t take the kids long to notice a lack of solidarity! This isn’t limited to situations of divorce or separation. Sometimes, it’s even worse when the family lives together full-time, because spouses must agree and implement the consequences in the moment.
Why Children Need Discipline
Just in case you’re needing some morale support or renewed motivation to stay on track with good discipline methods, here’s a refresher about why your kids need you to be a good disciplinarian.
Discipline Teaches the Ways of the World
Discipline teaches children decision-making skills, as they must decide what kind of behavior they’re going to choose. It teaches them about setting boundaries. (Many of our troubles as adults come from an inability to set proper boundaries in life, don’t you agree?) Discipline teaches kids the way the world works and that there are consequences in life: you’re expected to show up to work on time or you get docked pay, you pay your bills on time or you get charged a late fee, you go grocery shopping or you go hungry. Disciplining your child helps them to understand that the choices they make have outcomes. You learn that by having structure growing up. Discipline helps children understand that what they do matters and the choices they make have an effect on other people.
As you’re disciplining a child who is refusing to do his homework, go to bed, or stay inside when you tell him it’s dark out, he’s learning the rules of the world. Without having learned basic structures and appropriate behaviors in life, he’ll be flying by the seat of his pants as an adult; he won’t have learned what’s appropriate yet. Something as simple as having a bedtime teaches the importance of proper sleep! When you’re an adult, you definitely have to be accountable for your actions. It’s harder if you’ve never had to do it before! If you don’t teach them now, children will be ill-equipped to make their own choices and decisions when they are grown and on their own. If kids don’t learn to follow the rules now, they may get themselves in real trouble when their actions can have more serious consequences.
Discipline is Love
Discipline provides structure to a child’s life. Kids need structure in order to learn and grow healthy. Structure makes them feel safe. They don’t LIKE having to be home by 7 o’clock, but knowing that everybody’s home by 7 o’clock is proof of structure in their lives. They NEED the rules in order to feel that life is safe. Boundaries show them that life isn’t haphazard—there’s a set routine and expectations. Somebody cares enough about them to put rules into place. They are not even remotely conscious of feeling this way. Twenty-five years ago, I had an 8-year-old boy—who was allowed to run the streets till all hours—tell me, “I wish my parents would give me rules; it would make me feel so much better.” But that was a very unusual child. Kids don’t THINK they want you to give them rules and they’re certainly not going to admit that they need them.
5 Simple Child Discipline Tips
- Be Consistent – Part 1: If you say it, mean it. Don’t make threats you won’t carry out.
- Be Consistent – Part 2: Every time a behavior occurs, deal with it in the way you said you would (see Part 1).
- Be respectful in the tone of your voice and demeanor.
- Don’t feel guilty or fall for emotional manipulations like outbursts and crying. Children do this because it works!
- Be confident in yourself as a parent. Be mindful of your own self-esteem. Think about what you are modeling for your child(ren). Sometimes, you must do your own “work” as a parent to overcome your own insecurities. Kids challenge us to grow as individuals. (Now isn’t that something!)
Take heart. With effective discipline, you won’t have to constantly address the same behavior problems and you can make more room for fun! The more you utilize effective discipline strategies, the easier dealing with your child’s behavior gets. And you won’t be the only party to notice this. Kids will notice it, too, and realize quickly that there’s less conflict in the house, less yelling, and more time for play. Parenting is already so much work, don’t make it harder by avoiding discipline. When your kids learn to obey rules without yelling or long fights, you literally make more time in your day. Instead of arguing with kids that won’t listen, you can enjoy each other!
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Sharon Thetford, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who chose her career while still in elementary school. She began with the intention of helping kids and found she also enjoyed counseling adults. She has been in clinical private practice serving both for 25 years. Dr. Thetford uses EMDR to work with patients who have experienced trauma and loves the results that Neurofeedback brings to cases of ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and anger issues/emotional control. She conducts 8-week parenting classes at her practice, New Objectives Psychology, Counseling & Neurofeedback Center in Altamonte Springs, where she serves as director.
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