Whether your toddler throws a grand tantrum in the middle of the mall, your preschooler defies your requests to pick up his toys or your tween starts slamming doors, discipline is not something to be avoided, even by the most kind-hearted, patient parent. Not the same as punishment, discipline is a teaching tool that when used well, encourages responsibility, security and self-esteem.
Instead of always handing out the punishments, trying a positive form of discipline can help your child to learn new behaviors and reinforce that actions that you expect. Praise, according to the child development experts at Kids Health, can help your child to recognize what "good" behaviors are and thus feel more confidant in his ability to act in an acceptable way. For example, when your 4-year-old quickly cleans up his art materials after you ask him to say something along the lines of, "Good job. I like how well you listened to me."
The time-out is a discipline strategy that can help you to correct your child's disobedience without a long-term consequence or punishment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends picking a timeout spot that is located away from distractions, such as other kids, the TV or toys, and setting a specific time limit with one minute per each year of the child's age. When your child acts out, defies you or breaks a rule, remove him from the situation, instruct him to go to the time-out spot, and when he sits down, set the timer. Discreetly supervise your child during this time. While you can use a timeout with kids of any age, the AAP notes that they work best for children between the ages of 2 and 5.
By the time that your child reaches the preschool years -- between the ages of 3 and 5 -- he has the cognitive ability to understand the concept of rules and consequences, according to the Kids Health website. Don't wait until your child disobeys you to tell him that he has broken a rule. Instead, provide your child with a list of age-appropriate rules. These may change or grow more complex as he ages. For example, you may have the rule that your preschooler must pick up his toys after the first time that you tell him to and that your 11-year-old has to do his homework at a certain time. Set corresponding consequences for breaking the rules, ensuring your child understands them. The consequence should match the infraction, such as taking away your kindergartner's trains for the rest of the afternoon if he absolutely refuses to clean them up.
Before choosing a discipline strategy, take some time to consider what works best for your family, how your child reacts to your techniques and if you are setting age-appropriate expectations. Avoid over-the-top consequences such as grounding your tween for a month because he slammed the door. Additionally, never use verbal shaming or physical punishment such as spanking to discipline your disobedient child. Spanking does not change behavior over the long-term and does bring about a sense of responsibility in children; instead, spanking is a quick fix that increase anger and aggression in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Verbally shaming harms self-esteem, and is also not the best way to discipline.
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