How Discipline Ultimately Creates A Happier, Healthier Child

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As a parent, one of your jobs is to teach your child to respect others, obey authority, be kind to those older and younger, and share. In other words, to be a good person. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we feel strongly that appropriate discipline, along with plenty of praise, is an important component of helping your child develop into a responsible, well-adjusted adult.

Successful discipline strategies

After many years of helping the parents in our practice work through the ups and downs of disciplining their children, we’ve come up with the following strategies that if followed, can make life more pleasant for everyone.

5 ways to avoid unnecessary conflict

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Even though some days it seems impossible to get your child to exhibit acceptable behavior, here are 5 things to keep in mind as you try to mold your little one into a self-aware, fair, understanding person.

1) Be aware of what your child can and cannot do. Children develop at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses. When your child misbehaves, it may be that he/she does not understand what you are asking, is hungry or overtired, or simply cannot do the task.

2) Don’t give in or be wishy-washy. Once you make a rule or a promise, stick to it. If your child throws a temper tantrum because he/she can’t have a cookie and you give it to him/her anyway to stop the tantrum, your child will quickly learn that tantrums are a good strategy for getting what he/she wants. Do not encourage bad behavior by giving in.

3) Be consistent. Try to make sure that your rules stay the same, day in and day out. Children find frequent changes confusing and they may push the limits just to find out where the limits are.

4) Pay attention to your child’s feelings. Maybe your child is feeling sad that the playdate is over and his/her friend is leaving. However, the toys still need to be picked up. Watch for times when misbehavior follows a pattern — for example, if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about what to do with these negative feelings, rather than just imposing consequences for the behavior.

5) Learn from your mistakes. If you handle a situation badly, think about what you could have done differently and try to do it the next time. If you feel you have made a substantial mistake, cool down, apologize to your child and explain how you will handle the situation better in the future — and keep your promise. This gives your child a good model of how to recover from mistakes, and that even parents make them.

What to do when your child is just not listening

1) Consequences

There are times when it is important for your child to experience what happens when he/she misbehaves (as long as it does not place your child, or others, in danger). For example, if your child intentionally breaks a toy, he/she will not be able to play with it any longer. The goal is for your child to learn to play carefully with toys. Similarly, there are times when you need to create a consequence. For example, telling your child that if he/she does not pick up the toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. When you use this method, it is important that you mean what you say and stick by it. Be prepared to follow through right away, in a firm but calm way.

2) Withholding privileges

This involves telling your child that if he/she does not cooperate, he/she will have to give something up he/she really likes (a favorite game or video, for instance). When you use this technique:

  • Take away something which your child values that is related to the misbehavior
  • Never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal
  • Follow through on your promise

For children younger than 6 or 7, withholding privileges works best if done right away. For example, if your child misbehaves in the morning, do not tell him/her that he/she can’t watch TV that evening. There is too much time in between to connect the behavior with the consequence.

3) Time-Out

This is a technique that works well when a specific rule has been broken. It is best for children from 2-5 but can be used throughout childhood. First, determine which behaviors will cause you to insist on a time-out and explain this to your child. Give your child one warning (unless the bad behavior is aggression). If the behavior happens again, send him/her to the time-out spot right away. Explain to your child what he/she did wrong in as few words and with as little emotion as possible. Do not respond to pleas, promises, questions, excuses or outbursts. We’ve found that it works well to set a timer so that your child knows when the time-out is over. A rule of thumb is 1 minute of time-out for every year of your child’s age. When the time-out is up, allow your child to return to play and reinforce that you love him/her and that it’s the behavior that is unacceptable.

Why spanking is not the answer

While many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted today, research has shown that when compared with those who were not spanked, they are more likely to become depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses and engage in crime and violence.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we do not recommend spanking, for many reasons. Spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re angry or want to maintain control, even with those you love. Children are unlikely to see the difference between getting spanked from their parents and hitting a sibling or another child when they don’t get what they want. In addition:

  • Although spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, then regret the spanking later
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even harm the child

Remember, the goal of effective discipline is to raise a happy and healthy child who understands that there are limits and boundaries in the world, as well as fair and consistent consequences for inappropriate behaviors. There are many healthy, acceptable ways to impose discipline while raising your children without resorting to spanking.

Have questions about discipline? Please come in and see us.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand the many challenges of raising a child and the part that discipline can play. Please come in and talk with us if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, have questions about what is appropriate discipline, or would like some advice and guidance. Together, we will find solutions so that you, your child and your family can enjoy these years together.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball