One of the greatest rewards of parenting is seeing adult children become people of great character, respected workers in their field, and parents who guide their own children with confidence, skill, and joy. However, waiting 20 plus years for that reward can seem like a journey with no end when you are trying to figure out how to curtail lying in a nine-year-old or the sassy backtalk of a 13 year-old. Teaching children how to manage their behavior can zap the joy out of parenting, but its rewards live on into the next generation. In order to reap the rewards, parents must learn good discipline techniques that involve teaching, as the Latin root of the word implies, rather than just punishing.
Good teachers study, practice, and have an end goal. When it comes to discipline, parents need to apply the same principals of studying, practicing, and goal setting. For most parents, the goal is to have a child who will become a responsible adult with character traits that include empathy, conscientiousness, cooperation, and integrity. These goals can be lost in the heat of feeling angry when your child has betrayed your trust by telling a lie, or embarrassed you with an inappropriate post on social media. In that very moment of hurt feelings and embarrassment, it is the time to remember that there is a long-term goal. It is not only about stopping the misbehavior in the moment, but also using the moment to teach the child how you would like him or her to behave, why it is important, and let the consequences help move you toward the overall goal.
Just as parents have goals for their children, misbehavior also has a goal. In Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, by Don Dinkmeyer Sr., Don Dinkmeyer Jr., and Gary McKay, the authors state that in order to curb misbehavior, you must understand the goal of misbehavior. For many children, the goal is attention. It is important to remember negative attention is still attention. Always stop and ask, “What is the child gaining by engaging in the misbehavior?” Even if it means being yelled at, listening to a lecture, or enduring physical punishment, it is still attention from the parent. It sounds irrational, but this is true in many cases of misbehavior. When elementary or middle school children are acting out, the first discipline strategy needs to be to an honest assessment of the situation.
- Am I spending one-on-one time with this child?
- Do I do things with this child that he or she likes to do?
- Do I put down the phone, turn off the TV or tablet, and really listen to my child?
- Can I withhold judgment and blurting out the solution to the problem, to actually hear the emotion of what my child is trying to convey?
It seems crazy when a daughter has just lied about where she has been and possibly put herself in danger, or a son has blatantly ignored his chores, but parents who are good disciplinarians will take the time to analyze the root of the misbehavior. Are boundaries firm and clearly stated? Are positive and negative consequences consistently enforced? Does the child get enough positive attention from me? Consequences should always be connected to the misbehavior and be enforceable. Punishment seeks to stop the behavior in the moment, but discipline seeks to teach the child how to behave and what to do the next time.
Parents who learn to manage discipline through teaching have these things in common:
- Clear, firm rules that are understood by ALL members of the family.
- The adults in the family model the behavior they want in the children.
- Consequences, both positive and negative, are used consistently.
- Meaningful time is spent with each child that is separate from family time.
- Focus on the goal when correcting misbehavior.
- Reflective time is spent to get to the root of why the misbehavior is occurring.
The Parenting Center has been providing families and professionals with the resources, tools, and services to build successful families for 40 years. Strong families create strong communities, and The Parenting Center is here to help make parenting easier. To learn more about managing misbehavior, consider taking one or both of these classes, Positive Discipline or Making Rules and Enforcing Consequences, which are two of the topics in its seven-part series from the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting curricula. The parenting journey is filled with joy, but the greatest reward is the competent adult your child becomes because you took the time to love and discipline. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.