To many people, discipline means punishment. But, actually, "to discipline" means "to teach". Rather than punishment, discipline should be seen as a positive way of helping and guiding children to achieve self-control. You, as parents, are your child's first teachers. Disciplining your child may be difficult, so understanding why it is essential is important:
Discipline helps children...
- Think and act in an orderly manner
- Understand the logical consequences of their actions
- Learn common rules that everyone lives by, such as respect for others' property
- Learn the values that are held by their family and community
The purpose of discipline, then, is to teach children acceptable behaviours so that they will make informed decisions when dealing with situations and problems.
- Set a good example. You are the role model for your children. For example, if you want to teach your child that physical violence is not the way to resolve conflicts or problems, then don't use physical punishment.
- Set limits, but be careful not to impose too many rules. Before making a rule, ask yourself: Is it necessary? Does the rule protect a child's health and safety? Does it protect the rights or property of others? Too many rules are hard, if not impossible, to enforce.
- Keep rules simple and understandable.
- Involve children as much as possible in making family rules. They are less likely to break rules that they have helped establish.
- Explain to your child what happens when rules are broken. If you and your 4-year-old son agree that he shouldn't cross the street alone, and he breaks this rule, be ready to enforce the consequences.
- Act quickly when a child misbehaves. Don't let a problem build up over time.
- Be consistent. This way a child always knows what will happen if he or she does not follow the rules.
- Discuss, and reach an understanding, with your spouse on the methods to be adopted. This will help ensure that the disciplining is across-the-board. Do not undermine your spouse in your child’s presence.
- Some rules may work when a child is young, but as children get older, they need and want more independence. Encourage independence and responsibility.
- Help your child develop self-control. Young children do not have the self-control needed to follow all the rules all of the time. A 5-year-old may not have the self-control needed not to take a biscuit from the jar before dinner. To help the child resist, a parent can move the jar out of sight or offer a snack that is allowed.
- Praise a child for good behaviour and accomplishments. Let the child know you appreciate his or her efforts.
- Offer positive suggestions. Avoid criticism and nagging. Criticism and nagging can cause your child to become resentful or angry.
- Issues related to discipline should be conducted in private. Do not publicly humiliate your child.
- Tell your children how much you love them. When they misbehave, let them know it is their behaviour that you dislike, not them.