The most important thing about discipline is having a solid foundation of a loving, positive relationship with your child (I will be posting a blog about that topic soon, also check this page).When your child is breaking a rule or is behaving in a way that is unacceptable, there are several strategies to effectively address this behavior in a positive way.
- The first strategy is telling the child what you want her to do instead of telling her what you do not want her to do. Try to avoid using the word “don’t” when giving your child directions. For example you can tell your toddler to: “use gentle hands” instead of saying: “no hitting”, or “the rocks stay on the ground” instead of “don’t throw rocks”. It may be difficult at first, but once you are in the habit of telling your child what you want her to do, it will become second nature, and you will be able to continue doing this through adolescence.
- When your child is engaging in an inappropriate behavior, another effective way to stop the behavior is to redirect the child to another, more appropriate behavior. Some children respond well when they are given two or three choices.
- It is important to remember that when your child does make a more appropriate choice to specifically praise the more appropriate behavior.
In order for the boundaries to be clear, consequences have to follow unacceptable misbehavior (e.g. hitting or kicking someone, or destroying something on purpose, etc. or whatever you feel is unacceptable). One consequence that is often recommended to parents is the use of time-out. In order for time-out to be effective, it has to be implemented appropriately. I recommend using time-out sparingly, and only for the most unacceptable behaviors (for example, with my toddler I only use time-out when she becomes physically aggressive). If you give a child a time-out for every single misbehavior it will quickly lose its power, and your child will not have the opportunity to be redirected or make a more appropriate choice. There are several components to the effective implementation of time-out:
- Get at your child’s eye level, make eye contact and explain in a firm but calm voice why you are giving a time out.
- The rule of thumb for time-out length is one minute per year of the child’s age. Use a timer with an alarm (like the one on the microwave) to avoid arguing about when time-out is over.
- Avoid talking to, or making eye contact with your child during the time-out and keep your child away from sources of entertainment.
- If the child gets up in the middle of time out, direct the child back to the designated time-out spot and restart the clock.
- At the end of time-out explain to the child again why the time-out was given, and review the rule for acceptable behavior with the child.
- Have the child repair the damage, e.g., have the child “check in” with someone they hurt, or have the child clean up items they damaged.
Here is a video of Super Nanny to illustrate how to effectively implement these steps:
After a time-out or any other disciplinary action is given, it is essential to then restore the relationship with your child and start fresh. In an interview with Dad Labs, Dr. Brooks explained how to do just that.
Time out is just one discipline strategy, and just one example of a consequence you can give your child to show that a boundary has been crossed. As I mentioned before, pick your battles and carefully decide which behaviors warrant time-out, and when it is beneficial to use a different type of consequence. Time-outs work for many children but they do not work for all children. It is important to determine what works for your child.