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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Disciplining Children

We think more in terms of discipline, not punishment.

I believe in lots of tools in the "parenting toolbox". No one response works in all situations with every kid and everytime. You have to mix it up. As a matter of fact, I tell DD (9-yrs old), "There will be consequences to your actions. I don't know exactly what it will be yet but it will be something and you will NOT like it."

Anti-social behavior (swearing, talking back, slamming, hitting, etc) is a sign the child needs MORE time with me, not less. I usually don't use time-outs or being sent to their room or denial of family fun for those offenses. Instead they usually have to do more, like help me load the pick-up truck with stuff to haul to the dump, etc. Whatever it is, we do it together and the project will have visible results.

Be creative. I like a little bit of surprise in the disciplines I select. With one mouthy teenager, we painted one wall of her bedroom Pepto-Bismal pink (she hates pink) and told her if she did it again we'd paint a second wall ... color to be determined (but guaranteed not to be pleasant). If she went an appropriate amount of time with good behavior, we'd re-paint the wall to cover it.

Model self-discipline. I have a child with RAD - reactive attachment disorder. One of the hallmarks of this psychological condition is that she doesn't easily trust adults, especially ones who don't seem to have control over their own emotions. For this reason, I have to be rather level-headed in how I respond to DD - even when there are times that I want throw a temper-tantrum of my own. With this in mind, it is perfectly reasonable - and very effective - to tell your child, "I need to take a moment to think of an appropriate disciplinary response to what you just did. I'll tell you my decision tomorrow morning."

Oh, did I mention? In case I wasn't clear above, you don't have to tell them ahead of time what the disciplinary response will be. For instance, let's say my DD sasses back to me. I'll give a warning. I'll say, "That was sassing when you respond to me with that tone of voice, that body language and that sarcastic kind of statement. That isn't allowed. The next time you behave like that, I will discipline you." She'll respond with, "What will you do?" And I say, "I haven't decided yet but it will be something that will help you to remember not to do it again." In other words, give a warning - it should be educational as to the behavior you want them to work on - but you don't have to tell them what the consequences will be. With my DD, she'd decide that the consequences were minor compared to being able to continue with her bad behavior. When she doesn't know exactly what the consequence will be, she can't easily make that decision.

Have perspective. A typical 7-yr old is going through a developmental growth spurt (not necessarily physically growing but brain development). This is the age when they begin to realize that they are social beings (have to live in a society) and there is right and wrong - aside from what Mom and Dad has always said is right or wrong. They develop a stronger sense of fairness and they start feeling social slights more deeply. This psychological development is profound. It is a bit of a shock to their system. With perspective you can see that a growing brain is quite demanding on a child. They need more sleep, thus an appropriate response is to rollback their bedtime for half an hour. (As in, "You're acting very tired. I think you need to start going to be earlier.")

One of the tools - especially with a child who is developing a conscience - is to have them work in service of others. Again, tell the child the behavior you want to HELP THEM CORRECT. Explain the social consequences of that behavior (she'll have fewer friends, etc.) Then go about helping that child be of serve to others as a way to modify their behavior. So, they might have to help plan, shop for, make and serve dinner every night for a week. He might need to think of a community service project - like collect canned food for the food pantry or collect unused books for the school library (HE has to think of a project).

Have a connection with the child. You like the child. You want to enjoy living with them. You want them to enjoy living in the family. The correction of the problem is a co-operative action. Sometimes have the child suggest ways that they can correct the behavior.

Sometimes pass the decision on the disciplinary action off to someone else (your hubby, for instance.) For instance, your child just sassed you and hubby walks up to the child and says, "No one treats MY WIFE that way!"

Keep in mind, younger children are concrete thinkers. Make the punishment tangible. For instance, correcting a bad habit (slamming doors) takes time. So, have the child start with 10 tokens in a jar (I get poker chips from the dollar store). Every time they are caught displaying the bad habit they have to remove one token (They do it, not you. They need the tactile sensation.) This makes them notice when they are doing the behavior. It makes them more aware of it. Then at the end of the week (day, month, hour - whatever seems reasonable), they get something for every token they have remaining in the jar. For instance, if they have 5 tokens left they might get to spend $5 on a something in the toy department (money is very motivating to my DD). Then keep repeating the session (week, month, hour) until they have completely eliminated the habit.

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A little about the author ... I'm known as Cookie. I'm a long time frugal fanatic so when I shop, I prefer to save money. There is no reason to spend more than we have to! However, I also appreciate convenience and fine living. I strive to strike a balance between a nice lifestyle, simplicity and frugal living. I work hard for my money so I like to make my money work hard for me.