No one gives us a manual for parenting––we have to figure out most things for ourselves as our kids grow up. And one of the hardest things to figure out is how to discipline our kids when they are out of line. We can feel so lost when their behavior seems out of control, and sometimes all the well-meaning advice and parenting books don’t help. So what are some simple strategies we can implement to help our kids? Here are some ideas, but remember that you know your kids best, so only use the strategies you think will help them the most.
Modeling is demonstrating to your kids the behaviors you want them to emulate. It’s really as simple as it gets. Your kids want to be just like you, and they watch you closely. So if you are exhibiting poor behaviors, they will likely exhibit them as well. We’ve all seen the kid who repeats a bad word his dad said, and while it may be funny, it should be a warning that kids are very impressionable, so we need to be careful what we do and say around them. If you are noticing your child is struggling with a behavior, consider ways you can model to her what is the best or appropriate way to behave. Be patient and continue to model the appropriate behavior for her.
Kids (and adults!) respond well to positivity. Just as you feel good when you are given a promotion at work for your contributions, kids love to be told when they are doing something right, and that reinforces their good behavior. Some methods of positive reinforcement include:
Praise: praise them when they do something well or right. For example, saying “good job doing your chores before going to play!” After your son does his chore before going to play with his friends.
Affirmation: similar to praise, words of affirmation and encouragement will reinforce good behavior. For example, telling your daughter how nice she looks when she puts on her clothes on her own or the day. "Wow, you put your clothes by yourself, you look so beautiful!
Rewards: offer rewards for desired behaviors (doing chores) such as allowance money that they can save to buy something they want next time at the store.
Attention: give them your full attention and they will be less likely to act out, and more likely to want to please you.
Affection: show them you are proud of them with lots of hugs, snuggles, and playtime together.
On the flip side of positive reinforcement, consequences must be enforced when undesirable behaviors continue. Many parents want to avoid giving negative consequences to their children, but if they don't experience negative consequences, they will not be motivated to practice the expected behaviors. Consequences need to be proportionate to the behavior and the child's age. Before any conflict has occurred, decide on appropriate consequences depending on the behavior. For example, a toddler hitting her sister may receive a time-out as a consequence, while a teenager coming home drunk would require more serious consequences such as their car keys being taken away for a time.
Make sure you explain the consequences and why you need to enforce them to your child or teen ahead of time, before they engage in the behavior, to help them understand that the consequence depends on their choices. Avoid yelling or lecturing, instead be firm and direct. This will help you manage the crisis more confidently. Remember that your children are not you and are not adults. They are developing, learning how the world works, and learning their place in the world. They need patience and help to understand why you are expecting better behavior. Once it makes sense to them, they will be willing to cooperate.
Do you encounter times when your child just won’t listen and is resistant to your instruction? Avoid the power struggle by giving them two different choices. For example, instead of telling your child what shoes she will wear for the day, potentially causing a tantrum, you can present her two options for shoes that you know she likes and let her make the choice. Another example is food––if your child is giving you a hard time about eating his veggies, you can observe what veggies he has shown interest in and give him two choices of what veggie to eat based on those observations. Giving children options makes them feel more in control and in turn will produce better behavior.
Spend Time Together
Perhaps the best way to enforce good behavior and life skills in kids is simply by spending time with them. When kids know they are loved and cherished, they are much more likely to act in positive ways. You don’t have to do anything big or exciting–just do something together. You can take them to the park, cook meals together, make puzzles or legos together, eat meals together, or even do household chores together. Think of activities that would help you bond with your kids, and get out there and do them!
Don’t Give Up!
Whether you are at the end of your rope with your kids’ behaviors or just looking for ways to be a better parent, these strategies can help your family thrive. Dealing with bad behaviors can be exhausting, but they will get better over time with persistence and patience on your part, so don’t give up––your kids will be so much better for it, and will thank you in the future.
Maybe you feel like you didn’t receive good parenting from your parents, and consequently parenting doesn’t come naturally to you. Admitting that you need support and seeking help is also an honorable way to improve your parenting. We are here to help and guide you––you don’t need to do it alone.