The goals of discipline are to teach the child competency, self-control and self-direction. The child is taught to be master of himself. He learns how to feed, dress and toilet himself. As he grows, he becomes aware of his strengths and those things that are more difficult to do. This is called developing competence. The child learns to accept who he is and be comfortable with himself. This is called self-esteem.
The child learns to controls his needs and wants. A baby will cry to signal hunger. The parent usually feeds the baby right away. As a child grows he learns to wait for mealtimes. Even at mealtimes, the child learns to wait for others to pass the food. He learns to wait in line and to share. Finally, as a teenager, the child learns the concept of working to earn something they might want. This is called developing self-control.
Adults know how to make goals and to organize themselves to achieve these goals. Babies can let the parents know they need to be fed but they rely on the parents to organize this for them. As the child grows, the parent teaches the child the skills needed to put meals on the table. This might involve meal planning, appropriate food choices, shopping and cooking, for instance. More complex decisions involve career choices, making friends who fit his personality, determining which courses to take in school, and whether to try out for the football team or the chess club. This is called self-direction. Many people think that discipline is the same as punishment. It is more complex than that.
Discipline has three key components. These are: the parent-child relationship, positive reinforcement of desirable behaviours and punishing undesirable behaviours. All these components are equally important. They need to be used in conjunction with each other and with the same amount of attention being paid to each one.
The relationship between the parent and child is the basis of discipline. The parent bonds with the child after birth. The child attaches to the parent as the child’s needs are met by the parent. Loving, nurturing, liking and caring for are called parental warmth.
Knowing where the child is and what they are doing is important. This is called monitoring and is essential for toddlers to teenagers. Involvement of the parent in the teen years help decrease aggression, delinquency and poor self-esteem in the child.
Catching the child being good helps the child learn acceptable behaviours. It also lets the child knows that the parent is watching and interested in their child. Parents need to model appropriate behaviour.
Rules that are made for the children must be practiced by the parents. Having a predictable daily routine helps the child learn what is expected of him. Chaotic home life makes the child feel less secure and unsure of what to do. However, it is important to be flexible and able to cope with change. There are different rules in different places. Children are encouraged to run and shout and play in the park but this type of behaviour would not be acceptable in most other public settings.
The parent must remember that they are in charge. However, with time the parent needs to transfer responsibility and control to the child. The parent gradually helps the child acquire these skills so that they do become a functional adult.
Positive reinforcement such as praise and rewards help build the positive tone in the parent-child relationship. The child is able to increase his acceptable behaviours as the parent lets the child know what is expected.
The simplest positive reinforcer is parental attention. This can be done in a non-verbal way. A wink, smile or hug are quick and easy ways to let the child know that they have done a good job. Verbal compliments work as well. However, sometimes the compliment gets qualified: “I am pleased you took the garbage out but you could have done it two hours ago.” The last part of the sentence is a criticism and destroys the praise that was given at the beginning.
If the child does not receive any positive attention, then negative attention is better than no attention. This is why yelling, scolding and punishing can sometimes increase an undesired behaviour. It is important to give praise and positive attention.
Tokens, points and toys can be used as positive reinforcers. Sometimes parents feel that these are bribes. Other types of reinforcers that may be more acceptable are special times for the child with either parent. Being able to have time alone with one parent helps build the relationship and also is good reinforcement. Positive reinforcement helps the child feel pride and satisfaction with his accomplishments. This helps to build feelings of competence and self-esteem.
There are different intensity levels for punishment. Ignoring the child or verbal disapproval are more gentler when compared to corporal punishment.
Ignoring poor behaviour is simple and easy to do. This works well if the child also receives positive attention when they behave properly. Verbal disapproval or indicating to the child that the behaviour is not acceptable works well. If a token system is being used to promote good behaviours then removal of tokens is a form of punishment that may work.
Another effective strategy is called time-out. This involves removing the child from a situation, a toy, or the parent. The child needs to be told about time-out and why it is being used. When the unwanted behaviour occurs then the child is warned that they will be placed in time-out if it occurs again. This may be all that is needed. If the problem behaviour continues then the child is placed in time-out. The child stay there for one minute times their age.
Strategies need to be in place in case the child tries to escape. The child should remain until they are quiet for 15 seconds. This is a simple description of time-out. If parents wish to use this method of punishment, they are advised to talk to their doctor, public health nurse, psychologist to make sure they are doing it correctly.
For older children, assigning extra chores or grounding are appropriate punishments. Grounding the child from the bike or even the phone can help change unacceptable behaviour. Natural consequences can help teach the child about behaviours that are inappropriate and the punishment teaches them how to rectify the situation. For instance, if the child has been throwing sand, then the punishment would be to clean up the sand.
Corporal punishment such as hitting, slapping and spanking is often used to punish children. This certainly stops the unwanted behaviour right away. However, it may not be effective in the long run. The child learns that power or violence is the way to solve problems.
When the child becomes a teen, they might use violence to get their way. Corporal punishment increases the child’s chances of being delinquent, aggressive and having criminal arrests. The parents are at risk of losing control during the hitting or spanking, and may do more harm or damage to the child than they intended. Many of the children investigated for physical abuse by child welfare have some type of corporal punishment at the root.
If the parent feels that spanking is an appropriate method of punishment, then experts suggest that only the hand or buttocks should be hit, and only by the hand of the parent. Babies under one year old should not be hit. Babysitters should not be allowed to hit the child.
Some children are more difficult to raise than others. They require parents who have super parenting skills. Children who are delayed in their development can be more challenging. This might include children who are mentally retarded, autistic, have attention deficit or speech delays.
Children are born with their own temperaments which can be different from other members of the family. Children who are easygoing, adaptable and optimistic are easier to deal with. Intense, highly active, pessimistic children are much more difficult to work with and they can try a parent’s patience. For instance colic, poor sleep habits and picky appetite can make a child more difficult to bond with and more difficult for the parent to give positive attention.
How the parent is feeling can also impact on the relationship with the child. Depressed and irritable parents may have difficulty feeling positive towards their child. Drug abuse, marriage problems and lack of support will change the harmony of the home. This may make the environment more unpredictable for the child. The home may not have the parental warmth the child needs in order to grow. Issues of child abuse in the parent’s past may also impact on the parenting style. It is important that the parent seeks help for all these issues.
These are some of the basic aspects of discipline. Parenting courses are available for parents who wants to learn more of the finer points of discipline. In summary, discipline involves three important strategies: a good parent-child relationship, reward for acceptable behaviour and punishment for unwanted behaviour. the expectation is that the child becomes a functional and productive adult.