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How to Discipline Children and Help Them Develop Self-Control (page 4)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Questions and answers

Can I spoil my baby if I pick her up every time she cries?

Infants can be trying for parents because their needs are so constant. Babies don't purposely challenge their parents; they are just unable to take care of their own needs. Feeding infants, changing them, playing and talking with them and distracting them all build a strong, secure parent-child bond. Especially in the first three months, responding to the baby's cries makes him or her feel safe, not spoiled. By between 3 and 6 months parents are usually better able to differentiate a child's cries and know when a cry signifies distress or when a cry will fade on its own.

My 11-month-old just learned to walk and gets into everything. I'm afraid he'll get hurt. What can I do?

Although children of 6 to 12 months of age are beginning to understand and even use some language, they do not understand the world around them. When you see a child doing something unsafe, firmly say "no" and, if necessary, physically remove him. For example, if he is touching something hot, tell him "no" and move him away. Distracting him and giving him something else to do are also helpful strategies.

I've tried everything, but my 4-year-old still misbehaves. What am I doing wrong?

Sometimes misbehavior results from a combination of a child being willful and a parent being ineffective in his/her approach. However, a child's behavior may signal some other problem. For example, your child may be frustrated due to a language problem, or have difficulty with regulating his emotions, or even have experienced some trauma. A professional can help you decide if it's a developmental or a parenting problem.

My 10-year-old constantly challenges me when I ask about her homework, but I think she's not doing it.

Children appreciate being trusted and respected by their parents. But it's a tough lesson to learn that getting respect requires giving it—which goes for parents and children alike. In addition, school age children need to learn about cause and effect, and the positive and negative consequences of behavior. They also need to develop some independence. Homework is a typical proving ground for all these attributes. You should set up a reasonable routine for doing and reviewing the homework, taking into account everyone's preference for time. Be patient if the child has to experience a bad quiz grade to understand what happens if homework is not done. Grades and teacher reports should help a parent check on progress. If trouble with academics is brewing, parents should certainly step in and have the problem evaluated. The earlier that learning or emotional issues are addressed, the better the outcome.

How can I get my 16-year-old to abide by his curfew?

It's normal for teens to be more involved with their peers than with their parents. Alliance with peers is a necessary step as teens create an identity for themselves, become more independent, and prepare to leave home eventually. Teens still appreciate limits and still need to know what their parents think, although they may not always act as if they do. The usual discipline techniques targeted for younger children can still be used but need to be adapted for the teenager. It is still appropriate for parents to set limits on behavior and define consequences. Remember, the more forbidden a parent makes something, the more appealing it may become. With teenagers, parents should explain the reasons for their decisions and encourage a dialogue whenever possible. It is also important for parents to acknowledge and listen to their teens' thoughts and have them feel that they're understood. Discipline in the teen years is not just about rules, it's about youngsters learning values, trying adult behavior and accepting responsibility.

About the Authors

Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement issues.

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at www.AboutOurKids.org.

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