Parenting During the Elementary School Years: Discipline (page 3)
As you learned in Part 1 of Parenting During the Elementary School Years, your parenting role changes to that of encourager. Your encouragement will help your child discover his interests, strengths, and goals. It will also help him develop a positive and healthy self-concept. However, your role as encourager does not mean that you should not discipline your child when necessary.
A fair, consistent approach to discipline begins with prevention. Using prevention strategies can reduce problems and help create a healthy home environment. This allows your child to become more successful, confident, and happy. A lot can be done to prevent misbehavior. This includes establishing a warm and supportive relationship with your child, letting your child make appropriate choices, and modeling positive behavior. You can also establish rules and consequences and hold family meetings. However, no matter how much effort you put into prevention, your child will still misbehave sometimes. This fact sheet will teach you discipline strategies to use with your child.
The goal of discipline is not to punish, but to teach your child to take responsibility for her actions and to exercise control of her behavior. From infancy through preschool, you begin to teach your child about responsibility and self-control by giving her simple rules and chores, as well as limited choices. Now that your child is in elementary school, he is developmentally ready to understand and practice responsibility and self-control. There are a number of discipline strategies that will help you guide your child's behavior and teach these important skills.
Share your Reasoning with your Child
Around the age of seven, your child begins to think more logically. This means that he is better able to make sense of the world around him. This includes the ability to understand your expectations for good behavior and how his behavior affects others. Due to your child's growing ability to think logically, you will be able to use reasons and explanations more often when disciplining him.
However, offering too many explanations may cause you to get into a power struggle with your child. For example, if your child asks for a popsicle before dinner you might say "We are going to eat dinner in 20 minutes. You can have a popsicle for dessert if you want." Because your child is developing the ability to think on his own, he may try to argue the point. If this happens, you may want to repeat your reasoning once and then walk away. By not giving too many explanations, you avoid getting into a power struggle with your child.
Be Firm and Kind
Being firm does not mean being harsh or rigid. It also does not mean yelling, threatening, or being unkind. Being firm is meaning what you say. It means using a calm tone to let your child know that you are serious about what you want him to do. This strategy can be very effective if it is used consistently. Here are some guidelines to help you use this strategy:
- When you do not want to give your child choices, avoid asking him to do things. For example, do not say "Cameron, are you ready to come to dinner?" Instead, say "Cameron, it is dinner time."
- When you tell your child to do something, he may not like it. It is sometimes difficult for a child to switch activities, so he may feel angry or frustrated. It is important to acknowledge these feelings in an empathetic way. For example, say "It's frustrating to stop what you're doing when you're having so much fun."
- When you give your child directions, he may argue or plead with you. Avoid arguing with him. This can lead to a power struggle. For example, if Cameron refuses to cooperate the first time, say "Cameron, I know it's frustrating to stop what you're doing, but I need your cooperation. It is dinner time." If Cameron continues to refuse, apply an appropriate consequence.
Apply Consequences When Necessary
As stated in Part 1 of Parenting During the Elementary School Years, parents need to make sure children understand rules and consequences.Then, when a rule is broken, apply the agreed-upon consequence. Remember, the consequences you apply need to relate directly to your child's behavior. For example, if the rule is "we take care of our belongings" and your child throws board game pieces across the family room, the consequence is he may not play with the game until the following day.
Always enforce rules consistently. Inconsistency will confuse your child. It teaches her that she can sometimes misbehave without consequence. Follow these simple steps when applying consequences:
- When a rule is broken, calmly remind your child of the rule and apply the appropriate consequence. For example, if Billy borrows his brother's baseball mitt without permission, say "Billy, the rule is we respect each other. This means that we ask permission to borrow each other's things.You may not borrow the mitt for one week."
- If the rule continues to be broken, schedule a family meeting to discuss possible solutions to the problem (see Part 1 of Parenting During the Elementary School Years for a description of family meetings).
Ignore Misbehavior and Acknowledge Positive Behavior
Sometimes your child misbehaves simply because he wants your attention, even if it is negative attention. If he misbehaves but is not breaking any rules, such as when he whines or complains, you can ignore his behavior. The behaviors that are ignored will be different from family to family depending on the family's beliefs and values. Below are two guidelines to safely ignoring your child's behavior:
- Be aware of what he is doing and make sure that he is safe.
- Tell your child that you will give him your undivided attention as soon as he stops the unwanted behavior. For example, say "Sam, I will listen to you as soon as you stop complaining about not getting your way."
Ignoring misbehavior lets your child know that his behavior is not appropriate. On the other hand, acknowledging his appropriate behavior reinforces how you would like him to behave. Acknowledging his appropriate behavior will make him feel good about himself. It also teaches him that he does not have to misbehave to get your attention. As a result, misbehavior decreases and appropriate behavior increases. Following are a few tips to help you acknowledge the behaviors you want your child to exhibit:
- Focus on the action, not on your child. Telling him "You are the best!" sets unrealistic expectations that he will not be able to achieve. This type of praise will make your child fearful because he will not want to risk failing.
- Be specific. For example, instead of saying "You are being so good!" say "Carlos, I love the way you are taking turns playing the game with your sister."
- Make it a habit to find at least one positive behavior from your child every day.
Say "Yes" If Possible
Instead of simply saying "no" to your child's requests when the timing is not right, try a different approach. For example, if your child asks to play on the computer but she has not finished her homework, say "Yes, Becky, you may play on the computer as soon as you finish your homework." This teaches her that there is an appropriate time to do different activities.
Call a Break
A break is a time for your child to calm down when she is angry or frustrated. It is very important for you to remain calm when you tell your child to take a break. This strategy is not meant to be a punishment. Call a break when you notice your child needs it and not out of your own anger or frustration. When used correctly, many children feel the benefits of taking a break and may take one on their own when they feel they are losing self-control.
When you notice your child needs a break, acknowledge her feelings in a calm manner and tell her that she needs a break. For example, say "Christy, I can see that you are very angry right now. You will feel better after taking a break." Allow your child to choose where in the house she would like to go to cool off. Your child may choose to go to her room or to the backyard. This choice makes children feel like they have some control over the situation, which may help them calm down more easily and quickly.
Special Challenges During the School-Age Years
You may run into some challenging behaviors with your elementary school-age child. It is important to keep in mind that these behaviors are common to this age group. Just because your child exhibits some of these behaviors does not mean that she is a bad child or that you are a bad parent. Some of these challenging behaviors involve homework, television, sibling rivalry, chores, and lying. This section focuses on ways to address these issues with your child.
Some children dread the thought of doing homework. They may leave an assignment for the last minute or refuse to do it all together. Many parents handle this by trying to force their children to do their homework. However, getting into a power struggle with your child is not effective. By having clear rules and expectations, you can create a positive situation for both you and your child. Following are some suggestions to help you with homework situations:
- Have a set time for your child to do homework. Then, make sure to provide a quiet atmosphere during this time. It is easier for your child to stay on task if you do not distract her by watching television and talking on the telephone.
- Make yourself available during homework time, but do not do her work even if she leaves a project for the last minute. In that case, acknowledge her frustration. Avoid lecturing and telling her "I told you so."
- Avoid constantly nagging or lecturing your child to do homework. If your child is continuously frustrated by or unable to complete assignments, visit your child's teacher. Discuss ideas to work out possible strategies to help your child succeed.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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