Engaging Children in "Contributory Activities": A Preventive Disciplinary Approach
In our book Raising a Self-Disciplined Child: Help Your Child to Become More Responsible, Confident, and Resilient,” published by McGraw-Hill, Dr. Sam Goldstein and I describe the impact of self-discipline on our lives. In this article we discuss the importance of a preventive approach to discipline with a focus on providing all children and adolescents, but especially those who are easily angered, with opportunities to help others.”
Angry Children, Punitive Measures
The negative behaviors of many youngsters invite angry responses from adults. Yet, despite these angry responses, many children are repeat offenders as they continue to engage in these behaviors. The reasons for this are complex. Some children come into the world with what has been referred to as a "difficult temperament," meaning that they are hard to soothe or satisfy, feel that people are unfair and arbitrary, are rigid and unable to compromise, and quickly lose their temper. Other children have experienced emotional or physical abuse, leading to their mistrust of adults, expecting the worst even from those who are trying to help.
Ongoing challenging behaviors on the part of children test the understanding and patience of even the most empathic parents and other adults. When parents eventually display their frustration and annoyance, it confirms to these children that they are not loved and that adults are unkind. They experience the world as being angry with them. While some recognize to a certain extent that their behavior provokes this anger, others don't seem to appreciate their role in the situation.
Whatever the reasons for development of this unfortunate scenario, it often becomes an entrenched family pattern in which anger is met with anger. Positive comments from parents become less and less frequent, while authoritarian forms of discipline become the rule rather than the exception (please see our December, 2006 article for a review of different disciplinary styles among parents). The goal of teaching children to be effective problem solvers and more caring, reflective, self-disciplined individuals recedes to the background as parents adopt a disciplinary style in which they angrily react to problems instead of preventing them. Parents report that using constructive, positive forms of discipline with these challenging youngsters takes on Herculean proportions. Yet, if parents fail to apply these constructive forms of discipline children will have a more difficult time developing self-control and resilience; instead, they will continue to perceive others as unfair and angry and their own anger will be intensified.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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