It's not a secret that disciplining your kids is hard; that's why there are books, blogs and websites dedicated to the practice. Of course, some of the facts about discipline are the ones that you'll never learn about in those fancy tomes, simply because while those parenting experts may have raised children, they've never raised your children. Don't expect textbook-perfect kids; after all, no one is a textbook-perfect parent.
Instead of trying to discipline using on a one-size-fits-all model, take an individual approach. Some of the disciplinary hiccups you experience with your kid are simply par for the course, while others are entirely unpredictable.
- Discipline isn't the same as punishment. Discipline and punishment are often confused because they often work hand in hand. But while punishment is an in-the-moment reaction to misbehavior, discipline is learned over time, thanks to general expectations and consistency. For instance, you can discipline your child to stop hitting by rendering a punishment each time it happens. Discipline should be a consistent method of getting your child to behave, so it's more important than punishment alone.
- Discipline isn't an exact science. Science teaches us that if you mix two elements, you'll get a specific reaction. Unfortunately, the right hypothesis couldn't predict your child's reaction during a time-out. Discipline definitely isn't an exact science. Instead, different factors—such as child temperament, fatigue, hunger, or a temporary bad mood—can change how your little one reacts to your parenting method. Something that worked flawlessly once may dissolve your child into a fit of screams the next time. Good parents know how to roll with the punches and adapt the punishment for the time and place.
- Bribery can backfire. Parenting expert and author of How to Raise a Millionaire, Ann Morgan James, warns against the perils of getting into a bribery cycle. "It is so easy to fall into a pattern of, 'If you calm down, I'll buy you a candy bar,'" she relates. "The first time my son pitched a fit in the store, I almost did it, but I envisioned him at 16 and how big the bribe would have to be then. Bribery would have been the easy road for the moment, but would have paved the way to really bad behavior and consequences." Don't teach your child to milk his tantrums for a peanut butter cup; better discipline revolves around more than just those five minutes in the store.
- There is such a thing as "overpunishment." Punishment is used as a way to teach discipline. Here's the thing: punishing your child for running in the street is necessary to teach him to look both ways. Punishing your child because he talked out of turn or because he got a toy out without asking? It diminishes the capacity for discipline when it really counts. Make sure that the punishment fits the crime, and that you're levying discipline when it really matters. Let some things slide so that your kid learns the importance of discipline when it comes to safety or being kind to others.
- Some of the best disciplinary methods don't involve any punishment. A study published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found that preëmptive discipline—redirection or avoiding conflict with your kid—was one of the most effect ways of getting your little one to behave. It's kind of like heading to the doctor for regular checkups; it's usually less painful than heading in only when there's a serious problem. By knowing what causes your child to misbehave, you can distract or avoid and skip the bother of a time-out.
- Kids have their own "currency." ... and we're not talking about allowance here. Have you ever wondered why a sharp word stops one child in his tracks and leaves another completely unphased? That's because every kid is different and what works one doesn't work for the other, mostly because he uses a different "currency." It's your job as a parent to find out what your child values most; it might be praise, it could be quality time or it could be physical touch. You can then use that currency to your advantage for disciplinary tactics.
- Discipline stinks for parents and kids. Hey, no one said that discipline would be fun and games for you. Seeing your child unhappy is enough to make you throw out the rules and let him eat chocolate for dinner. But a good parent knows that proper discipline lays the ground rules for a happy, healthy life. Of course, no one tells you how much you'll want to give in. Just remember: say "yes" when you can and "no" when you should. While it's no fun now, you're molding your little one into a well-behaved child who will find it easier to navigate the real world when he's older.
If you sometimes feel like a fish out of water when it comes to discipline, join the club. No parent is born with the skills to always know the right thing to do or say in the face of misbehavior. The trick is to ignore all the advice about discipline and what you should and shouldn't be doing and instead focus on how to parent your child as an individual.