One of the toughest aspects of parenthood is how to deal with situations where your child has behaved wrongly. Discipline is an important process if you are to bring up a child that fully understands the issue of danger, is a child than understands the difference between right and wrong, is a child that knows how to behave acceptably and has who also has a sense of consequences for all aspects of their behaviour.
Young children do not have particularly well developed thinking abilities, frequently they cannot look at a situation from another person’s perspective until they are somewhere between ten and twelve years old. In the absence of the ability to reason in this way discipline is necessary if they are to understand that their actions have consequences.
The type of discipline you use depends on two things, how old your child is, and as they get older the nature of misdemeanor that needs to be corrected.
Between three and five you need to start to communicate that there are rules that need to be followed. The fundamentals of discipline at this age revolve around communicating rules to begin the lesson of understanding the difference between right and wrong. Simply explained “we don’t do that because….” is the best approach. If your child transgresses in the same way a second time a simple sanction such as a time out should be all that is necessary. There is a balance to be struck around discipline and that means making sure that there is plenty of praise to be had when a newly explained correct behaviour is witnessed.
Six to eight year olds are beginning to understand a much wider range of rules and what constitutes good behavior. With children of this age, timeouts and consequences of the “If you do that again I will…” type are still effective sanctions. The key challenge though is to ensure that any consequence is relative to the misdemeanor. You do not want to sanction a minor infringement with a loss of pocket money for two weeks. For an adult, two weeks is a manageable time frame but for a young child it feels like eternity. You also need to ensure that you follow through with your consequences. If you do not, the specific lesson will not be learned and more importantly you will lose all credibility in terms of future discipline incidents.
For kids between nine and twelve natural consequences are by far the most effective discipline. A child that won’t do homework is an all too common experience. Pointing out the consequences of not doing their homework and the sanctions likely from school and then supporting and even reinforcing those sanctions is an example of natural consequence. Of course not every situation lends itself to this approach but all situations will present themselves with consequences and working through how to deal with those consequences is a good way of enforcing things because no child enjoys dealing with situations like this with their parent.
As children enter their teenage years a good framework of acceptable and unacceptable and right and wrong should be in place. Throughout these difficult times children will still try to test the boundaries and the most important thing is not to let them away with this. Teenagers need frameworks even more than younger children because you will be allowing them to make more and more decisions for themselves. They need clear and reliable frameworks as a context to make those decisions in so make sure you stay constant with your consequences and sanctions and as always, you must follow through if the boundaries you create are to remain in place.