One of the subjects I get asked about most often is discipline. Parents want to know how to address problem behaviors with their children in a way that is effective and does not damage their children emotionally. There is no one-size-fits-all answer: effective discipline usually changes depending in the age of your children. It’s also one of the most common things that couples with children fight about. See, you’re not alone!
Nonetheless, I can offer some general insights to this very essential topic to raising children:
1. Discipline starts before discipline. The effectiveness of any technique depends on the strength of your relationship with your child. Trust is vital to how your child internalizes what is happening to them during the process of discipline. Your child must trust that you love them unconditionally and have their best interests in mind. This trust is built on a day-to-day basis, in big and small ways. Make sure that your child knows what type of behavior is expected in your household, and understands the consequences if those expectations are not upheld. The process of discipline should not be a mystery or decided “in the moment” by parents that are easily influenced by anger. Consequences for behavior should be decided beforehand and clearly communicated to your child.
2. When trying to discipline your child, try not to make statements such as “I’m doing this because I love you” or “This hurts me more than it hurts you”. Such statements are confusing. Also, try not to refer to your child as “good” or “bad” by saying things like, “Good boys don’t do that.” The message children should receive is that your love for them is not conditional and not dependent on being good.
3. Make sure your child understands why they are being disciplined. Discipline is not effective if your child does not understand their behavior is not ok. Remember that discipline is about learning, not just behavior modification.
4. Try positive reinforcement. Reward behavior that is adaptive or helpful, instead of punishing behavior that is maladaptive.
5. Corporal punishment is complicated. Corporal punishment is not necessarily abusive, and there are plenty of ways non-corporal punishment can be abusive. However, make sure if you employ corporal punishment that it is a last resort, and that the punishment is about the child’s learning, not about your anger.
6. Reconcile the relationship. After discipline, ask the child to apologize to any parties that were wronged by their behavior, and make a gesture of reconciliation with your child, such as a hug.
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Dr. George Hu is a clinical psychologist at Beijing United Family Hospital. He has worked extensively on issues such as
adjustment, relationships, and stress. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on page 23 of the beijingkids November 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: LizaWasHere (flickr)