|Discipline With Teaching, Love
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Disciplining children of divorce is a common topic of disagreement in custody cases.
Often the parents operate at opposite extremes. One is abusively strict, the other dangerously permissive. Generally, each needs to change his or her own method of discipline, but typically, each will try to change the other while denying his or her own flaws! They come to Court to enlist the Court's power to try to force the other parent to change.
Over the years I have heard many child development experts testify about good parenting skills, including discipline. Their advice is often wise.
Most frequently, experts say that parents should remember that the word "discipline" comes from the root "disciple" which mean to teach in a loving way. Too many parents seem to believe that discipline means forcing children to do what the parents want them to do, often using coercion. Threatening is not teaching in a loving way. Nor is bribing, hitting or ridiculing.
It is apparent to those who spend their lives studying these matters that the single most used word to discipline is "don't", but these experts say, "don't" is a word that should be used rarely, if at all. Rather than telling children what NOT TO DO, parents should tell children what TO DO
For example, instead of telling a child, "Don't throw things;" tell the child, "Let's figure out a safe place where you can throw things." Or, rather than say, "Don't run;" say, "Use your walking legs in the house and your running legs outside." Children are less likely to misbehave when they focus on positives and what they can do.
Experts have explained that children misbehave for one of three reasons:
1. They seek revenge. If they've been hurt or humiliated by inappropriate discipline, they will be angry, and angry people seek revenge.
2. They want attention. Children need and deserve their parents' attention. The solution is to catch them being good and to give them praise and attention then.
3. They are immature. Often a child simply doesn't know a better way to behave. The parent's job is to teach. Sometimes a child is just doing what is developmentally appropriate. For example, when a two-year-old throws things, he is appropriately learning how to grasp and release objects. It's a two-year-old's job, if you will, to throw things, which is why saying "don't throw" is counterproductive. Figuring out and teaching the youngster a safe place and time for throwing things is much more effective and wise.
It is easier and quicker to say "don't" than to think of a positive solution. It's also easier and quicker to use threats. However, one thing has become clear to me from listening to child development experts. Punitive, coercive discipline may bring about immediate, dramatic changes in a child's behavior, but the long-term consequences are always negative. Physical or emotional punishment do not motivate a child to do the right thing or teach self-discipline. To achieve those long-term results, parents must teach in a loving way.
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