There are fun parts of parenting and there are parts we’d happily outsource if that was a realistic option.
Snuggling up to read a book together — we’ll keep that! Sneaking extra french fries off their plates — awesome! Carrying your kid like a surfboard out of a hardware store because they’re having an epic tantrum — yikes, we’ll pass.
However, we rationally know disciplining is part of parenting. Therefore, like it or not, we need to figure out strategies that work for us and for our children, ideally leaving the drama out of it.
Use these suggestions to help you out along the way, and keep in mind that just like your little ones, you’re still learning too. It’s going to take practice to get disciplining right, but don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it out!
First, you need to make sure you are consistent with discipline. Having a game plan for how you are going to handle situations is helpful for you so that you aren’t making it up on the fly while you’re angry. Consistency is also helpful for your children because they can learn what to expect if they misbehave and ideally will stop doing that thing they aren’t supposed to do.
Once you have your rules about what is in bounds and out of bounds, make sure your child is well aware about what those rules are. It may take some reminding (okay, maybe a lot of reminding) but don’t give up on your rules if they are good rules that keep your children safe and help them grow up to be respectful adults.
2. Set rational consequences
Just because you have rules doesn’t mean your child is always going to follow them, unfortunately. So, you need to not only have consistent rules but also consistent and rational follow through.
Experts will argue against timeouts because they separate your child from the group and the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Now, are there cases where separating the child from the situation is smart? Sure. For example, if you need to separate a child from their sibling because they are using their fists instead of their words — time out may be just the thing (or, you can try a calm down corner).
However, for other behaviors, make sure the consequence is related back to the behavior. If you throw your dinner on the floor, you need to pick it up. If you call another child a name, you need to pick up the phone and apologize. For every action, there needs to be a clear reaction that makes sense to help stop that specific behavior.
3. Recognize their triggers
Sometimes children are acting out because they want to push the boundaries and it will be on you to set those boundaries nice and clear. However, there will also be times when your child is acting out for other reasons.
To avoid a meltdown, look for signs of hunger and tiredness in your child and try to nip that in the bud with a snack or a nap before they go all Incredibles Jack Jack demon baby on you. Your child also may be lonely, angry, or bored and are acting out as a result. If you can recognize the signs of these feelings in your child and get in front of them it can go a long way in solving a little problem before it becomes a big problem.
4. Get on their level
Imagine you did something wrong at work and a towering giant started yelling at you. We’d be looking for the nearest exit and quick! That’s how it can feel for a child when an adult is disciplining them — they are staring up at a huge angry giant!
To skip the “fi fie foe fum” of it all, get down on your child’s level when speaking with them about their behavior. Crouch down to eye level and keep your voice calm and steady. This is easier said than done when your child is simply refusing to listen to you and your blood starts to boil, but it really can help to diffuse the situation.
Remember, just because you are calm and making eye contact doesn’t mean you can’t dole out punishments. If your child is acting a fool at the playground and they have already been spoken to about adjusting their behavior, get back to eye level, explain that you are following through on the consequence of leaving the playground and off you go. There may still be drama, but at least it’s not from you and one cooler head is better than none!