Discipline: Shaping Behavior

Discipline is a topic that concerns every parent and it’s an area in which parents are least sure. Providing discipline is important for your child’s overall development and helps to guide him/her in making the right decisions. Because of its importance, the task of shaping your child’s will requires your daily commitment.

In order to shape your child’s behavior, you need to first establish the boundaries in your home. What behaviors are acceptable and which are not? Boundaries provide a feeling of safety and security. When your child understands that the boundaries do not change, he/she feels secure. Without a feeling of safety, your child can experience anxiety and stress, causing him/her to behave in ways that are reckless, manipulative, and aggressive. It is normal for your child to test boundaries; therefore, you must be diligent and consistent in enforcing the limits in the home. When your child learns to obey the rules in the home, he/she is better equipped to live within the rules of society.

Aside from providing security, boundaries:

• Define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

•Help your child understand that there are consequences to behavior.

•Provide opportunities for teaching correct behaviors. It gives your child the chance to correct a wrong behavior by practicing the right behavior.

•Provide predictability and consistency in the home.

•Create trust between you and your child.

•Assure your child that he/she is loved.

When you set boundaries for your child, you are able to provide the discipline your child needs. Discipline, in the past, usually meant physical or harsh punishment. The word, discipline, however, refers to instruction or teaching. The purpose of discipline is to teach your child how to make good choices and develop internal discipline.

Your goal is not to “control” your child’s behavior, but to shape behavior. You might be able to “control” the behavior of your young child, but as your child gets older, it will not be possible. As a parent, you are to provide the leadership and authority in your home. It is your responsibility to set clear guidelines, teach your child acceptable behaviors and attitudes, and correct those that are not. Your task as a parent is to begin very early to teach your child basic principles of life: how to love others, show kindness and be truthful and trustworthy. By your example, you encourage your child to love and be devoted to God. It will require the sacrifice of your time to do what’s best for your child, but your efforts will have lasting benefits for him/her.

Think of the boundaries in your home. What behaviors are acceptable? Unacceptable?

What Children and Parents Both Need

When you discipline or correct your child, you and your child have similar needs. You both need:

• To be heard and understood.

• To be loved unconditionally.

• To be treated with dignity and respect.

• To understand that mistakes will be made.

• To feel a sense of power.

• To recognize alternate choices for behaviors.

• To be forgiven.

• To stay connected.

Since your needs and those of your child are similar, there are discipline strategies that are best to meet those needs. Let’s look at some ineffective and effective discipline strategies.

Ineffective Discipline Strategies

• Nagging, lecturing, or talking too much. Your child stops listening and becomes irritated. As humans, we hear only 7% of what someone tells us. Fewer words are better.

• Debating or arguing. This method draws you into an argument with your child. You lower yourself to that of your child and give him/her equal status. As the parent, you have the greater authority. You are the person in charge of your home.

• Bribing. Bribing discourages motivation in your child and makes your child feel that he/she is entitled to a reward for the smallest accomplishments.

• Comparing your child to others. Resentment is created between siblings when you compare children. God has made every child unique and his/her uniqueness should be celebrated.

• Threatening. When you threaten your child with a consequence, but don’t act on it, your child learns that your words mean very little. As a result, he/she will continue the wrong behavior. Think before you speak. You must do what you say, even if it is inconvenient for you. By being consistent, your child learns that the rules and consequences remain the same in any circumstance.

• Whining or complaining. When you whine to your child about his/her lack of obedience, he/she considers you a weak parent who can be easily manipulated.

• Yelling or screaming. Your child focuses on your yelling and screaming and not on the lesson to be learned.

• Harsh physical punishment. Since this form of discipline is usually carried out when a parent is out of control, a child learns to lash out at others when he/she is angry or upset. Harsh discipline destroys self-esteem, stops the learning process, and creates a lack of trust in the relationship between the parent and child. Feelings of fear, hostility, and resentment develop. If you discipline when you are angry, your child focuses on your anger and not on the inappropriate behavior.

Effective Discipline Strategies

• Correct your child’s behavior immediately. If too much time is allowed to pass, your child doesn’t remember what he/she did.

• Be loving, but firm.

• Stay calm. Don’t overreact.

• Follow-through with the consequences. Be consistent each time. If you say it, do it!

• Involve children in making the rules and consequences. This is especially effective as your child gets older or is strong-willed. He/she will be less likely to break the rules, if allowed to contribute to the discussion.

•Set clear, reasonable expectations that are appropriate for the age and ability of your child.

•Use natural consequences whenever possible.

•Be consistent.

 Between parents: You must agree on the rules so that your child cannot use one parent against another. You may deliver the discipline differently, but the boundaries remain the same.

 Between children: Even though you allow for differences in ages and abilities, rules should be the same within the family. Example: Showing respect.

 Between parent and child. You are the model for what you expect from your child. Your child cannot be expected to do what you are not willing to do yourself.

•Understand the root cause of the behavior. Sometimes, your child can’t express his/her needs, so acts out, manipulates, and becomes aggressive. Encourage your child to respectfully tell you what he/she needs.

• Be decisive and firm when your child shows disrespect. It’s never acceptable for a child to show disrespect for his/her parents.

•Say “yes” as much as possible on things that are not critical, so that when you have to say “no,” your child is more willing to accept it.

You often discipline the way your parents disciplined you. Your style of discipline is probably a combination of, or reaction to, the ways in which your parents disciplined you.

Make a list the effective strategies you are already using.

Make a list the ineffective strategies you are using. How can you change them?

When you must correct your child often, you need to balance correction with nurture. This is best accomplished by spending time together. By having fun with your child, you build trust in the relationship. When you set rules and give consequences without relationship, you risk rebellion and resentment in your child. When you give rewards without a relationship, your child feels bribed.

Try Something New: Choose one effective discipline strategy and practice it consistently with your child.

Verses for Encouragement: In the Bible, we are instructed, as parents, to discipline our children.

“If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don’t love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them.” Proverbs 13:24

“Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.” Proverbs 29:17