Disciplining kids isn’t always as simple as 1-2-3

Avoid these nine mistakes, and you’ll be ahead of the game

Special to The TribuneJune 4, 2013 


We want to discipline our children in the best and most effective way possible. But we’ve all made mistakes that we’ve regretted. Here are nine common errors that well-intentioned parents make, accompanied by suggestions for avoiding the pitfalls next time around:

Mistake No. 1: Yelling. Yelling is for venting anger, not changing kids’ behavior. Children of frequently yelling parents quickly tune out their folks’ ranting. They know Mom and Dad don’t really mean business; yelling’s a ho-hum event. Boys and girls also copy that behavior and invariably start yelling themselves. Solution: Make a commitment to dispense with all yelling. Learn to communicate in respectful words and tone. Don’t address problems when you’re hot and bothered. Count to 10 (or if necessary 20) before opening your mouth. Save yelling for the bleachers.

Mistake No. 2: Nagging. Nagging is a futile attempt at discipline. Parents feel powerless because nothing changes. Kids know Mom and Dad don’t expect compliance because they’ve said the same thing time and again. Solution: Don’t say anything unless you’re serious. Then say it once and follow through with some action. Once kids know you’re not kidding they’re more likely to fall into line.

Mistake No. 3: Lecturing. Some parents think more is better, that an extended scolding has more impact than a shorter one. In reality, kids have a limited attention span, especially when they’re being criticized. They quickly zone out, paying no attention to what’s being said. Solution: Avoid the temptation to harangue kids. Say what you want in a concise manner. The point is to elicit results, not talk their ears off.

Mistake No. 4: Overtalking. It’s good to offer kids explanations. But some parents spend so much time explaining that their message is hopelessly watered down. Solution: Say what you want with the fewest number of words. A brief, “I need you to sit in the shopping cart,” is far more effective than, “You can get hurt badly if you stand up and I’ll have to take you to the hospital. That would make us all very sad.”

Mistake No. 5: Physical punishment. The purpose of discipline is to teach kids self-control. It’s never accomplished through physical force. Children feel frightened or angry when they’re spanked, slapped or roughly treated. They don’t learn what their parents want them to do. They also learn that it’s acceptable to hit, a message we never want to convey. Solution: Talk to children in terms they understand. State your expectations clearly and expect that they follow through. Remove kids quickly when they start to lose control.

Mistake No. 6: Unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to think kids can do more than they’re able. This is especially true with firstborn and only children; moms and dads assume they’re more mature than they actually are. A toddler is likely to throw tantrums. A 4-year-old won’t want to share her toys. Solution: Talk to other parents or take classes on child development. You’ll learn what’s within kids’ developmental limits and set behavioral demands accordingly.

Mistake No. 7: Not following through. If parents make a request — “Be home by 4,” or “Clean the kitty litter box before going to karate,” — it’s imperative they check to see it’s completed. When they don’t, the chore’s unlikely to be completed and kids know they don’t have to obey. Solution: Take the time to oversee children’s progress and compliance. Be firm, especially if they’re dawdling or whining.

Mistake No. 8: Shaming. Sometimes parents overlook how their words impact their children. Statements such as, “Quit acting like a baby!” or “You never were very smart!” cause them to feel inadequate and insecure. Solution: Check your words before speaking. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if my boss or spouse spoke to me that way?” Always talk in a courteous manner, even when correcting or setting a limit.

Mistake No. 9: Taking anger out on kids. Parents inevitably get stressed. But children shouldn’t be used as their emotional trash cans. It’s unfair and confusing when their folks come unglued over a behavior that’s usually no big deal. And it doesn’t teach kids anything except, “Watch out for Mom or Dad!” Solution: Recognize when your emotional thermometer’s rising. Take a breather. Get some exercise. Do whatever it takes to calm down. Just don’t blame your youngsters.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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