Discipline can be kind of a total minefield when it comes to parenting topics. What I mean by that is that so many issues are controversial that it means a debate is sparked by mentioning just one of them – but it needs to be talked about! People need to learn from others and know the difference between disciplining a child and maybe taking things a little too far. Some parents might not even realize they’re doing it, but it’s possible to make mistakes. We all do.
Hopefully, these dos and don’ts of discipline will help out any parents who are struggling with the issue. Don’t worry about it – everyone does, and we will mess up at some point. It’s part of being human. But if we bear in mind a reasonable guideline about what’s an acceptable way to get a child to behave and what will really mess them up or make them resent parents, this is a good place to start.
Also, we maybe shouldn't take advice from what our own parents did – not necessarily, anyway. Times are changing for the better, and we’re way more knowledgeable now about what psychologically benefits kids and what doesn’t. Gotta move with the times, right?
20 DO Set An Example By Behaving How We Want Them To
The most important thing when it comes to showing your child how to behave is to make sure we're behaving the same way. We can’t be rude to a service worker and then tell them in the same breath that they have to be polite to everyone – we have to practice what we preach because I guarantee that a kid is going to follow a parent's example more than a parent's words. Especially if they’re contradictory, because there’s nothing to reinforce the values we're telling them.
19 DO Provide Positive Reinforcement
While we’re mostly talking about discipline here, we have to look at the other side of the coin too. If we're telling our kid off for behaving inappropriately, we have to reinforce the good behavior too. This doesn’t necessarily mean buying them the latest piece of technology every time they display basic manners – it could be something as simple as smiling, or acknowledging that we're pleased with them. New Kids Center has found that this promotes positive behavior in kids – it’s far from a myth that this works. Find what motivates each child and use it to reward them.
18 DO Try To Set Clear Limits And Consequences For Behavior Before It Happens
Your kid needs to understand why their behavior is bad when it’s bad. Make sure that you’ve already set clear boundaries for them and that they understand how they’re supposed to behave – it’s going to reduce the chance of seeing something you don’t like. They need to understand that manners are important and why, and they need to understand having basic respect for people, animals, and objects. It’s unfair to get mad at someone who has no idea that what they were doing is inappropriate.
17 DO Hold Both Or All Of Your Children To The Same Standard
Ah, the ‘favorite’ debate. It’s a difficult one. Some people believe that parents naturally have a kid they prefer whether they’d admit to it or not, and some find the very idea of preferring one child over another abhorrent.
Regardless of your stance, don’t ever let your kids think that their siblings are held to different standards. The same should be expected of them all – within reason. Obviously, toddlers have less understanding of right and wrong than teenagers, but make sure you’re not letting one away with much more than the other.
16 DO Show Them What They Should Have Done Instead
It’s a good idea to provide children with an alternative if you’re going to discipline them for something. If you’re telling them off for being rude to someone, explain how they should have behaved instead. If you’re telling them off for treating something with a lack of respect – e.g. not playing with a toy in its intended manner, or destroying it – show them how it should be used instead. The key to everything in a parent-child relationship is communication and understanding. This is no different.
15 DO Make Good Use Of Silence
Sometimes it’s much better to be quiet. Don’t misunderstand this – if your child doesn’t know what they’ve done wrong, it’s not cool to just give them the cold shoulder for days and let them work it out. But sometimes it is important to just take a step back and let everyone cool off. Shouting and ranting at them isn’t always going to help. Give them a chance to reflect and come to their own conclusion about why what they did was wrong.
14 DO Use Good Old Fashioned Grounding If Necessary
Kids Behavior says that grounding should be reserved for major incidents, but that it does still work. If you use grounding too much, your kid might think they’ll be grounded for something little regardless of what they do and actually act out more – but if it’s a threat reserved for when things are serious, it’s a time old classic that still works because it’s a punishment that drives home consequences but one that isn’t needlessly cruel or abusive. This is exactly the balance you want to strike.
13 DO Restrict Luxuries, Especially If They're The Cause Of Bad Behavior
This, again, is one that only should be used when the incident is major, but it’s one that works nonetheless. Sometimes this is included in grounding – taking away luxuries. By this, I don’t mean taking away their phone, because cutting them off from the outside world probably won’t make things any better – or cutting them off from you if they’re still going out with friends. But for major incidents… game consoles and tablets seem to be pretty fair game, and this might actually work.
12 DO Learn How To Compromise
You are the parent, they are the child, but you should avoid becoming the boss. You have the final say in all decisions, sure, you aren’t their friend, you’re there to look after them – but learn to compromise. You might not find it reasonable for your 14-year-old daughter to be out with her boyfriend every night, but maybe he could come to your house where you can keep an eye on them?
Learn where you need to compromise and what’s a hill to die on.
11 DO Stay Open With Your Child About Your Expectations
If your child repeatedly misbehaves or fails to understand a lot, it’s easy to get frustrated. Avoid cutting off communication altogether and being regressed to someone just constantly irritable and angry. When disciplining your child, you need to continuously make sure they’re aware of why it’s happening, and you need to keep drawing guidelines as they get older, adjusting with their age. Make sure that they feel they can trust and talk to you, and they’re much more likely to follow your rules.
10 DON'T Spank Them
Family Education – including citing the American Academy of Pediatrics (they are pretty much the authority on kids) – explains why spanking is a terrible idea.
Yes, your parents may have done it, but that doesn’t mean they were right to. Times have changed. We have more education on the matter now.
It’s painful, it teaches them that violence is an acceptable way to deal with their problems, and it’s just all around a terrible idea. It breaks trust… just, don’t do it.
9 DON'T Use Any Form Of Physically Discipline, Actually
In fact, in case this doesn’t go without saying, any corporal punishment is bad. Presumably, you’d be mad if your kid grew up and got into a relationship with someone who hit them – why? Because it’s not a good communication tool? Because it makes them feel powerless? Because it hurts them? Because it’s nothing more than a baseless control method?
Yes. Exactly. That’s how any corporal punishment is. Even coming from a parent.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s spanking or not – don’t hit your kid.
8 DON'T Discipline Them Without Telling Them Why
Don’t randomly lash out at them. Don’t scream at them to go to their room, or tell them they’re grounded, without explaining why. “You know what you did,” is far too common a phrase for people to use when they’re mad, but it’s not actually helpful at all because the person might not know. Or maybe they’ve guessed entirely wrong. It might take some effort to calm down and clearly explain why your child is in trouble, but it’s an effort you should make.
7 DON'T Let Your Temper Rule Your Reaction
Sometimes it’s easy to get extremely worked up when you’re mad at your child. Maybe they did something that put them or someone else in danger, or maybe they just did something you thought that they explicitly knew not to. Whatever it was – don’t be ruled by your temper. Don’t scream, or hit them, or do anything that’s done in impulse. You’ll feel bad later and you’ve potentially just made your child afraid of you. That should never be the goal.
6 DON'T Embarrass Them In Front Of Their Friends
When you have to discipline your child, don’t do it in front of their friends.
Kids can be cruel. They might fun of your child later for what was supposed to be just one moment to ensure they never do something again. Even if they don’t, your child is going to be very embarrassed and they’re never going to want to bring their friends around you again in case this keeps happening. Don’t ruin your relationship – take them aside if you need to and tell them off privately.
5 DON'T Scream At Them
As bad as it is to hit your kid, screaming is only a step down. It’s another thing that’s done out of anger and sometimes just happens instinctually, but according to Healthline, it has lasting effects and can make them more physically and verbally aggressive towards others in future. You don’t have to be nice while telling them off, but you should at least be calm and resist raising your voice at your child as often as possible. It’s important for their development.
4 DON'T Threaten Them Needlessly
Don’t threaten them either. It’s not okay to threaten your kid with spanking, even if you’re never doing to do it. Don’t make them afraid of something you never intended to do in the first place, even if you think they deserve to be scared.
It’s also a bad thing to do because they’ll start to think you don’t follow through. Don’t constantly threaten to ground them for little things or they’ll think their actions will never have any consequences. Save the threats for ones you’ll actually follow through on.
3 DON'T Punish Them For A Genuine Mistake
Things happen. It sucks, but sometimes things happen that are beyond anyone’s control. Spilling a drink? Falling over and breaking someone, or hurting someone else? It all sucks but it’s not intentional. There’s no need to shout at your kid for something they did by accident. I mean, sure, you can explain how to avoid that next time by being more careful – but learn the difference between helping them avoid future mistakes and actually needlessly disciplining them. Discipline should be reserved for misbehaving.
2 DON'T Hold A Grudge Once The Incident Has Passed
Have they learned their lesson? Is the incident over?
Then don’t keep bringing it up in future. This can lead to emotional abuse, holding something over their head that they have no power to change. If they seem genuinely remorseful and have been disciplined, it’s fine to let something go and trust that they’re learning from their mistakes. If you keep bringing them up, you’re going to have one resentful child.
That doesn’t mean let go of something that’s a pattern, but stand-alone incidents? Yeah.
1 DON'T Lie To Your Child
Parents lie to their child to be well-intentioned – like when a pet dies and they say he went to a farm. But the truth is, according to Psychology Today, children can tell when you’re lying and it makes them mistrust you. When possible, it’s better to be upfront and honest, even if it’s going to momentarily upset them. Better a minute of upset because of the truth than completely shattered trust with their parents because of a series of well-intentioned lies.
So this goes for discipline too. Be honest about why they’re in trouble, always, and be honest about how you feel about what they did.