To many parents, discipline equals punishment. “It’s an urban myth passed down from earlier generations, before we had scientific research,” says Michele Borba, an internationally recognized expert on parenting, moral development and character education, and the author of No More Misbehavin’: 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them.
Discipline is really about teaching kids the right way to behave. “Behavior is learned, so it can be unlearned,” says Borba.
Before you can change your kids’ behavior, you need to know three things:
- How to stop actions you don’t approve of
- What you want your kids to do instead
- Why it’s important
Here are the most common discipline missteps, according to Borba, and how to avoid them.
Being a bad example. Children learn through imitation, so your behavior has a huge influence on theirs. So before you start planning to change your child’s behavior, take a serious look at your own (and stop swearing!).
Asking too much. It’s best to work on improving only one behavior at a time, says Borba, so you can focus all your energy on it — consistently — and ignore the rest … for now.
Not providing a substitute. No behavior will change permanently unless you teach your child a new behavior to replace it. Instead of ordering your kids to stop interrupting, for example, tell them to wait for a pause in the conversation and then say, “Excuse me.” Think through what you want, and set a consequence you can stick to until the new behavior takes hold.
Not explaining the “why.” If we want our children to incorporate our values, we have to explain why certain behaviors are not acceptable, says Borba. Be brief: Explain it in 10 seconds or less.
Negotiating. State your rules simply (you’re the authority, after all), and don’t end with questions like, “OK?” If they press you, say you’re not open for negotiation, then turn and calmly walk away. Know what you stand firm on. Then stand firm.
New habits take about three weeks of repetition to establish, according to Borba. “There’s no quick fix,” she says. “But well-behaved kids are worth the effort.”
Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos for Healthy Moms Blog Magazine
Victoria has written for numerous publications and websites, including Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple and iVillage.com.