Discipline… to punish or to teach?

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Loud, screaming  young boy

Joanna Fortune, Clinical Psychotherapist and co-founder of the Solamh Parent Child Relationship Clinic, discusses the best strategies to use to achieve the behaviour you want from your children

I am frequently asked about discipline what it is, what’s its purpose and what the best methods are. My answer is always the same: Discipline is about teaching not punishing and not coercing and it must be consistent and logical. When I say that discipline is not about punishment, it may be appropriate that punishment be a part of the discipline – in which case it should quickly/immediately follow the misbehavior, be brief and respectful of your child’s feelings and stage of development. It’s also very important to reconnect with your child in a positive way soon afterwards. However, the main purpose of discipline should always be to teach your child a lesson and not just to punish the misbehavior!

What message do you want to teach?
If you take this approach then you should ask yourself, “What am I teaching my child in this discipline?” Is it time out, grounding or losing privileges or something else? Be clear about the message you are teaching and ensure your discipline measure fits this chosen agenda

Testing boundaries
A child who needs attention will get it, even if it is with negative behaviour. Assess your child’s ability to self-discipline before deciding on the discipline measure. For example, a child under two years will show a lack of boundaries and will require consistent and repeated reminding of what is appropriate and what is not – consistency is vital here. Sometimes an older child will also display a lack of boundaries and act out so you must decide whether your child knows if there is a boundary and has crossed it on purpose and are testing your limits. Perhaps your child cheekily smiles while they break the rules/boundary; the message here is that they need you to step in and hold the boundary without getting angry at them. This may look like defiant behaviour but it is not; your child is displaying a need and a sense of inner turmoil in that they know they are breaking a rule and want you tosee them do it. Try to pro-actively deal with this one in terms of stopping and saying, “It makes me so happy when you show me and everyone else what a great friend you are when you play nicely with other children,” and give them a high five and do this before you take them into a birthday party where you know they have a tendency to get over stimulated and act out

Be consistent
Communicating clear and consistent boundaries takes away uncertainty for your child. Focus on teaching as opposed to punishing and your child will begin to develop an internal system of self discipline, which allows them to develop the capacity to shape and manage their own behaviour including making good and positive decisions.

Avoid a battle
We all know that if you enter into a battle of wills with a small child, you