Positive discipline

Question: What are some positive approaches to discipline of a 5-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. Is spanking ever an option? What is the best type of approaches when a child throws a tantrum and won’t listen to the parent?
– Donna

Answer: Oh, the “D” word! To quote a family counselor I know: discipline is like dieting, we all know what to do; it’s just a matter of doing it. First, let me say that discipline isn’t only what we do at the time of a conflict. Discipline is what we do from the time the child wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep. (It may even include how well we take care of ourselves in between.) The ingredients to successful discipline are good communication, predictable routines, age-appropriate responsibility and self-respect.

Two programs that immediately come to mind are The STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and 1, 2, 3 Magic. Both are usually available as books, videos and multi-session seminars at area schools, libraries, parent centers or counseling centers.

Is spanking ever an option? There is increasing opinion in favor of spanking on the premise that parents have been “too soft” lately and children are becoming “brattier.” I strongly disagree. If we are paying attention and we are taking appropriate action (just like dieting), communication and consequences will always work!

There is always a gap, however, between theory and practice. I suspect that’s because the “books” are not emotionally engaged with real children, parents are! Parents do raise their voices and sometimes spank. I don’t want a parent to feel guilty about either one. Real parents get angry, frustrated and desperate. Will spanking accomplish your goals? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it is a guaranteed Pandora’s Box to open: it can escalate to a place you don’t want to go, it can teach your child the wrong message about power and obedience, and it fails to teach valuable problem solving skills.

As for tantrums, there are three variations of responses once a tantrum begins: ignore the child, ignore the behavior, or remove yourself from the behavior. You would ignore the child by not commenting on the behavior and not interacting (except possibly to remove a 2 year old or send a 5 year old to another room). This often works but in some cases the behavior will escalate because the child will try louder and harder to get his way. You can also give yourself a “timeout” and explain that the child’s behavior is out of control and you need to go to a quiet place. This often works too, but sometimes the child will get himself under control long enough to follow you to your new place and then resume the tantrum. I like to begin with “ignore the behavior”. Explain to your child that you cannot “hear” him or solve the problem while he is having a tantrum. You will be available to help when he is finished. Busy yourself with some deep breathing, rehearse a speech or a joke, or try to remember the words to a song you knew in high school. Once the tantrum is over, let it go.

Pick another time to minimize tantrum-producing conditions and teach more appropriate forms of expression. Sadly, your child cannot “listen” to you while having a tantrum. He is just spinning in his own whirlpool but, if you are calm, you will be the lifeline that gives him a safe way out. The tantrums will lessen as maturity and experience give him a new emotional repertoire.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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