An Article from a 1993 Tuesday’s Tale Newsletter by Victoria Lavigne

Discipline is one of the most important things we do as parents. Discipline does not mean “punishment’ but rather refers to a positive process of teaching our children the “social rules.” As our child learns to accommodate his needs and wants within the family, he becomes prepared to meet the social demands of his peer group and the broader community. If our teaching is successful, our child will move toward increasing self-control.

There are some basic strategies of positive discipline that parents need to practice throughout a child’s development. Whether our child is a toddler, a school-ager, a preteen or beyond, we should always try to give him or her positive feedback and encouragement for good behavior. Commenting on what our child has done correctly gives the child important information about his actions and creates a positive climate for discipline.

We also need to be aware of the impact that we have as a role model for our child. How we treat family members and friends, handle stress, or express our emotions teaches our child a great deal about how people act.

Finally, no matter our child’s age, we need to work on building a strong parent/child relationship. This means spending time with our child in activities that are fun for the child, like playing “Barbie,” Nintendo, or board games, and so on. As children get older, some activities become mutually enjoyable, such as sports or movies. If parents only interact with a child to give rules or set limits, discipline will be less effective.

While following “the basics” mentioned above, it also is necessary to evaluate some of our discipline strategies as our children get older. During the preschool years, parents have to set rules and tell them to the child. Young children simply do not have the cognitive maturity or judgment to regulate their own behavior. We all know that most 3 to 4 year-olds would happily stay up all night and choose sweets over vegetables if given a choice.

As children reach school age, however, their thinking skills mature. They are more logical. They gradually become less egocentric, which means that they can see another person’s point of view. They have a better sense of time, so they can plan ahead and foresee the consequences of their behavior.

With our child’s growing maturity, our discipline strategies can be focused more directly on self control. One way to do this is to have our child become an active participant in deciding on some of the rules that he is to follow. For instance, homework has to be done, but the time to do it can be discussed and agreed to by the child. Sitting down with a schedule and talking about free time, activities, and homework can help your child learn to manage their time. It’s also more likely to facilitate cooperation than a parental dictate about studying.

Sibling disagreements are another area where a discussion about rules can be helpful. A common problem for example is whether a sibling can join in when one child has a friend over. With parental guidance, siblings can talk about alternative solutions and decide on a rule about guests. They also can decide what will happen if the agreed-upon rule is violated. Then, after a few “trials,” the family can reconvene and see if the rule is working or if it needs to be revised.

If parents are to be successful in talking to their child about rules, they must develop good communication skills. One of the most important things is being a good listener. This means being patient and setting aside time for talking. It also means not rushing in with a judgmental comment (“It’s clearly your fault that your homework wasn’t done on time!”) or quickly offering advice. The idea is to let your child have an opportunity to express what he thinks and feels about a situation and how it might be handled.

One of the greatest challenges of parenting is growing along with our children. As our children mature and change, their world beyond the family keeps growing larger. Going off to school, making new friends, or mastering a skill are all events that go along with the increasing capabilities and a movement toward independence. Keeping up with our children requires us to reflect on our parenting skills from time to time to be sure that our methods of discipline are a “good fit” for our child’s latest stage.

The Challenge of Discipline