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The Four Parts to Discipline

Discipline is a complex matter. The days are long and complications abound - there are many, many things we must get our children to do, or stop them from doing - all day, every day. Add the fact that children don’t always listen to us, or do the things we want them to do, and you can understand why parenting is a challenge!

As you move through your days, it helps to keep in mind these four parts to the purpose and goal of discipline:

To correct immediate behavior.
To teach a lesson.
To give tools that will build self-discipline  and emotional control.
To build the parent/child relationship.

Let’s examine how this applies to a few typical situations so that you can begin to understand how these four purposes color almost every discipline situation with your child.

Situation: Your child is having a temper tantrum in a store because you won’t buy a new toy.
Correct immediate behavior. Take your child to a restroom or unpopulated corner of the store. Wait for your child to stop the tantrum.
Teach a lesson. ‘You can’t have everything you want.’ You need to express your emotions appropriately.
Give tools to build self-discipline and emotional control. Help your child write a wish list of toys that she wants, but can’t have right now.
Build the relationship. Demonstrate leadership, understanding and patience.

Situation: Your two children are squabbling over a toy.
Correct immediate behavior. Put the toy on the counter while you get your children to stop tussling and pay attention to you.
Teach a lesson. Children need to learn how to share toys and take turns.
Give tools to build self-discipline and emotional control. Help children by setting a timer so each can have a five-minute turn with it. Show them how to do this in the future without your help.
Build the relationship. Show them how to play together and how to settle disputes. Show them that they can look to you for help in handling problems.

Situation: Your child is upset with a playmate and bites her on the arm.
Correct immediate behavior. Separate the children. Provide attention and care to the child who was bitten.
Teach a lesson. Get down to your child’s level, put your hands on her shoulders, look her in the eye and tell her, “Biting hurts. We don’t bite people. Tell Emmy you’re sorry. That will make her feel better.”
Give tools to build self-discipline and emotional control. Give your child a few hints on how she should handle her frustration next time: “If you want a toy, you can ask nicely for it, or you can come to mommy for help.”
Build your relationship. Show your child that you are on her side even when she makes mistakes. Demonstrate that she can count on  you to teach her how to handle strong emotions.

Discipline is not a one-time manoeuvre

You say you’ve tried to get your little one to put his toys away, but he never does. You’re after your daughter constantly not to whine, yet that screechy voice continues. You repeatedly attempt to get your two children to share their toys nicely yet it seems that daily you’re refereeing an argument over toys. No matter what you do, the same issues keep coming up over and over again.

Think about something that you do - or don’t do - that you know you should do differently. Perhaps it’s exercising or eating healthily. Maybe it’s keeping your desk organized or your closet clean. In all of these examples, it’s likely that you struggle to always do the right thing, even when you know what the right thing is. So, if you, the mature adult, still don’t do everything the right way, how could you possibly expect such a feat from your young child?

Discipline means ‘to teach’

Discipline is about teaching, and it is very rare that this lesson can be learned in one simple session. Furthermore, young children cannot easily apply what they’ve learned in one situation to another. So even minor variations create entirely new scenarios - for example, learning to share toys with a sibling at home isn’t easily transposed to the situation of sharing playground equipment with a friend at the park.

What this all means is that you must teach the same, or similar, lessons over and over and over and over again in many different ways until, perhaps, your child will master the idea and claim it as his own. Even then, just because a child knows what is right doesn’t mean he will always do the right thing! (Do you always drive the posted speed limit?) Our job as parents is to help our children learn right from wrong, and how to make the right decisions in life. It is to guide and teach our children, every day, in many ways.

Discipline means teaching, and as such, it can encompass almost every interaction you have with your child. When you are thoughtful about your role as a parent, and when you keep your eye on your long-term goals and use carefully-planned parenting skills, then your essential parenting attitudes will be properly aligned and your job as a parent will be more fulfilling and rewarding.

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series, on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Visit her blog at www.elizabethpantley.com. Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill) by Elizabeth Pantley.

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