Children thrive in an atmosphere of consistency where there are clear boundaries and expectations. Parents who work as a team with agreed upon rules offer the best support to their child. It is unreasonable, however, to expect that a child will always cooperate and follow these rules. Parents should discuss their expectations and agree upon discipline before the need arises. When a problem arises, parents are often upset and a rash decision about discipline can turn out to be impractical. Enforcing discipline, whether it involves a time-out or a loss of privileges, should be a consequence that both child and parent can live with. A thirty minute time-out for a four year old is not developmentally appropriate and would be very hard for a parent to enforce. Grounding a teenager for a year is not healthy and can be difficult for the entire family. Discipline should be decided upon and enforced quickly, particularly with younger children. If a young child has to wait before a consequence is decided upon, it is quite possible he will have forgotten what the consequence is for. Some discipline problems can be avoided or at least lessened by the use of positive reinforcement. Younger children benefit greatly from being praised for appropriate behavior and not just being disciplined for doing something wrong. Positive reinforcement does not always have to be verbal. Non-verbal cues such as a “thumbs-up” or a “high five” help the child understand that a parent is noticing good behavior as well as bad behavior. An older child may be confused by being grounded for low grades if parents have not spent time praising and appreciating the higher grades.Children of all ages benefit when parents are in agreement about rules and expectations. Reacting quickly and age appropriately with discipline choices helps a child learn from their mistakes. Positive reinforcement and consistent boundaries promote confidence and build self-esteem.
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