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Discipline that Works
This article is for all parents of young children, especially those who believe that their children don’t respond to discipline.

By definition, disciplining means teaching. However, over the years the word has taken on an added meaning. Most parents think discipline means punishing a child. In this article I’ll show you that discipline actually means teaching your children to listen and behave.

The following strategies have a good track record of doing just that.

Winning the whining battle
Nothing upsets parents more than a child who whines. But nothing frustrates a child more than when whining doesn’t get her parents to give in. So the next time your child starts to whine, tell her, “As soon as I hear a big girl’s voice, I will talk to you.” Then pretend she’s invisible.

At first, this strategy will make the whining worse. Your child won’t believe that whining isn’t always getting her what she wants, the way it used to. So she’ll whine even more. If you consistently ignore your child when she whines, in a matter of days she’ll discover that this behavior isn’t producing the desired effect. Since she’s not getting her way, she’ll stop whining.

Catch them in the act…of being good
What better way to get children to do what you want than to reward them with your attention when they spontaneously do what you want? This strategy works because young children love receiving their parents’ attention. Lots of time this strategy makes your child aware of behavior he wasn’t even aware he was doing.

For example, let’s say a mother tells her 6-year-old son how proud she is of him. He responds, “For what?” Mom tells him that she’s proud that he didn’t hit his brother when he took the boy’s toy. “That was really grown-up of you,” she tells him.

You see how this works? You reward your son’s desirable behavior, which in turn inspires him to repeat the behavior.

Timeouts for toddlers
Brief timeouts for your 2-year-old can be effective in helping her distinguish appropriate behavior from unacceptable behavior. However, parents often complain that timeouts don’t work for kids this young because toddlers won’t stay in a chair or their room.

Timeouts will work if you put up a child’s safety gate in a strategic location, separating the toddler from the rest of the family. Of course, you have to expect tears and possibly a temper tantrum when you place your toddler behind the gate. She won’t like it, but that’s precisely why it works.

After two to five minutes in timeout, approach your toddler and say, “You can come out if you don’t spit (or whatever the unacceptable behavior was).” By the way, make sure you ignore your toddler in timeout. Carrying on a conversation or scolding a toddler in timeout is a recipe for failure.

Stop toilet training when it’s not working
Toilet training often becomes a battle of wills between parent and child. Remember, children of toilet training age usually have no interest in using the potty. They’re also going through a stage of life when “No” is their favorite word.

Parents, on the other hand, are highly motivated to succeed at toilet training because it ultimately means less work for them. However, you have to consider your child’s physical and mental maturity. In other words, if your child isn’t mentally and physically ready, toilet training isn’t going to happen. Trying to force a child to make it happen only delays the whole process.

So, if your child isn’t toiled trained after your good effort, back off and try again in a month. When it comes to training a child to use the bathroom, sometimes waiting is the best approach.

Use checklists to monitor behavior
There are times parents struggle to deal with young children who talk back or use bad words. An effective way to handle this is to place a checkmark on a pad each time your child swears or talks back. Let’s say you’re concerned about your child’s “bathroom talk.” Start by telling him that language like this upsets people and is not nice. Then explain that each time your child says a bad word, you’re going to put a checkmark on the pad. Each check means going to bed 10 minutes earlier. You will be amazed at how effective this strategy can be. You don’t have to say anything; your child sees what you’re doing each time you pick up the pad. If you find yourself getting frustrated with your child’s language, try this approach and see how well it works.

Rely on delayed consequences
Most parenting books advise parents to provide a consequence immediately after a child misbehaves. However, there are times when this is not possible. What’s more, in some instances it’s actually more powerful to provide a consequence several hours later, or even the next day. So, the next time your child refuses to cooperate or is argumentative, remain silent and walk away. The first time you do this, your child will think he got away with something – and you’ll feel like a wimpy parent. But it won’t be long before your child approaches you asking for a favor or a treat. At this point say something like, “I’m sorry, but a little while ago you refused to listen to me, so you won’t be allowed to have that tonight.” In time, your child will learn that when you walk away after he refuses to cooperate, there will be a consequence for his poor behavior. This approach is much more effective than arguing or trying to persuade a child to cooperate.

Offer incentives instead of punishment
Some children, especially young children, respond better to earning rewards than to being punished. In this regard, I find behavior charts extremely helpful. The next time your child fights with her sister, try setting up a “big girl” chart. Then, choose a privilege your child can earn at the end of each day if he or she has had a good day. A good day for a temperamental child, for example, would be a day when she handles frustration better. To make this strategy work, let your child pick out stickers for the chart, and be sure the privilege changes each day so your child doesn’t become bored with the reward. Although some parents call this bribery, I call it motivating a child to improve her behavior when she has little interest in doing so. By the way, providing the reward at the end of each day motivates young children better than the promise of a reward at the end of the week.

Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist