Discipline: Making it Effective by Making It Personal

“You are not managing an inconvenience. You are raising a human being.” -Kittie Franz

Anyone who has more than one child has probably noticed that while one child will cry if you look at him wrong, the other child will defy every Nanny 911 philosophy and will still be screaming and kicking 2 hours after you began the discipline routine (forget that “they give up after 40 minutes” nonsense!). What then, is the key to discipline that works? It’s simple: the child.

It would be nice if every home could have a chart that had a specific consequence for every possible offense. However, even if you could come up with a chart like that, I’m afraid the impact one consequence has on one child is very different from another child. Look at it this way: if your teenager said a vile word, you might take away her cell phone for a day, thus putting her into the depths of despair and ensuring she will not say this word [in front of you] ever again. If your toddler said a naughty word, taking a phone away probably wouldn’t mean a thing and thus you will probably hear the word “SHUT UP!” again (when my 3-year-old wishes to be as downright naughty as she can possibly be, that is what comes out her mouth at high rates and volumes). See where I’m going with this?

Here are some guidelines to choosing an appropriate and effective discipline strategy for your child.

1) Discipline is behavior modification and should be thought of as such. Thinking of a consequence as a “punishment” places the focus on your child obeying you because of your power rather than your child developing into a morally, ethically, and wise individual who makes good decisions. And yes, your child will learn to obey/respect authority–but it will be because he understands that he should instead of because of fear. Keep the purpose of discipline in mind and you will go far.

2) The discipline should be appropriate to the offense. My daughter refused to pick up her toys in the time I allotted her to do so the other day. As a result, I put all of the remaining toys on the floor into a box which she then had to earn back (which her 3-year-old spirit refused to give in to and do until TWO days later). Notice that the discipline matched the offense (the offense, in reality, was disobeying mama. The action that showed the offense though, was not picking up the toys. So the discipline was relative and concerning the toys–it is a much more concrete A to B relationship for my child to learn if I keep the discipline flowing from the same object that was the problem in her mind!). I kept the consequence consistent with the problem, and I also kept it in proportion. I didn’t take all of her toys away, just the ones that she didn’t pick up in time.

3) The discipline should be meaningful to the child. Study your child to see what impacts that child the most, and use that to your advantage when choosing discipline strategies. For example, if your child who loves to write was mean to someone, it may work well to have him write five letters of positive affirmation to specific people, or to write a list of 20 things that are positive about the person he was mean to. Also, a social child will feel very negatively toward being separated from the rest of the family, while a more introverted child will find having 10 minutes away from everyone a welcome experience. You don’t always have to chose the most drastic measure to create the most memorable impact on the child.
4) The discipline should be immediate. Research shows that to change the behavior of someone, immediate consequences are most effective. Often times, delaying a consequence is done to create a level of fear. If we are attempting to shape our child’s character out of love rather than fear, though, manipulating the environment like that should be avoided. 🙂 Yes, this will be inconvenient to you, and you may not always be able to make it happen. But if you threaten your toddler with you pulling over the car if he pokes his sister again, then you had better be ready to pull that car over, or your child will quickly learn that mom doesn’t mean what she says and that he can get away with poor behavior. And that “wait until your father gets home” philosophy? I mean, really? Don’t you want your child to respect both parents equally and know that the parents are on the same team? Discipline your child, mama, it is your responsibility to raise him right!

5) The discipline should be consistent. Keep the standards for your child as consistent as possible between homes and environments. If your child gets into trouble for hitting at home, he should also get into trouble for hitting while he is at the grocery store. Having the same discipline consequence for an offense doesn’t matter as much as simply having a discipline consequence for the offense. For instance, if the child is at dad’s house and is disrespectful, he may have to go to his room for 10 minutes. At mom’s, he may end up in the corner for the same offense. The point is that your child will do better if he has the same set of standards, not necessarily consequences, for his behavior regardless of location.

The ultimate idea here is to learn about your child. It is important to shape a character without crushing it, and this can only be done by making each consequence appropriate and personal for the individual character it is supposed to shape.
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