Parenting Help! Thinking Differently About Discipline

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I often meet with parents in my office who feel like they have tried everything to help their child behave better and aren’t sure what to do next. One of my favorite things to remind parents of is the word “discipline” actually means “to teach.” How can we teach our children to display better behavior instead of merely relying on discipline?

I think many parents understand the concept of being consistent with consequences and that’s great. For example, let’s say the child hits their sibling because they are fighting over a toy and he goes to time out. The parent follows through with the time out, but the next time the siblings get into a conflict the child continues to hit their sibling. What can be done differently?

Think of discipline as a two pronged approach; the first is the consequence and the second is teaching the child how to behave more appropriately the next time. Let’s look at an example: your child hits his sibling, you put him in time out. Then when he is calm you can role play what he could have done instead. You could teach him to say “I’m mad” or to ask a parent for help to solve the conflict instead of hitting. Pretend you are putting on a play or skit. Your child will think it’s fun and engaging and he will actually be modeling the appropriate behavior.

Another example is the concept of overcorrection. Let’s look at another example; your child knows the rule is to bring his bike into the garage at the end of the night, but he has left his bike in the yard overnight. In the morning a consequence could be he can’t ride his bike for the day (or part of the day depending on the age). The overcorrection is to have him walk his bike from the spot he left it into the garage five times. He is then practicing (over and over) the correct behavior.

What do you think of these strategies? Do you have other examples of teaching and overcorrection that you have tried? I would love to hear what has or has not worked for you.

And in case you are wondering how to minimize the sibling fights here is a great article by Dr. Sears called “20 Tips to Stop Quibbling Siblings and Promote Sibling Harmony.”

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.