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Learning discipline and life skills together

Learning discipline and life skills together


What works? Most parents struggle with the issue of disciplining their child. It’s not easy to learn “what works” and “what’s best” when it comes to getting your child to become a responsible, kind, courteous and positively self-directed human being. Given all of the distractions and technology in our children’s lives, it is a daunting and extremely challenging task to raise children in our current world.

Personal experiences: After raising three children and now as the only “local grandmother” for five grandchildren, I continue to learn what seems to work best in disciplining children in a calm, respectful way. Occasionally, a loud voice is necessary, such as when you see a child precariously balanced on a deck railing, but in general, a rational and loving approach makes for a good relationship with children.

A recommended book: Recently, my “other daughter” Dr. Santana Macias Fontana, introduced me to a book on disciplining the difficult child. This book, “Transforming the difficult child: the nurtured heart approach” by Howard Glasser, offers very clear and simple techniques for getting your child to do what you ask:

  1. You provide a “video moment” by describing exactly what the child is doing. For example, “I see that you are playing with your Legos and are making a special airplane".
  2. Then you say “But I need you to….(put your shoes on, brush your teeth, come eat breakfast, whatever).
  3. Then you walk away, clearly expecting the child to do as you asked. Note that you say “I NEED”, not “I want”.
  4. As the child begins to do what you have asked, you calmly say “thank you”.

This method is amazingly effective. No yelling, anger, or negative emotions are necessary. By acknowledging the child’s activity through the “video moment”, you are establishing that you respect the child, thus disciplining and nurturing at the same time.

A similar method in a school setting: When I was a school administrator, I observed a wonderful and highly experienced teacher use a similar technique, called “Praise, prompt and leave.”

This is how it works:

The teacher explains a lesson, perhaps a Math lesson, and the students are asked to work on their worksheets. The teacher goes around to each child, and with a GREEN pen, puts a little dot at the top of each child’s page and says, “I see that you’ve put your name on your paper” or “Great start on working on this math”, etc. She goes to each child, and then starts all over, again going to each child, and this time notices if the child is doing OK or if not, helps the child, and puts another green dot on the child’s worksheet. This continues throughout the time allotted for the work, with the end result that the children KNOW and EXPECT for their teacher to come by and help/praise/reinforce what they are doing. For the teacher, the benefit is that he/she will know which children need more help or more time, and then she can assign homework or extra instruction for the children that need help.

Positive reinforcement: Both of these techniques function as POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. A key concept in human behavior is “Behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated.” Therefore, any discipline method that works to reward and reinforce positive behavior will result in more positive behavior.

The root word for “discipline” is “to teach”. It is not a negative term, but carries with it the notion of negative, perhaps even physical, behavior modification. When all is said and done, all parents want to train and guide their child to have self control, be respectful, and exhibit positive social behavior. In order to achieve this, the child needs to experience gentle, caring discipline, and to be treated with dignity.

Children need: Structure, regular schedules and expectations are important in both the home and in the classroom. Children require structure in their lives, in order to feel secure and to experience order, regularity, and to enjoy a calm environment where they feel safe and loved. They need to get enough sleep, between 9-12 hours per day, and eat a healthy diet. Sugary snacks, artificial beverages, and fast food restaurants are to be avoided. Instead parents can offer fruits and vegetables, yogurt and other healthy foods for snacking.

A clean and organized home is important because it establishes order in the child’s life. Every child needs a place that they can call their own- a small desk or a chair for reading is very important for school-age children.

Parents need to eliminate distractions when children are reading or doing homework, and “Screen Time” should be limited. TV, video games, computers, anything with a screen should be limited to at most 30 minutes a day for school-age children. Some pediatricians believe that very young children should not be exposed to TV at all. It is essential that parents monitor what their children are viewing on TV or the Internet.

Star charts: Helping children to achieve clear goals through a “star chart” which tracks how they are doing, with specific expectations, is a good way to both discipline and reward children.

A phrase to remember: “Catch them being good” is a great phrase for remembering to acknowledge and reward positive behavior. If a parent notices trouble brewing, perhaps the child is beginning to argue with a sibling, or seems bored, the parent can intervene to change the situation, and re-direct the child to another activity or to suggest something else the child could do, such as perhaps doing something with the parent. Getting children accustomed to thinking and acting positively will yield life-long benefits for everyone.

Family Time: It is very important for children to eat meals as a family, and to spend time together. Special outings, even if only to a local park, are not just entertainment, they help to cement a loving bond between parents and children. Routines that encourage family conversations benefit children and parents as well. One-on-one interactions with the child help the child to learn that she/he is loved, building self-esteem and confidence.

The importance of reading: Reading to children at bedtime or even when children are in the bathtub, is extremely important. Parents need to read too-whatever the parents do, the child will do, so parents should model positive reading behaviors. Regular trips to the public library will teach the child that books provide wonderful enjoyment, learning new stories and information about the world around them. Children are naturally inquisitive, and books can serve to explain the wonders of nature and the power of the written word.

The goal: Loving parents want to help their child in every way, so that the child can become a resourceful, self-directed, and positively empowered human being. By learning how to get along with others, and function successfully in society, the child can become a contributor to a better world, and realize their own personal potential. Each and every child is a unique and wonderful person with unlimited possibilities, and we as parents are indeed gifted with the delight of children in our lives.