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How to Discipline Your Child


The word discipline, which comes from the root word disciplinare to teach or instruct refers to the system of teaching and nurturing that prepares children to achieve competence, self-control, self-direction, and caring for others. An effective discipline system must contain three vital elements:


1) a positive, supportive learning environment


2) a systematic strategy designed to teach and strengthen desired behaviors; and


3) a systematic strategy designed to decrease or eliminate undesired behaviors


Each of these components needs to be functioning within the context of a loving relationship between the parent(s) and the child.


Even in the best relationships, however, parents will need to provide behavioral limits that their children will not like, and children will behave in ways that are unacceptable to parents.


Time-Out or Removal of Privileges

Time-out and removal of privileges are approaches that involve removing positive reinforcement for unacceptable behavior. For young children, time-out usually involves removing parental attention and praise (ignoring) or being placed in a chair for a specified time with no adult interaction.


For older children and adolescents, this strategy usually involves removing privileges or denying participation in activities (eg, grounding for an evening with no TV or loss of driving privileges). To be effective, this strategy requires that a valued privilege or reinforcer is removed. When time-out is first implemented, it usually will result in increased negative behavior by the child who will test the new limit sometimes approaching a temper tantrum. The parent who accepts this normal reaction and does not respond to the child’s behavior will find that outbursts become less frequent.


When time-out is used appropriately, the child’s feelings are neither persistent nor damaging to self-esteem, despite the intensity of the reaction. However, if the parent engages in verbal or physical interaction with the child during this disruptive behavior, the emotional outburst, as well as the behavior originally targeted, not only will persist, but may worsen. It is often difficult emotionally for a parent to ignore the child during periods of increased negative behaviors or when the child begins pleading and bargaining for time-out to end. The inability of parents to deal with their own distress during a time-out is one of the most common reasons for its failure.


Verbal Reprimands

Many parents use disapproving verbal statements as a form of punishment to alter undesired behavior. When used infrequently and targeted toward specific behaviors, such reprimands may be transiently effective in immediately halting or reducing undesirable behaviors. However, if used frequently and indiscriminately, verbal reprimands lose their effectiveness and become reinforcers of undesired behavior because they provide attention to the child.Verbal reprimands should refer to the undesirable behavior and not slander the child’s character.


Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment ranges from slapping the hand of a child about to touch a hot stove to identifiable child abuse, such as beatings, scaldings, and burnings. Because of this range in the form and severity of punishment, its use as a discipline strategy is controversial. Spanking, as discussed here, refers to striking a child with an open hand on the buttocks or extremities with the intention of modifying behavior without causing physical injury. Other forms of physical punishment, such as striking a child with an object, striking a child on parts of the body other than the buttocks or extremities, striking a child with such intensity that marks lasting more than a few minutes occur, pulling a child’s hair, jerking a child by the arm, shaking a child, and physical punishment delivered in anger with intent to cause pain, are unacceptable and may be dangerous to the health and well-being of the child. These types of physical punishment should never be used.


Reference – American Academy of Pediatrics


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