This Week’s Topic: Effective Discipline
Effective discipline is an essential part of effective parenting. I don’t know if it is my imagination, but whenever I use the word “discipline” it seems like the hair in people’s neck start to rise. I wonder if they automatically picture spanking or hitting as definition for discipline. In any case, effective discipline is when a parent teaches what’s right and what’s wrong. This is done by many ways such as setting appropriate boundaries or limits, giving consequences for negative behaviors, and reinforcing positive ones.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
Above all in effective discipline, the most important ingredient is consistency. Without consistency, any discipline plan will be ineffective. In real estate, they say location, location, location. In parenting, it is consistency, consistency, consistency. Here are some examples to send the message home.
Example 1: I cannot tell you how many times I came across this situation during my clinical practice. A student gets into trouble at school for hitting another student. The parent is called in and she manages to hit the child for hitting another child. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective disciplinary method. As important adults in our children's lives, we are role models and we have to consistently model what we want our children to learn.
Here, the parent was not consistent in teaching the child that hitting is a bad thing when the parent doesn’t practice this herself. This idea stems from Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory which basically states that learning occurs in the context of what is being observed.
Example 2: Your son wants to watch tv before doing his homework. The house rule is that you have to finish homework before watching tv. He asks his mother if he can watch it before finishing his homework and she says “no.” He then goes to his father and his father says “yes” and ridicules his wife for being too strict. The son takes advantage of the situation and you and your spouse get into an argument over this.
In this case, the mother and father were not consistent with each other. The son manipulated this inconsistent situation and also learned that his mother’s words do not matter as much as his father’s. This perceived power imbalance between the parents is a recipe for future disciplining disasters and relationship problems.
Example 3: Our son started kindergarten this year and he was doing great academically and socially. Then we got our first email from his teacher. Yup, the child and family therapist mom and very involved dad get the note that their son is having a “rough week” in school. He was having trouble listening, getting into disagreements with friends, and calling out. After I went through a short- lived “It can’t be my kid,” syndrome, my husband and I put the brakes on and discussed what went wrong. We had given him the same love, care, attention as always but something was not right. My husband and I realized that we had fallen off the consistency wagon in our disciplining.
So what did we do? My husband and I both took responsibility for our recent inconsistencies and vowed to never do it again. We communicated to our son what he is expected to do at school and that we were going to hold him accountable for his behaviors. We stayed on track with our discipline plan. Few days later, his teacher emails us again with good news that his behaviors have greatly improved! Of course, we have made consistency blunders few more times, but we quickly pick ourselves up (even before our son recognizes it), and return on the wagon. Our son’s behaviors are testament to the importance of consistency in parenting.
The reason I say consistency three times is because in disciplining children: the mother has to be consistent with the child, the father has to be consistent with the child, and the parents have to be consistent with each other. If one does not understand and implement this concept, then effectively disciplining a child will be a constant battle. It's true that consistency is easier said than done, but if you practice this then it becomes much easier to effectively deal with just about any behavioral problem you are presented with.