Effective child discipline is as much art as science. Every child comes to a family “pre-wired” with certain predispositions, and each one is unique. In the eternal debate between “nature” and “nurture,” it is certain that every child has his or her own personality. Every child is reached in different ways to influence his or her behavior.
As I have parented my children, and as I have researched what has worked for other fathers, these ten discipline strategies have seemed to me to be most effective at modifying behaviors. They help children learn how to exist peacefully in a family and effectively in society. How they are applied – how often and at what level – depend entirely on how the child might respond to them. Sometimes it is a “trial and error” process, but in the end, these tools and strategies are pretty effective and useful as we develop our own disciplinary style as fathers.
Setting Limits. Children seem to respond best when they operate within established limits or norms. Their world is more predictable, which tends to help them adapt to it and find their place in it. Tools like setting limits and consequences at the same time, applying limits consistently, and being firm without being cruel are helpful approaches.
Praising Effectively. Children always respond best when they are praised for the good things they do, rather than being disciplined for their wrong choices. Catching a child doing something right and then telling them that they did a good job is a critical tool in our child discipline strategies toolbox.
Intervening with Time-Out. Separating children from a stressful situation where their behavior is inappropriate is a time-tested discipline strategy. It gives them time to think about their behavior and the situation, allows the parent to calm down as well and not respond in anger, and teaches effective coping skills for life in general. Time-Out is a very effective tool in working with our children to modify behavior.
Using Behavior Contracts. One very effective but often underutilized tool for child discipline is the use of a behavior contract. Behavior contracts are written agreements between children and parents that define expectations on both sides – the behavior that is expected and the consequences that follow violation of the expectation.
Making Grounding Effective. Many of us, particularly those who are parenting teens or tweens, find ourselves resorting to grounding as a discipline technique. Maybe it is because it is easy, or maybe it is what our parents used on us. But grounding can be tough to implement and make stick if it isn’t done right.
Using Natural Consequences. While often we implement consequences as a response to less-than-desirable behavior in our children, we often don’t take the time to make a natural and logical connection between the behavior and the consequence. The idea of natural consequences is that they follow from the behavior, thus helping kids connect the two, not just now but later in life.
Breaking Power Struggles. There are few things more frustrating for a father than finding himself in a power struggle with a child. We think we are more powerful, and when the child is willful and battling with us, we can’t see ourselves ceding ground to them. But the fact is that we can effectively break a power struggle without giving in AND without escalating it to an unhealthy level.
Stop the Whining. Whining is a most unnerving habit that our children seem to develop almost innately. I am not sure how they develop this habit, but it is one that tends to grate on a father’s nerves. There are several good approaches to helping our kids stop whining once it starts (and it will), and simply applying those will break the mold and get them communicating more effectively about their wants and needs.
Expressing Anger Appropriately. Sometimes, our children’s behavior gets the best of our better selves and we lose our temper. Losing our temper suggests that we lose control, which a dad simply can’t afford to do. Finding ways to express our anger appropriately keeps our worst self in check and also teaches our children by example how they can express themselves when their anger is pushing limits.
Uniting in Child Discipline. Have you ever been in a situation where a child plays one parent off of the other with a discipline issue? That sort of lack of unity between mom and dad is a killer for a marriage relationship as well as for consistently approaching child discipline. Dads and moms need to get on the same page and support one another in order for child discipline to be most effective.