It can be easy to utilize punitive methods when your child breaks the household rules, or otherwise causes frustration. After all, many of us were parented in a very different way than with the methods we choose to use in disciplining our own children today. Not to mention, it is not uncommon to feel a need to be wary of the thoughts and words from others, everyone seems to have an opinion these days!
But many parents don’t like to punish their children; they simply do so because they don’t know any other way. There are alternatives to punishment, however. Next time your child causes a stressful problem, take some deep breaths, keep a level head and consider some of these ideas:
1. Meet the Need
This is probably the number one thing you can do to stop or prevent unwanted behavior. It is vital that the underlying cause of a behavior be addressed. Often, meeting the need stops the behavior and no correction is even needed.
For instance, if your child tends to have meltdowns half an hour before lunch, don’t send her to her room or to a chair for punishment. Take pause a moment – perhaps right before lunch means her blood sugar is low, and she’s just hungry. Give her a light snack that won’t spoil lunch instead. You may want to try and plan a mid-morning snack and watch the pre-lunchtime meltdowns melt away.
Some children act “naughty” because they have needs for attention, approval, or affection. Your child is not necessarily being demanding in order to simply get what he wants; he is communicating with you to express his needs which he is too young to meet (or even verbalize) himself.
2. Discipline versus Punishment
Think discipline rather than punishment. This may require some “re-wiring” of your thinking patterns! Discipline means to guide and teach, whereas punishment intends to inflict unpleasant feelings (pain, isolation, etc.) in order to prevent the repetition of a behavior.
As we know, children can learn all kinds of things – most things, in fact – with some time taken to meet them one on one, and eye to eye. Sometimes when we are under stress – and who isn’t during their parenting years! – we find ourselves reverting to undesirable behaviors that our own parents used with us. If this is something you find you are struggling with fairly often, you may wish to try out Wayne Muller’s program, “Spiritual Gifts of a Painful Childhood“.
I have found that in particular for my five year old son – when he is acting out – if I kneel down to his level and look him in the eye while speaking in a gentle voice, he calms down instantly. This also helps to calm me down, and then there is a better opportunity to connect with him, and have a discussion … even with some cuddle time! That’s truly a win-win situation for us.
Rather than sending a child to the corner, a chair, or his room when he misbehaves, try setting up a comfortable area of your home that can act as a retreat. This can be a corner with books, maybe some snacks, and a place to cuddle. This is not rewarding bad behavior, but rather meeting the need of a disgruntled child by comforting and reassuring her. I have found that sometimes, they simply need a time out from each other … and from me! Especially when given the opportunity to chill out and be quiet, or get creative, they respond really well.
Perhaps this can be seen from a child’s point of view – if you are having a bad day and are acting less than pleasant to those around you, does it help you more if your spouse or friend brings you a comforting cup of tea and gives you a hug, or yells at you and sends you away?
4. Be Proactive
Taking an approach of discipline means you have to get “into the act” and often take a hands-on approach to helping your child follow the rules. For example, you may have a requirement that all toys be put away before bedtime. Rather than making the demand and punishing the child if she doesn’t follow them, explain the rules and outline a method. “Right after your bath, let’s remember to put away your toys.”
Help your child implement the plan. Don’t do it for him, of course, but participate and show him where things belong. You may wish to try and make it into a competition or a game – “Bet you can’t do it in less than 5 minutes!” and time him. Before too long it will become a habit and you probably won’t even have to say anything.
One thing that I find works really well is to have a “big event” planned for them, about twice per week. This can be an outing of a family bike ride, a walk downtown to the ice cream shop, or an afternoon spent at the climbing wall. Before our event, the house must be tidied and all toys put away … and the quicker we can get it done, then the quicker we get to leave the house for an adventure!
All of the above being said, of course we all know as well that there is no such thing as “perfect parenting”. There is a wonderful program offered by Brene Brown, called “The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting”. I have listened to this program a few times, and it has helped me through some very rough patches with my three little ones. These are the topics Brene covers:
- Cultivating worthiness in families—the knowledge that we are each always worthy of love and belonging
- Vulnerability—the key to true connection
- Engaging in creativity and play as a family
- Practicing gratitude and joy in the home
- Respect and hard work in a culture of “fun, fast, and easy”
The childhood years go by so quickly! And there are gifts for us to gather, the entire way through. Let’s remember to love ourselves, too.