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Discipline That Protects Your Child's Self-Beliefs

All kids misbehave at one time or another. How we react to our children's misbehavior can be destructive or productive to their self-beliefs, and it makes our job especially tricky. Here are a few positive discipline practices to use in correcting your kid's misbehavior while still protecting her dignity.

Get Calm, Then Respond

The first part to correcting any discipline problem is often the hardest: you must stay calm despite how your kid behaves. If you feel yourself getting heated, walk away from your kid until you're calm. Take a deep, slow, cleansing breath, count slowly to ten, or drink a glass of water. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to, but don't respond to your kid unless you're calm.

Use I Messages to State Disapproval

When you're not pleased with your child's behavior, it's helpful to declare your disapproval starting your message with the word I instead of you. Notice how just changing you to I turns a critical, belittling message into one focusing on the kid's misbehavior, and not on a child's self-worth:

You message: "You sound just like a crybaby. Nobody will like you if you keep it up."
I message: "I don't like to hear you whine, because people don't like to be around whiners."

Focus on the Behavior, Not the Kid

The corrective message should focus only on your kid's misbehavior, never on your child. It's one of the most important ways to preserve your child's dignity and still let him know you will not put up with inappropriate behavior:

Kid focused: "Stop whining. Can't you behave? Your sister doesn't do that!"
Behavior focused: "I want to hear your idea, but tell me without a whiny tone."

Make Your Correction Be Instructive

We often tell our kids to stop a bad behavior but neglect to tell them what they should do differently. The right kind of discipline should help children learn right from wrong, recognize consequences, discover how to improve the misbehavior, and still protect their dignity. The corrective message tells a child what's wrong with her behavior, and what new behavior is expected:

Corrective: "That was rude: you interrupted me when I was talking. Wait patiently until I'm done, or if it's really important first say, 'Excuse me.'"

Encourage Your Child's Attempts

Although we should always be concerned about our kids' inappropriate behavior, remember that if you focus only on the bad behavior, you run the danger of overlooking times when your child acts right. So do acknowledge any effort, big or little, your kid makes to improve. Your attentiveness will help her believe behavior change is really possible:

Effort encouragement: "You tried to wait without interrupting. It's hard, but I saw you make the effort."

Use Praise to Encourage Good Behavior

Praise is one of the oldest strategies parents use to encourage good behavior, but not all praise improves behavior. Use the following five points to make your encouragement more effective in changing your kid's behaviors:

Specific. When you observe good behavior, word your message so that your child knows exactly what was done well: "You were mad and didn't pinch Kim. You used your words."
Repeated. To help your kid make the new behavior a habit, repeat the praise a few times.
Deserved. Kids know when they have really earned the praise they receive, so be sure the praise you give is deserved: "You took your time on your work; it looks so much neater."
Genuine. The best reinforcement is always sincere and genuine and lets the kid know exactly what he did that was right: "It took effort to stay calm, but you did it! Good job!"
Individual. Effective praise is directed to the deserving child. Do not make comparisons, especially with siblings! Doing so can lay the seeds of resentment and jealousy.


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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