As I write this, I am thinking of one poor mom (let’s call her Sarah) whose daughter, Kaitlin (her name is also changed) was in my son’s first grade class.
In the early part of the school year, her 6-year-old was often openly defiant and disobedient during play dates, after school at the park and even at drop off and pick up – so much so that other moms started steering their kids away from her daughter lest her bad behavior rub off on their little ones.
Sarah told me that in spite of her best efforts to control her behavior, her daughter responded by being even more willful and stubborn. But by the time spring rolled around, Kaitlin seemed to be much better behaved and Sarah far less stressed. I wondered if her daughter had simply outgrown the bad behavior or if there was more to the story. So at the next play date, I asked Sarah what had changed.
Her mom said another mother with three willful children of her own had shared her experiences of dealing with “out of control” children and the simple child-rearing advice that made all the difference: Be consistent, exact discipline appropriate to the infraction and show your children that you love them even when they are behaving badly.
Be fair and firm
When it comes to disciplining a child, there are as many methods as there are parents and children. Which you choose is up to you. But for our part, my husband and I try to always be mindful that each child is different and so is each infraction and as such, the punishment should fit the crime. For instance, we will not discipline our child who has lied to us in the same way we would a child who didn’t do his chores.
No matter which mode of discipline you decide to employ for each kind of misbehavior, the most crucial factor is to always follow through on what you’ve outlined is the appropriate response – and do so immediately.
“Make sure the punishment fits the crime by considering age of child, if it is a repeat offense, who has been affected or harmed and can there be restitution instead of a simple ‘grounding,’” says Kelly Klaus, LMFT based in San Juan Capistrano. “Keep in mind that a more effective punishment is a learning opportunity. If they have hurt someone’s feelings, help your child make amends. If they have broken something, let them earn money to repair the broken item.”
Parents should address their child’s negative behavior as soon as it happens. Ignoring the behavior sends the message that there are no consequences to their actions. In order to affect change, you have to stop and address their out-of-control behavior right away – every time.
You might think that will mean that your child will constantly be in “time out” or forever lose privileges, but as Sarah discovered, the more often she corrected her daughter and remained consistent, the less frequently Kaitlin needed to be disciplined.
With consistency and discipline, remember that the single most important aspect of changing your child’s behavior is showing them that you love them unconditionally – even in the throes of negative behavior. It’s work and it takes time, but you’ll be rewarded with a more obedient, respectful child.