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Discipline 101

August 10, 2011

As I talk to other moms, there seems to be 3 main concerns about parenting: sleeping, potty-training, and disciplining. Before I had kids, I was an editor on ParentLife Magazine. But I quickly learned that having all the “book” answers did not magically make me a good parent. It’s totally different once you have your own child. You have to cling to God every second of every day, seeking His grace, mercy, and wisdom. Then you think, “I’ve got the hang of this!” My child is sleeping well, eating well, listening well, and then—BAM!—God gives you another totally different, completely unique child that you have NO idea what to do with. And so the parenting begins all over again as you learn all about this new little creature.

Through writing parenting articles, I’ve learned a little bit about the “biggies” of parenting. But I am by NO MEANS a parenting expert. My kids are not angels. One of them refuses to eat green veggies (or any veggies for that matter). The other one screams “no!” and stomps to her room and slams her door (and she’s only 3 years old!). I have lost my temper more times than I will ever like to admit. I have regrettably spanked in anger. I have definitely made mistakes in parenting. But along the way, I’ve learned a few things that have worked for me in teaching and training my girls as they were in the baby, toddler, and preschool stages. 

Basic Tools of Discipline

  • Love. Displaying love and affection is fundamental in training a child. If your child feels loved and secure, she will understand during difficult times of training that you still love and care for her. The Lord disciplines the ones He loves, and so must a loving parent. As your young child develops trust in Mommy and Daddy, she knows that you are both there to meet her needs.
  • Good Examples. Most instruction can be done through examples of good behavior. When your child hands you her cup, say “Thank you.” Over time, she will learn how to use the words “thank you” by your example. Young children imitate everything they see and hear. Parents can be a prime example of behaving properly. Always praise your child for the positive behavior she exemplifies.
  • Humor. Oftentimes, a sense of humor diffuses a situation and helps your child learn rules. For example, if your child places her feet on the high chair or table, tickle her toes and say: “Phew! Stinky feet don’t go on the table!” Your child will giggle, forgetting about being determined to do something she knew she shouldn’t.
  • Distraction. Distraction is one tool parents quickly master! As your child explores, she will most likely touch, grab, or suck on things you don’t want her to. Instead of saying “No, no, no!” to everything she touches, use the “remove and replace” tactic. For example, physically remove your baby from grabbing the television cords, then give her a safe, colorful, fun toy to play with. By quickly diverting her attention, you will prevent a meltdown. Until she can better master the dos and don’ts of household rules, distraction will be key in keeping your child safe.
  • Say Yes. If your child hears “no” all day long, she will become frustrated that she cannot do anything. Instead of saying “Stop running!” say “You need to walk.” Or instead of saying “Don’t jump on the furniture!” say “Can you show Mommy how high you can jump (or how fast you can skip) in the backyard?”
  • Choose Wisely. Your child is learning so much during the first few years. Decide what is a big deal and what is not in your household. Sometimes, ignoring a minor negative behavior will make it go away. Bringing a lot of attention to a behavior only gives your child the negative attention she may be seeking. However, never ignore behavior that is harmful to your child or anyone else.
  • A Helping Hand. If your child spills her bowl of snacks, whether by accident or on purpose, show her how to help clean them up. Say, “It’s OK. Let Mommy show you how to pick them up. Now you do the rest. Good job!” Allowing a child to clean up messes (to the best of her ability at this age) will lay the foundation for helping later with chores. It also helps your child remember the consequences if she chooses to purposely make a mess.
  • Be Consistent and Concise. This is most important! As your child is figuring everything out, she needs consistency from you in all areas. Being inconsistent will confuse her, leading to more misbehavior. Instead, be specific in what you expect from your child. Speak in simple, concise sentences. Ask her to do one thing at a time, such as “Place all your stuffed animals in the toy box,” instead of asking, “Pick up your toys, put them away, and then come here!”

The idea of “disciplining” has been misunderstood to be negative. Disciplining is not the same as punishment; it should be viewed as teaching and training your child. My personal goal in disciplining is to train and teach my children to willingly listen and obey mommy and daddy so that they will learn to willingly obey their Heavenly Father. As my children grow out of the preschool stage, I want to teach them to filter everything they say and do through the perspective of “Does this honor God?” By mastering some of these basic tools of discipline (a.k.a. “teaching”), our children will hopefully be prepared to serve and honor God in all they do.

Share with us your views on “discipline.” What works for your child? What doesn’t work? Parents of older children, what tips can you give us parents of younger children?

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