Corona: Discipline, don’t destroy

Discipline is more than a once off intervention. It is an ongoing display of secure boundaries and consistent consequences. In this stressful time, children may be picking up on our anxiety and the changes in routine which may lead to a greater need for these displays of love (i.e. secure boundaries and consistent consequences). Here is a quick review of discipline strategies.

Communicate clearly

So much conflict is caused by miscommunication. Set your child up for success, and the discipline struggles become more manageable.

Make sure you have their attention

Instead of shouting from a different room, make sure you have their full attention. This means stopping what they are doing (put the TV on pause), establishing eye contact (go down to their level), and perhaps even gentle touch (hold hands or cup their face). You can also test if they heard you correctly by making them repeat the instruction back to you.

Tell them what to do (vs what not to do)

Choose your words wisely. It’s the difference between “stop running” and “start walking”; “no shouting” and “inside voice please.” Children are eager to please! Let them know how to please you.

Give them a time line

Much frustration can be avoided by clarifying when you expect a task to be completed. If you expect immediate action, say so (now). Once a child has proved themselves trustworthy, you may want to provide them with more freedom (e.g. do this before supper at 17:00).

Provide them with a choice to give them an element of control

This tip came from Loving on Purpose by Danny Silk. While you are still fully in control as a parent, you can provide the child with some choices.

  • It’s time to clean up: do you want to bath or shower?
  • It’s good to share your toys: do you want to share this toy or must I pack it away?
  • I know you don’t want to sleep, but it’s bed time: do you want to hop to bed or crawl to bed?

Reward good behavior

So often we are on the lookout for poor behavior – no wonder discipline feels extraordinarily taxing. Why not focus on catching them being good! Reflecting on your child’s love language may provide you with useful tips on what to use as your reward currency.

  • Words of affirmation: praise, stickers on a star chart that they can display, love letters, social media posts of pride
  • Non-sexual touch: high fives, exuberant cuddles, back tickles
  • Gifts: let them draw something from a goody bag, sweeties, go buy a special toy
  • Quality time: read an extra story, have a parent-child date, let them choose the next movie
  • Acts of service: bake them something special, do their chores for a day,

Furthermore, allow children the opportunity to learn about the real world. E.g. make them “earn” their screen time by completing chores: 10 minutes for sweeping the floor, 30 minutes for cleaning the toilet. Similarly, receiving payment for completing (extra) chores gives them the opportunity to learn to work with money.

Ideas for consequences

As much as it is a child’s job to challenge the boundaries, it is a parent’s job to enforce them. As a child grows in maturity (this is not only with age, but also in proving trustworthiness), a child is granted greater freedom with weightier consequences. For consequences to be effective, it must be communicated in advance.

“Yes, you are welcome to ride your bicycle outside. I expect you to report back to me at 12:00 for lunch. If you don’t, you will eat your lunch for supper and not get any dessert.”

I have heard many success stories from a consequence jar:

Instead of disciplining in an ineffective way and wasting your precious time and energy, the child creates a list of unpleasant consequences (e.g. chores, cleaning, less TV time, going to bed earlier, etc). The child brings these suggestions to the parent for negotiation (will going to bed 10 minutes earlier might be a dream come true for some, so check that the suggestions will be true punishment!) and setting the weights of consequences.

E.g. disrespect might be awarded going to bed 30 minutes earlier while forgetting a chore might be awarded 10 minutes less screen time.

These consequences could be colour coded or numbered (more learning opportunities for little ones) according to the severity of the offence. Once the consequence jar is set up, the child draws a random consequence from the jar when they have committed an offence.

How to succeed with time outs 

As much as we the adults get over stimulated at times, children become overwhelmed too. A time out can be very effective in regaining composure and also an effective discipline strategy if you follow these steps.

Before Time Out:

  • Choose a safe and boring spot
  • Make a timer available
  • Select a back-up consequence
  • Introduce it to your child: “I don’t like it when you ______, so from now on, whenever you _____ you will have to go to time out for ____ minutes. Here is where you will have your time out. I won’t be able to talk to you while you are in time out. If you get out of time out, then you will _________ (say the backup consequence).”
  • Give a warning

During time out:

  • Supervise out of sight
  • Ignore your child: don’t look or talk to him
  • Deal with screaming: remind the child he needs to be quiet to end time out
  • Deal with leaving time out: enforce the back up consequence

After time out:

  • You may leave/get out when the timer beeps and you are quiet
  • Process the events that led up to the use of timeout
  • Reaffirm connection and love

Don’t suffer alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or need some encouragement, please contact me.