I know that overall the topic of “Child Discipline” can be a very touchy subject. But it is something that is important to discuss.
First, let me say that my experience only comes from raising my three children, who are all still under the age of 10. I am not judging you, your parenting styles, or your beliefs. I am only writing this to share what I have learned works best for our little family, and hope that maybe it will inspire you or give you something to consider. Or at the very least, let you know that you are not alone on this parenting journey!
This article is written by Karissa Tunis
For more on this topic, check out the full Child Behavior and All About Toddlers collections
Teaching Through Child Discipline
I used to dread disciplining. I hate making my little one upset. Not giving in to their every want. Or even having to pause their fun if someone needs a time out.
But when I switched from thinking of child discipline as a negative, to thinking of it as a positive teachable moment, I actually began to appreciate this very important task and role.
When children mess up or make a poor choice, it allows for an opportunity to learn something new. This is our opportunity as their caregivers to help them better prepare for the next time they are in that same situation. We are helping to shape their little minds, their decisions, and we are allowing them to grow-up into the best possible version of themselves!
Our goal should be to equip our children with the tools and skills that they need in order to live in the real world someday.
Before You Discipline, Consider These Things
Not much pleases me more then when all three of my kids are on their best behavior, especially in public! But they are still children. They still have their challenging moments. They disobey, throw tantrums, and have complete meltdowns. Sometimes it is because of their choices. And other times the situation can be greatly affected by the circumstances.
It can be very easy to instantly react, scold, or even “child discipline”/ punish when they are not acting as they should be. But, before you react, I encourage you to take a pause and assess the scene.
Why Are They Acting Up?
Before I react, I like to figure out why my child is acting up. Are they hungry, tired, or do they need to learn a lesson? Determining this will help you to know how to appropriately handle the situation and come up with a solution. Sometimes a quick snack, a little quiet down-time on the couch with a movie, or a nap will do the trick.
Explain Your Reason
Explaining your why can be very impactful! Growing up I heard the word “No” a lot. While my children hear that word often as well, I like to follow it up with an explanation. Just saying “No” will often make them mad, especially if it’s not the answer they wanted. But when they can understand why, they seem to be more likely to respect the limit, even if they still do not like it.
Give Fair Punishments
Punishments and child disciplines need to be age and individually appropriate. All of my kids have to follow the same rules. But if my 8 year old daughter and my 4 year old son break the same rule, they both get in trouble – but in a different way. However, even if they were both the same age, I would still handle each one different because they are different and are affected by different things. What works for one, does not really impact the other. One will burst into tears if scolded, while the other one hates to loose any electronics.
Also, to go along with this point, make sure the punishment fits the crime! Examples – If they are running in the house, I make them sit in time-out. If they are throwing toys, they lose those toys for a period of time. If they do something not nice to another sibling, they need to hug and say they are sorry.
Set boundaries early on. I have seen first hand that the longer you let a toddler go without consequences, the bigger the problems will become. Also, the harder it will be to gain their respect and set those limitations later on.
If I teach my young son that throwing toys is not acceptable, then hopefully we can save the behavior from growing into something bigger and more damaging down the road. If you let your daughter hit you at a year old, imagine what it could turn into when they are in preschool, elementary school, or beyond… Set your rules and boundaries now, and stick with it!
Don’t Reward Bad Behavior
I have witnessed parents promising their kids gifts or treats if they behave. Hey, I’m all for a good bribe now and then, but it has to make sense!
If I have the kids go run errands with me all day, I am likely to reward them if they behave well. I tell them my expectations ahead of time – . Like waiting quietly in the checkout line. Not grabbing random stuff to throw in the cart. And not begging for everything they see, etc. If all goes well, maybe we then stop at their favorite drive-thru restaurant on the way home for dinner. I’ll take them to their favorite playground. Or buy them a milkshake. This scenario is called a bribe and/or a reward for good behavior.
What doesn’t work is asking your child to stop jumping on the sofa, them not stopping, and then you offering them a cookie if they finally stop jumping. Because guess what – you did nothing to correct or stop the bad behavior. If your child is not allowed to be jumping on the couch and they continue to do so, a child discipline / punishment should be considered instead of a reward. Otherwise, in their mind, you are now rewarding them for jumping. And guess what – they will most definitely do it again!
Redirecting is sometimes all that’s needed. It’s amazing how a new toy, a new room, or new scenery can make everything better! Sometimes just a new suggestion of how to play, or what to play, gets their imagination going; and them moving in a new direction. If both of your children are fighting over the same ball, suggest they both play by rolling or throwing it back and forth. If your kids can’t seem to get along in the playroom, perhaps suggest everyone go outside and ride bike; or find an individual activity in separate rooms like coloring or building legos.
Pick Your Battles
I totally believe you need to pick your battles – but it’s a slippery line to walk on! Because once you give an inch, they will try to take a foot!
My stand firm moments are definitely if they could hurt themselves, someone else, or something. If so, they are immediately removed from the situation, we discuss what was done wrong and a child discipline is implemented if needed.
It is so important to me that my children respect themselves, other people, and other people’s belongings (and our things too!). They are taught to care for their toys, our furniture, etc., and are required to give someone else the same respect when entering their home.
My “give-in” moments are much lighter things that are not typical struggles for my kids. Example – my children are amazing eaters, so if every now and then one of them doesn’t want to finish something on their plate, I’m more likely to offer a 2 bite compromise. But if your child hates to eat, this might be one of your stand firm moments.
All 3 of my kids are strong willed, and both of my boys have tempers. At times they will throw tantrums while screaming and kicking. If in public, we immediately leave. I don’t think it is fair for others to have to listen to this. And having left a store before because of this, my kids now know what a fit in public will result in.
If this happens at home, I will choose to ignore it – but let me be clear about this – because I ignore it, I am not saying I allow it! When my children were really little I would let them cry close to me so that I could make sure they were safe. Once calmed down, we would discuss the not appropriate behavior, and he/she would be disciplined or redirected based upon what had happened.
Temper Tantrums in older kids
However, now that my kids are older, they are sent, or sometimes even carried, to their room. While in their room I will let them cry all they want and get their emotion out. They have quiet toys, weighted blankets, and more, to help them settle and regroup. Once they calm down, he/she can return to discuss the behavior, then we will discipline (if needed) based on the situation.
If he/she emerges from their room still upset, I calmly but firmly place them back in their room, and calmly make it clear we will talk when they calm down. Sometimes this cycle needs to happen several times before he/she is actually calm. But I’ve learned it’s important to follow through on what you say! If I gave in the 2nd time he/she walked out crying, they would never respect me again, and then I’d have a child throwing a tantrum right beside me over and over again.
I get that emotions can run high, and sometimes they just need a release. And as long as no one got hurt, and no damage was done, a simple discussion afterwards to figure out the triggers and how to better handle ourselves the next time this situation happens, is all that is needed. It’s tough growing up, and I want to be here to listen whenever my kids are ready to talk!
It is so important to follow through on what you say! So be careful what you threaten, and make sure it is realistic!
I so often hear parents say “If you keep doing that, Santa won’t come this year.” Obviously he will, so don’t threaten that (unless you plan to hide the gifts). I once even heard an older child talk back to his Mother and say “Yes he will, he always does!” and he turned right around and continued misbehaving.
I used to tell my kids if they didn’t pick up their toys, I would get out a trash bag. This threat usually worked, and the playroom would miraculously get picked up in about 10 min. But one day after asking my kids over and over to clean up, I threatened this again. But this time my daughter said “ok” and just looked at me to see what I would do.
So, without much hesitation, I grabbed a trash bag, scooped up the toys that were out on the floor, placed them in the bag, tied it shut, and placed it on the top closet shelf. (Note – my kids still had plenty of toys on their shelves to play with. I promise I’m not heartless). After we discussed how their actions lead to this, we agreed on what positive things they could do to earn their toys back. And several years later, that was the one and only time I ever had to do that.
Talk Things Through
Talking things through is so important to me, so I cannot stress enough the importance of this one! In most cases a very valuable lesson can be learned from the mistake. It is so crucial that your child understands, so that the chances of repeating the same thing is decreased.
Obviously certain lessons need to be learned over and over again before they really sink in (like sharing with your siblings). But remember, we are shaping their little minds for when they are older and in the real world. If they do not master the simple rules such as sharing and respecting others verbally and physically; how will they ever learn anything more?
“I Love You”
This is one of my favorite tips – always tell your child that you love them! Even if you are not proud of their decisions, and even if you have to discipline them, it’s important that they still hear that they are loved!
After every hard talk, I always hug my children and tell them just how much I love them! I build them back up by complimenting them on their strengths. We agree what we can work on and improve upon going forward. But I always make sure they know that they are very much loved!
You don’t have a bad child, they just made a bad decision – and it is important that they understand that!
Child Discipline Checklist:
So, with all of that said, here is a little checklist I made for those moments when your sweet little angel is not being so very sweet:
1. Assess the reason they are misbehaving.
2. Is child discipline or a punishment necessary? Or would a redirect, snack or nap fix the issue? Or can you simply talk it through?
3. Discuss what was wrong, and ask what lesson can be learned from this. Make a game plan for how in the future we can better handle this type of situation.
4. Hug them and say “I love you”!
5. Correct what was done wrong (put the toys away, say your sorry to your sister, etc.)
6. Thank them for now obeying. If needed, help redirect them to something different.
Now you can move on in a positive way! Once the situation has been handled, and apologies or corrections are made, it’s over. We don’t talk about it because it’s all behind us. We may reference it later on if another familiar situation arises, but we really try to move forward. I’m sensitive, and my kids are sensitive, so let’s not make the situation bigger then it needs to be. Or make anyone feel worse then they need to feel.
Like the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” when there is a wrong please take the opportunity to help them learn what’s right. Misbehavior and child discipline can actually offer a loving teachable moment!
For more on this topic, check out the full Child Behavior and All About Toddlers collections
Co-Owner: Karissa Tunis
Karissa Tunis is the co-owner of both the parenting website Adore Them and the family event company Milestone Family Expos. Through these ventures she is able to share inspiring, heartfelt insight with large audiences within local communities and across the country! Her knack for all-things-organization allows her to balance content creation, brand partnerships, and event planning without losing sight of what she wants for her own family. Despite her busy schedule, Karissa also makes it a priority to spend quality time with her husband and three children. You will often find her volunteering at her children’s schools, cheering them on from the soccer sidelines, or enjoying the great sites of Charleston, SC with her family.