While many think of discipline as punishment, the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers another definition: “training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” For parents wishing to correct a child’s improper behavior, the way they think about discipline can make a big difference in its effectiveness.
“The word discipline is derived from the word disciple, which conveys a teacher and follower,” said Bryan Carter, Ph.D., child psychologist. “As parents, we sometimes forget that we are not only the role models, but the teachers. Kids learn more from actions than from words.”
The key, according to Dr. Carter, is to set rules — and the consequences for breaking them — ahead of time and then be consistent. Kids react in different ways and whatever you try, whether it is a timeout or thinking chair or loss of privileges, may take some time to work.
Psychologist Richard Abidin, a mentor of Dr. Carter’s, found that the amount of time parents spend disciplining a child is inversely related to the amount and quality of time they spend with the child.
“In other words, parents who have a strong positive relationship with their child tend to not have to discipline as much,” Dr. Carter said. “What is most important when you spend this time is that you are in the moment with your child and not distracted by work, the phone, etc. Take a walk in the park, have a picnic, play ball or a game. Whatever you do, be in the moment and you’ll be surprised at what you learn about your child.”
When you decide you need to discipline, be firm and avoid negotiation.
“Kids observe us,” Dr. Carter said. “We need to be the parent!”
Taking discipline too far
Let’s face it, kids can be frustrating. However, it’s important to remember they aren’t trying to make you angry. When you get frustrated, it’s never OK to shake a baby or hit a child. Doing so may cause permanent injury or even death. For tips on how to keep your cool while parenting, visit KosairChildrensHospital.com/EliminateChildAbuse.
About our specialist
Bryan Carter, Ph.D., is director of the Pediatric Consultation Service at Kosair Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.