Protecting our children from danger, dealing with temper tantrums, helping our children to learn self-control and self-discipline, helping our children to develop a sense of responsibility, and helping to instill values, is important as we manage our lives during the coronavirus (COVID-19). On this week's On Call For All Kids, Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, advises parents about how to discipline kids with fairness and respect. If you are disciplining in a harsh way, such as shouting, humiliating or name calling, this is not respectful and can significantly impact trust.
What are the three most important core ideas for discipline?
It is important to know that a positive and loving foundation is the most important starting point for ensuring times when we have to use discipline. If a child feels that he or she can’t do anything correctly, then the child may give up or stop trying. As a result, we want to push up the amount of positive praise they are receiving – up to three praises for every one negative or corrective feedback.
Next, it is important to be consistent! Meet the behavior with the same discipline, every time. If you say you’re going to do something, or take something away, you have to follow through. So, that means always making sure you are only giving commands or removal of privileges you are willing to follow through with. Consistency equals trust.
Finally, make sure you are disciplining with fairness. The consequences of a behavior should be related to the behavior itself. Sometimes I use the words “Logical consequences.” This means, that if your child throws food on the floor, then he/she needs to clean up the food before doing something else. Once the food is cleaned up, the consequence should be over. Don’t belabor the point.
How we can prevent behavior problems?
It is important to set our children up for success too. Make sure they are getting enough sleep and physical activity. Prioritize rules and make sure the rules are clear and expectations are set. For younger kids, start with only two or three rules. At my house, our first rule is no aggression (hitting, kicking, spitting, etc.).
Also, knowing what is developmentally appropriate and setting expectations for developmental age is important. Making sure your child has engaging toys and activities for their age is also necessary to keep their minds moving.
Finally, there are great techniques you can use for helping to prevent behavior problems. One is giving choices, this way our children feel like they have control, even though we are controlling the choices they receive. The second is providing redirection. When we say no to something, give another option. And finally, ignore the little things. Choose your rules and expectations, and stick to them.
How can I manage different types of behaviors once the rules are set?
There are three main discipline techniques that are effective, and they vary based upon behavior.
- Planned ignoring and praise – for “annoying” behaviors such as whining, negotiating and temper tantrums
- Effective commands/using “if-then statements” – compliance with requests
- Time out – to be reserved for aggressive behavior
What about physical discipline, like spanking?
We want to avoid physical discipline because it teaches our kids that we react to problems with physical aggression, rather than by using our words. If parents are becoming very frustrating and feeling like they may use physical discipline, it is time to step away and calm themselves down.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D.