Discipline & Parenting


Discipline and Parenting

Discipline is easily one of the most hotly debated aspects of parenting. The sheer number of self-help books, journal articles, television talk-shows, and reality shows dedicated to this topic highlight its importance in our culture, as well as the plethora of sometimes divergent “expert” opinions on the subject. When parents ask me for direction on how to best discipline their child, I often rely on two key resources; namely Love and Logic, which is a parenting approach developed by Jim Fay, and the book Raising Resilient Children written by Drs. Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein.

Some important points that both resources share is the fact that discipline originates from the root word “disciple”, which translated means teacher or teaching process. When the need for discipline arises, it should be viewed as a learning opportunity for your child. With this mindset we actually want our children to make mistakes, or experience learning opportunities, when they are young when the consequences are manageable, rather than make their mistakes when they are older when parents have less control, and the consequences may be much more serious. When a learning opportunity arises with your child it is important to remain calm as often as possible. Now I realize this is easier said than done, but it can be mastered with practice. When parents lose control either verbally or physically, the message sent to the child is, “I cannot control you,” and, “Yelling and/or hitting is an effective way to get what you want.” This can be frightening to the child and will likely model for them how to handle adversity in their own lives.

It is important to allow the child to experience the natural consequences of their actions (i.e. if they spent their allowance money in two days, they must wait and manage to get by until the established “pay day”; if they stay awake and fight about bedtime they must wake up on time and deal with getting through the day on limited sleep, etc.). It is also important to discuss with the child the concept of cause and effect (which can be understood by very young children) and discuss how they will handle similar situations differently in the future.

If a natural consequence is not as obvious, implementing a short-term consequence through loss of a privilege (i.e. T.V. time, computer time, phone time, outdoor time, etc.) is also appropriate. Anything beyond a loss of privilege for more than 2 to 3 days, however, is likely to lose its effect on the child and can be difficult to consistently enforce. Therefore I usually suggest a one-day loss with the idea of starting fresh the following day. The use of time-out is also appropriate for children through the age of 6 or 7. Ultimately, the primary goals of discipline include creating a safe environment and nurturing self control and self-discipline in our children. This implies taking ownership for one’s behavior. Through family meetings, children as young as kindergarten-age should be encouraged, with parental guidance, to participate in the creation of household rules/expectations and consequences. By doing so they will be less likely to experience the rules as impositions, and have a sense of ownership and investment due to their input into the process.

If you would like more information on the parenting approaches I have introduced please visit the websites www.drrobertbrooks.com and www.loveandlogic.com. The book Raising Resilient Children should be available through our local libraries or can be ordered through any major bookstore.

Matthew Sokol, Ph.D.

LPS Psychology Department Chairman