Reacting to your kid's challenging behaviour? 5 approaches for effective, learning-based discipline
I often hear phrases from parents such as, "oh we don’t like discipline” or “I don’t like the term consequences it sounds too harsh”.
While these statements are well intentioned, they short change children on the ability to learn from their parents.
Discipline need not be harsh or overly aggressive. It can be caring, kind, considerate, and effective.
I think where the confusion lies is the difference between punishment and consequences.
Punishments are retributions for wrongful acts. Punishments tell children that they need to listen and obey otherwise they'll be hurt.
Consequences, on the other hand, are outcomes that result from an individuals behaviour. (I’ll be posting another blog article clarifying, in detail, the differences between punishments and consequences so stay tuned.)
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let's look at 5 approaches to discipline you can use in parenting your family.
1. Positive discipline
Positive discipline (as you guessed!) focuses on praise and encouragement. Rather than punishments, learning is the goal and discipline is about teaching.
From this perspective parents teach problem-solving skills and help develop solutions.
Positive discipline based families often use communication, family meetings, and an authoritative approach to address behaviour issues. An example might look like:
Your 7 year old daughter refuses to do her homework. If using positive discipline you might say something like “Mom and I know that you don’t want to do your homework. But your teacher is expecting it to be completed tomorrow. What can we do to get that paper done so you’ll be able to show Mr. Corrola that you can get your homework done on time?”
Want to know more? Check out this guide to positive parenting!
2. Gentle Discipline
Gentle discipline focuses on being preemptive with problems. Redirection is used to steer kids away from unwanted behaviour.
Kids are still given consequences but gentle discipline doesn’t use shame as a tool, rather parents use humour and distraction.
Using this approach you focus on managing your own emotions while addressing concerning behaviour in your children. For example:
Your 7 year old daughter refuses to do her homework. Using a gentle discipline approach you would use some humour and say "would you rather write a five page paper explaining why you didn't want to do your math homework tonight?” Once the struggle is diffused a gentle disciplinarian would offer to help look a the math homework with their child and figure out how to complete it.
Interested in learning more about gentle parenting? Check out this overview.
3. Emotion Coaching
Parents implementing emotion coaching use a five step process (a future post will explain this approach in more detail) to teach kids about their own emotions and feelings.
With this understanding children are then able to verbalize their emotions and explain them rather than acting on them impulsively.
From this perspective emotions are seen as normal and a vital part of life. The role of a parent is to teach kids effective ways to deal with their emotions. As an example:
Your 7 year old daughter refuses to do her homework. Using this approach a parent helps their child identify their feelings saying something like: "I know it's frustrating to do math homework instead of playing with your brother. Math can be hard and difficult to understand. When I was your age I felt the same. Let's name the emotion and draw how you feel when you have to do math.” After drawing and diffusing the situation a parent would redirect their child back to math and provide some support.
Wondering about this approach? This guide provides great info on emotion coaching
4. Boundary-Based Discipline
Boundary-based discipline focuses on making expectations and rules clear.
Parents work at setting limits and helping their child understand them.
Choice is provided to children and there are clear consequences for behaviour that breaks the rules.
Consequences fall into two camps logical consequences or natural consequences. Here’s how this would work with our homework scenario:
Your 7 year old daughter refuses to do her homework. With boundary-based discipline you would set an expectation and make the consequence clear by stating: “you can use your electronics once your homework is complete."
(Looking for more info on this approach? That will be coming in a future post!)
5. Behvaviour Modification
Behaviour modification focuses on rewards and consequences.
Effective behaviours are reinforced with praise and rewards.
Ineffective behaviours are discouraged by ignoring or presenting negative consequences. Working from this approach,
Your 7 year old daughter refuses to do her homework. Using behaviour modification you might remind your child of a pre-arranged reward for homework completion by saying, “Remember, we discussed that when your homework gets done you get 30 min extra of electronics”. Praise is reflected to the child if they choose to complete the task. Any protests or attempts to argue are ignored.
(Wondering when to engage or ignore your child's attempts at negotiation? I'll be writing a future post that will guide you on how to do so successfully.)
My favourite method?
A mix that works for your family!
Creating emotional learning and understanding can often help with understanding boundaries and accompany rewards and consequences.
When parents come to see me, I usually focus on creating a structure of expectations and boundaries in the family system to provide stability for their child's developing brain.
We also work on validating emotions and identifying the difference between validating an emotion vs. accepting a behaviour.
Lastly, I like to have parents create reward systems that help nudge their kids towards effective methods of problem solving. Ultimately the skills developed in childhood will serve them across their lifespan.