When talking about discipline, people tend to associate it with obedience, submission, and punishment. Some people may perceive that discipline involves physical violence to establish control. This interpretation is misleading, as the term was historically rooted in the notions of gaining knowledge through learning and understanding.
Many studies have proved violent discipline to be ineffective. Instead, it generates a lot more negative impacts than positive ones, such as behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, poor quality of the parent-child relationship, lower cognitive functioning, and lower academic performance.
Unfortunately, the current prevalence of violent discipline is concerning. Know Violence in Childhood finds that 58% of children experience violent discipline in industrialized countries. The same study also found that 8 out of 10 children in Africa and South Asia encounter corporal punishment at home.
As parents, you can implement discipline according to the original interpretation, which is to encourage children to learn to improve instead of coercing them to be perfect. An effective method of achieving this would be positive discipline.
From various sources, positive discipline could be defined as a method of teaching essential life skills and communicating appropriate behaviors that are respectful and encouraging through guidance instead of merely obeying an instruction.
Studies have proven that this method can generate positive outputs, such as decreasing behavior problems, reducing parental stress, cultivating self-regulation, strengthening the children’s social competence, and improving parental confidence. Here are some ways you can implement positive discipline in your parenting role.
Validate and redirect
It is found that there is an association between parents’ emotional invalidation and their children’s misbehaviors. Due to being invalidated in the past, children cannot adaptively regulate their emotions. As a result, they are more prone to conduct rule-breaking and aggressive behaviors. Thus, parents need to apply emotional validation to their disciplinary method.
You can practice validation and redirection by acknowledging a child’s emotions, then ignoring their misbehaviors while redirecting them to more positive behavior. This allows children to feel respected and understood but still encouraged to behave appropriately. Thus, it is most effective for handling disobedience, sulking, whining, and pouting.
An example of applying validation and redirection is when a child refuses to give the toys to their sibling. When this occurs, you can validate and redirect the children by saying, “I know it’s not easy to share your toys, but it’s your sibling’s turn to play with them. I would appreciate it if you would please pass the toy to him/her, and you will have your turn next turn.” That way, the children realize that their negative emotions will be acknowledged. Additionally, receiving immediate attention, guidance, and praise makes a child more likely to engage in the favored behavior.
Whenever validation and redirection fail, you could use the follow-through technique to ensure children follow the directions. A vital feature of this technique is that it combines corrective and redirection techniques and acknowledges a child’s inherent desire to be independent.
Children are not given the opportunity to be rewarded for their disobedience. Instead, you will provide instructions and issue a warning as a consequence of not doing so. Failure to comply will lead you to gently redirect them with physical assistance. The child will ultimately feel recognized for their ability to cooperate even if they were helped along the way. This allows the children to be given a chance to avoid poor decisions and receive praise for their cooperation.
However, you must be crystal clear with the guidance you provide. It must be precise, easy to understand, brief, and appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. The following is an example of how to deal with a child who refuses to share a toy with a sibling:
- Make eye contact and stay close to the child.
- Give a direction that is very clear (e.g., “please give the toy to your sibling”).
- Wait five seconds for their agreement before offering specific praise (e.g., “what a great job for listening to me”).
- Deliver a warning (such as, “Please give the toy to your sibling by yourself or mommy/daddy will help you”) if they still disobey.
- Wait for them to comply for an additional five seconds before encouraging them with special praise (e.g., “what a great job for listening to me”).
- If compliance is still not achieved, provide gentle assistance by saying, “Okay, mommy will help you with that,” while passing the toy to the sibling.
- Whether the child cooperated with or without your physical assistance, you should appreciate them.
Time away from rewarding and pleasing stimulus for a certain period due to the occurrence of misconduct behavior is called a time-out. It is a common disciplinary technique that parents use.
A study on parents of preschool and school-age children shows that 84.9% of parents use time-out for their children’s misbehaviors. Through this technique, the child has the opportunity to regulate their emotions and self-control. In addition, time-out allows parents to address misdeeds objectively rather than resorting to severe disciplinary actions. It is an efficient strategy of discipline when:
- The child defies the parents’ instructions.
- The child’s actions endanger both their own and other people’s safety.
- The behavior is harmful and intense.
- Positive reinforcement is ineffective anymore.
Here are the stages for employing time-out as a disciplinary measure:
- Give the children a clear direction and give them five seconds to comply.
- You should praise their compliance. When they refuse to oblige, issue a warning and give them an additional five seconds to finish.
- Take the children to the time-out location if they continue to disobey.
- Depending on the age and developmental stage of the children, set the timer for 1 to 3 minutes.
- Ask the children if they are prepared to follow the original instructions or not after the time-out.
- You should praise them when they follow the request. However, if they still refuse it, parents should opt for using the follow-through technique.
Even though time-outs are one of the most often used forms of discipline, they can be tricky to execute successfully. According to a study, 84.9% of parents experience failure on their time-out attempts. These attempts ended with the parents talking to their children or even letting them play with their toys during the time-out.
Instead of putting the child in time-out, you could opt for the positive time-out technique. The main distinction of this strategy from the conventional time-out is the deliberate intention of doing it. Instead of making time-out a punitive consequence of their misbehavior, children are given the option of whether they want to go to their time-out spot.
If they refuse, you can offer to be a companion there by saying, “would you like for me to go with you?” If they still dismiss the request, you can be a model yourself by going there first.
Further, the main idea of a positive time-out is the children’s involvement. Therefore, they have a say on how to make their time-out space facilitate them to feel better. It may include soft cushions, music, stuffed animals, and books to read.
To make it sound less hostile, you also may let them name the space other than the time-out area, such as a “feel-good place” or “cooling-off spot.” As a result, positive time-out allows children to enhance their innate ability to self-soothe. Thus, they can internalize the importance of taking time to calm down until they can think more clearly and act more thoughtfully.
To implement it more effectively, here are a few guidelines you should follow:
Make sure the children are aware of the purpose of the time-out
Children must understand that the positive time-out is not a punishment that makes them feel guilty about their errors. Instead, it is a chance for them to think and feel better.
Establish the ground rules for the time-out
You might be concerned that the children would abuse the freedom that was granted by the constructive positive time-out. Nevertheless, exploitation rarely occurs in an appropriate environment. To accomplish that goal, you should talk about the limitations that should be put in place during the time-out. It may be something like: not more than twice a day, not speaking to other siblings, or not escaping the time-out early.
While some might require a longer time, some individuals may feel better after a few minutes of positive time-out. Therefore, rather than imposing a specific amount of time, you should encourage the children to adjust the duration of the time-out to the amount of time they believe they may need to feel better. Giving them freedom allows the children to acquire a sense of accountability, responsibility, and autonomy.
Refrain from employing positive time-out for children under the age of three
As toddlers haven’t developed their ability to reason, positive time-out isn’t suitable for them. As a result, they haven’t fully understood the concept of right and wrong. Further, they are still at the stage where their developmental job is to explore and experiment. Thus, being disciplined for doing what they are developmentally programmed for may be confusing and problematic for them.
Positive reinforcement is the introduction of a stimulus that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again in the future. This method could be put into practice by giving verbal praise, showing physical love, spending quality time, having access to enjoyable activities, and receiving tangible incentives. Positive reinforcement must be available immediately following the desired behavior occurrence to generate the desired impact. As a result, children learn to understand the way to engage in behaviors that are positively rewarded by their parents.
Another non-punitive strategy for reducing children’s misbehavior is extinction. Parents who employ this method should recognize positive reinforcement and withhold it from their children as a sort of discipline.
For instance, a parent could enter the bedroom and comfort a crying child after putting him to bed. The parents’ attention would serve as positive reinforcement in this scenario. Children are consequently more inclined to repeat their actions the following day. Parents should stop visiting their children’s bedrooms to execute extinction by inhibiting that reinforcement.
It might be challenging to apply this method since children usually rebel throughout it. This type of reaction, known as an extinction burst, occurs when the children express outrage at a shift in their parents’ behavior. However, you shouldn’t hastily give up because it is a sign that the intervention is effective. The misbehaving will eventually stop once they learn that their parents won’t react the same way as they used to.
The many strategies mentioned earlier demonstrate that setting limitations without using abuse and violence is not impossible. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches in this situation! Parents must try out several positive disciplinary exercises to see which ones work best for them and their children.
Positive discipline provides significantly more compassionate, effective, and empathetic approaches to socializing boundaries and structure. Children will acquire a greater understanding of how their choices could have repercussions. At the same time, they also know how to behave appropriately without experiencing self-doubt or poor self-esteem due to harsh discipline.
If you would like to take this reading further, the Parenting Science Labs produces courses, certifications, and other science-based tools using the research of the Institute for Life Management Science. Visit the Parenting Science Labs today.
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