I’ve tried many methods of disciplining children over the decades (yes, I’ve been a mom of three different 3-year-olds over a period that’s spanned 20 years). And I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. It’s not that complicated or hard; however, it takes patience, and confidence in the importance of being a consistent parent.
My third 3-year-old is almost four. Soon I won’t need to remember how to discipline a child. But for now, it’s still a fresh, often daily occurrence in my house. When you are a kid, there are all sorts of obstacles on the road to becoming a civilized person. These 5 tips work for handling all sorts of petty crimes:
1. First, check to see if the child is tired or hungry. Most childhood misbehavior stems from these two primal needs—the need for food, and the need for sleep. Food is easy: Get some in them (healthy food, of course, like fruit, cheese, or crackers, or a cup of milk). I am often shocked that fighting and screaming children, after a snack, turn into singing and laughing children. If they are tired, give them a snack before you either make them take a nap or make them have “quiet time” on the bed or in a comfortable place (not just in front of the TV—although that does work, which is why kids today watch far too much TV).
2. Threaten to count to three. For some odd reason, this trick has been my most effective, powerful disciplining tool, and it still works on my 28-year-old. Let’s say someone is doing something you want her to stop (or, let’s say you want her to pick something up and she is resisting). Give the child a stern look, and in a fierce but quiet voice say “I’m counting to three. One…two…two and a half…two and three quarters….” Rarely, if ever, do I get to three. Ironically, it is my third child who has gotten to three more times than all the others combined. What happens when they get to three? See point 3.
3. Put them on the naughty chair. The naughty chair can be anything from a stair step to a chair to a spot on the floor—it’s a state of mind, not an actual thing. But what it becomes is a place where they have to sit, isolated from others, until they repent their ways, stop crying, calm down, and just in general become human beings again instead of naughty little monkeys. I just put my 13-year-old on the naughty chair a week ago for slapping someone. It’s remarkable how effective it is.
4. Use THE VOICE. I am amazed at how many parents think shouting is an effective way of communicating with a child. Sure, it works sometimes—especially when you want the impact of sudden surprise, when you want someone to stop doing something immediately because her life might be in danger, or you need to call them down for the third time to set the table for dinner. But more often than not, the best voice is the quiet, stern, spare voice that doesn’t overexplain or defend, but just communicates in a nonnegotiable way that this current behavior is “unacceptable.” The voice is especially powerful when accompanied by…
5. The LOOK. You know the look. I’m sure you have experienced it once or twice in your life. It’s when parents put power into their eyes and communicate to the child that if you don’t stop doing what you are doing right now, not only am I going to count the three, put you on the naughty chair, and use the voice, but there might also be a spanking involved. No, I am not morally opposed to spanking (I am morally opposed to physical abuse of children of any kind—but a good spanking should be more of a strong physical message reserved for severe behavior, not a harsh attack).
I am majorly opposed to verbal abuse, which I think can be more damaging than physical abuse. I will never call any child stupid or an idiot or any of the many other things that harm a child’s spirit. Because, after all, a child’s process of learning is to push boundaries, experiment, and get into and cause trouble. But it’s a parent’s job to guide, set boundaries, and control the experiments so that children can grow up into loved, loving, and respected grown-ups…who every once in a while STILL get tired and hungry and may need to sit on the naughty chair.
What techniques have worked in your disciplining efforts? What did your parents use to tame your bad behavior?