When I talk to families about child behaviors, I like to point out that it takes appropriate parental behaviors to create worthwhile child discipline. Why? Because children learn behaviors primarily by observation and imitation, just as they learn language by listening and imitating.
If parents shout, children will shout. When children use bad words, they must have heard them from parents or siblings or the media. Even simple matters, like the 2-year-old who loves to say “No!” are the result of imitation.
I have my families practice not saying, “No,” but instead using creative ways to let a child know that a behavior is not appropriate. Instead of taking something away from a child with the words “No,” or “That’s mine,” the parent should say, “Thank you, that’s mom’s/dad’s phone/purse/whatever.”
Children are curious by nature, and when we have something like a book or toy that we want to share with them, we use lots of words and teach them about it. Yet when we want to communicate that something is off limits, we just say “No!” That doesn’t make any sense to kids, and since it does not satisfy their curiosity, they go back for more. So parents must try to explain why things are off limits, and offer other acceptable choices.
Another problem area is timeout. Many parents attempt to use timeout, but in doing so actually give the child more attention for the bad behavior by putting the child back repeatedly, sitting with the child, spending a long time discussing what was wrong, or giving the child hugs afterward.
Instead of thinking about putting a child in timeout, think about two of my favorite options. If a child is aggressive or throwing a tantrum, taking yourself away from the child by moving into another room or even shutting yourself in the bedroom or bathroom and saying firmly, “I don’t want to play with you when you act that way,” sends a very strong message that the child will lose your attention if the behavior continues.
Likewise, if a child is being rough, inappropriate, or loud, he or she needs to be told, “We don’t do that in this house. You go outside if you want to hit/throw/run/etc.” Always try to teach a child that there is a time and a place for certain behaviors. It is very confusing to them if they are told to not throw, but then parents play ball outside with them!
If children are treated with respect and parents give clear instructions and have reasonable expectations, then children learn to behave more like well behaved adults!