During this series we have covered process of elimination and knowing when to listen and when to act. In this segment we will discuss discipline. This is when you absolutely must act. Once you get to this point, however, what then? What is considered “proper” discipline?

Proper discipline is a concept of checks and balances. It implies several rationale’s that make up a larger whole. First, let’s discuss temperament. Not the child’s, yours. The core concept of discipline is to teach the child the difference between right and wrong, to teach the child not to commit the same unacceptable behavior, and to protect the child from injuring themselves or others.

Like in the article, “Know When to Listen, Know When to Act”, there are certain actions a child makes that corresponds with cycles of development. These learning_how_to_discipline_adopted_childrenactions, so long as they do not pose the threat of injury and do not reflect behavioral issues, should honestly be left alone. This kind of behavior demonstrates curiosity, discovery, and/or imagination (which constitutes cognitive development). Although these actions may be irritating, they are quite normal, and actually healthy. It is only when the actions pose the threat of injury to themselves or others, are unacceptable, or reflect an otherwise destructive pattern, should these actions be addressed.

When it comes to the actual act of discipline, remaining calm is the key to success. If you show anger, it validates the unacceptable behavior. It validated a response, therefore, it was an action worth repeating in order to elicit a future response. In other words, you have just “weaponized” their unacceptable behavior. They will continue to use this behavior or action that provoked the response as they see fit. Since discipline is merely an extension of guidance, it should be treated as such. Explaining the outcome of the behavior as the disciplinary action is being carried out is a good thing. This leaves no room for misinterpretation. They can hear your words as they are going through the motions and experiencing the disciplinary action. Doing this each and every time teaches them the “why” of the disciplinary action. Doing this without anger shows it is a necessity of learning, not a battle, or “revenge”.

Many parents question; to what proportion or extent do I carry the action of discipline? Remember, the punishment should always fit the crime. Stop the undesirable action first. Then, take a moment to contemplate. Think about what it was they were doing, and what would be a counter-balance to that. Attempting to quell a specific behavior by enacting the same behavior is counter-productive. Teaching a child not to hit by smacking their hand is a prime example of counter-productive discipline. Do you know what happens when you fight fire with fire? You get more fire. Fight fire with water. That is how you extinguish the fire altogether.

For example; If your child hits you or other kids, you could try taking them and sitting them on your lap facing away from you. Explaining to them all the while that you are protecting them from hurting themselves or others. Try telling them that you love them and will protect them always. Doing this each and every time will demonstrate to the child that you will never leave them alone to deal with their emotions. Lashing out is usually a by-product of pent up emotions, their brain’s inability to process certain information, or emotional displacement. Placing them in a corner or sending them to their room only demonstrates that they are not allowed to feel the way they do. That they are alone in dealing with their emotional problems.

Always remember that the overall goal of parenting is to teach the child to be an independent, capable, and reasonable adult who is able to make the right decisions for themselves. It all begins with you. You are the one(s) they will learn these behaviors from. We cannot expect a child just to make the right decisions. We must guide them toward making the right decisions. We must provide them with choices – we must provide them with consequences. Through this, we do not shape the child, we help to shape the decisions the child will make as an adult.

Trisha Festerling, J.D.

Family Law Attorney

lexis-nexis-image lawyers-image justia-image hg-image findlaw-image avvo-image