“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Fredrick Douglas
Children are one of life’s most beautiful gifts. They’re the precious reminders that help to pass on a little part of who we are into future generations. Innocent and naive, they’re like blank slates, simply waiting to be written on and transformed into wonderful human beings.
Yet, as beautiful and innocent as they might seem, as babies turn into infants and then into toddlers, it can feel more like a nightmare than a dream to have children. And whether you have an infant or a young child, you’ve likely asked yourself on occasion what the best ways you could raise and discipline those children might be.
Clearly, it’s hard to discipline any child. Our natural instincts might be to spank or show some aggression. We might be absent during part of their childhood and be dealing with a rebellious heart-of-a-warrior toddler who refuses to listen to anything we have to say.
But there are ways to discipline a child to ensure that they grow up to be kind, loving, caring and compassionate human beings. Oftentimes, it’s a departure from what might feel instinctive to us. It might run contrary to behavior that’s become commonplace or habitual in your life when trying to teach them, restrain them and scold them.
As a parent of a young toddler myself, I know how difficult it is to instill discipline into a child, especially one with a temperament that’s not too conducive to inductive reasoning or logic. They’re simply emotional beings, unable to control their outburst and vitriol tirades. Clearly, they can’t help themselves; it’s the nature of the proverbial beast.
However, as adults, we expect our children to listen. We expect them to understand our logic and reasoning, employing one tactic after another in an attempt to reign the wild horse and instill an air of discipline. But it doesn’t quite work that way. It doesn’t always go according to plan, and it’s easy to get frustrated and want to drop the so-called gavel.
Nature versus Nurture
There are two competing factors that involve a child’s psychology and their overall development. Those two factors provide the framework for instilling discipline in children as they come of age, and also set the stage for the level of difficulty you’ll likely endure in the coming years.
When we talk about nature versus nurture, we’re talking about our genetic predispositions versus our parental, social and societal upbringings. We’re talking about what we’re born with versus what we learn. And to say that kids are learning along every step of the way is an understatement.
The problem is that, as parents, we fail to notice just how much of an influence our behavior, overall moods and emotional state-of-being have on a child. Keep in mind that you are that child’s world. They’re simply mimicking and copying what you do, but developing in a unique fashion due to nature.
But it’s not just the nature of the child nor how you nurture them. A child’s psychological development has a great deal to do with their environment and the things that are occurring around them at any given moment. They see, feel and hear everything, no matter what we might think, absorbing events, situations and people that come in and out of their lives.
However, the nature-versus-nurture conversation is an important fundamental to understanding the right path towards discipline. It’s not a simple formula that works for every child. Not every child responds the same way to the same method or technique. They’re all different in their own special little ways.
If you can notice the differences, and you can behave accordingly, discipling a child won’t seem like such a chore. It simply takes an unwavering desire on your part to do things without resorting to violence or aggression, because no matter what the situation, that will always make things worse, if not today, if not tomorrow, then certainly one day in the future.
But before we get into some of the methods for instilling this much-needed discipline, let’s look at how discipline is created. There are, in fact, three categories that comprise the nature-versus-nurture framework. By understanding and leveraging these three categories, you can work to make a greater impact in your efforts to teach your children the right way to behave.
#1 — Temperament
A child’s temperament is what they’re born with. It’s genetic and basal, deeply ingrained into the very fiber of their being. From an introvert to an extrovert, socially inept to socially active, melancholic to joyful, all of that is part of who they are when they’re born. If you’re the parent of many children, then you’ve likely seen this in their development from their earliest days.
One child might be relaxed and calm while another is explosive and torrential. It happens from the very beginning and every parent knows it. The hard part about this is understanding how to tailor your disciplinary methods to a specific child’s temperament. Some might take your disciplinary actions the wrong way based on their temperament, and you might not achieve your results you desire.
#2 — Character
Your child’s character develops over time. Influenced by their temperament and parental guidance, the character is shaped and formed, slowly molding into the unique individuals that they are, or that they become over the years. There is no template for developing the right type of character since the mind uses the patterns it recognizes over time, fusing them with the overall temperament.
Your child’s character is also largely responsible for just how effective your disciplinary methods are. If their rebellious temperament translates into a rebellious character, you’ll have some problems and work ahead of you. If, on the other hand, it’s quite the opposite, things will go much smoother.
#3 — Environment
A child’s environment has an enormous impact on the nature-versus-nurture framework of psychological development. That environment is largely responsible for much of the input and cues that they experience on any given basis. What they see happening all around them can seep into the mind, altering and shaping their beliefs and values in life.
If a child grows up around violence or violent behavior in their neighborhood or home, that violence will translate and shape them. If they grow around love and contribution, and see positive cues for good behavior, that will also shape them. While we can’t always control our child’s environment, we can do our best to ensure that they’re surrounded by as much love as possible, even if we can’t afford to raise them in the best neighborhoods or send them to the best schools that money can buy.
8 Methods For Disciplining Your Child
When you set out to discipline your child, the first thing you need to do is ensure you’re aware of their temperament, character and environment. You can’t force change overnight, nor should you try to. Stay away from aggressive tactics no matter how much you might want to default to spanking or yelling or mistreating them in any way.
That aggression can severely impact them as they grow up, and it can enforce a future laden with violent behavior. If they learn that aggression is the only form of discipline, they’ll grow up far more differently than someone who was disciplined in a more cordial and calm manner.
Aside from staying away from aggressive tactics to discipline your child, there are 8 overall methods that you’ll find to be effective to get the proverbial job done.
#1 — Set Limits And Boundaries
You can’t discipline a child without setting limits or boundaries. They have to understand what’s off limits, and what they can and cannot do. If you don’t set limits and boundaries, and you scold and try to discipline them, they won’t understand what they’re doing wrong. However, this takes time. You can’t set limits and boundaries overnight. They have to be taught what’s right and what’s wrong through the inflection of your voice and your tone over time.
Human communication is largely done through non-verbal cues. That’s how children learn. But it also doesn’t happen quickly. Every time they do something wrong or they go out of the limits and boundaries you created, you have to ensure that you’re there to discipline them right at that very moment. Not after the fact. Right when it occurs. But do so in a non-violent manner.
#2 — Focus On Training
When your child begins to act out or gets out of hand, they’re generally reacting to something that’s bothering them. They might be bored, hungry, thirsty, sad or a million other things. However, if you fail to spend the right amount of time with your children, training them in certain behaviors will feel more arduous and complex.
Not only do you want your children to understand right from wrong, but you want them to develop the right habits and know what, specifically, to refrain from doing. It takes a significant amount of effort and time spent with them. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily.
#3 — Give Them Attention
Children are often starving for attention. When children lack attention, they lash out. It’s often difficult to discipline a child that’s craving attention. It’s a basic human need that needs to be satisfied. Understanding and acknowledging that your children might be lacking the attention that they deserve is oftentimes hard. As parents, we’re usually so busy with a million other things that we sometimes neglect the tiny miracles that are in our lives.
Spend some quality time with your children. Carve out a large portion of your day so that you can give them the much-needed attention that they truly deserve. Take them to a park or simply sit and play games with them or teach them something important. At night read them a book as they fall asleep. These are the simple little things in life that parents need to do.
#4 — Reward Good Behavior
Children respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to negative reinforcement. If they do something good and correct, be sure to reward them for that behavior. Use the inflection and tone of your voice along with other verbal and non-verbal cues to ensure that they understand they did a positive thing.
This is a great way to discipline your child. Rather than punishing them for doing something wrong, be there to reward them for doing something right. And, when they do end up doing something wrong, be sure to relay that in an effectively communicated manner. Not by yelling and screaming. Not by physically abusing. That won’t get you far at all and you’ll simply end up having a rebellious spirit.
#5 — Clearly Outline Rules
If you’re serious about disciplining your child, they have to know the rules. This isn’t just about boundaries and limits; this is about everyday ways to act and behave that include things like societal norms and other expectations that you would have for your child. Don’t punish them if you haven’t clearly outlined the rules.
Without setting the rules, and attempting to discipline or scold your child, you’re doing them and yourself an injustice. If they need to wash their dishes after every meal, be clear about it. If they have to turn off their lights by 9pm, be clear about it. Don’t try to discipline them before you clearly define those rules.
#6 — Neutralize Arguments
We’ve all been children before. We all know what it’s like to argue with a parent or guardian or someone older than us. We think we know the answers or the right way to do things, or we simply are dead-set on behaving in a certain way. We don’t think as much about the repercussion of our actions. And why should we at that age?
If your child starts arguing with you, keep that in mind and do your best to neutralize the argument. You won’t get anywhere by yelling and screaming or physically assaulting one another. Neutralize the argument. Take a few deep breaths and decide to walk away until cooler minds prevail. You’ll also teach them some very important communication skills by doing this.
#7 — Be Consistent
Children are creatures of habit. They require consistency and patterns. When they lack those things, they become enraged and out of control. Aside form their environment and stability in the family, you need to be consistent on how you discipline your children. Don’t decide to let them do something today and tomorrow punish them for it. It doesn’t work that way.
When you try to change up your approach too often, children not only get frustrated, but they get confused. It takes time, but you need to instill a routine and do things that are consistent with that routine so that kids learn how they’re supposed to behave within the confines of that system.
#8 — Offer Yourself as a Role Model
If you teach your kids to say please and thank you, and you expect them to do that, you need to do that as well. Don’t run contrary to how you teach your kids if you expect them to follow your cues. Children are like sponges and they’ll simply absorb what they see happening around them. Don’t take that for granted.
Offer yourself as the perfect role model for how they’re supposed to behave. Remember, they look up to you. You’re their idol. They worship and adore you. Allow them to model themselves after your good behavior. You’ll be far more effective in disciplining them in that manner.