Just telling your child to stop doing a bad behavior-even followed by your sternest look-is no guarantee that he will. Sure, you may halt the behavior temporarily, but rarely will you eliminate it all together. Remember: your real goal isn't just to halt your child's bad behaviors temporarily, but change them so he or she stops them altogether. And the result: not only a better-behaved kid, but also a much less-stressed you who can finally enjoy your relationship with your child. Here are the real secrets of effective discipline that change that bad behavior for good.
- Target the behavior. The first step is the most important: identify the specific behavior you want to change. Granted, your kid may be displaying a number of behaviors that need fixing, but it's best to work on improving only one-never more than two behaviors-at a time. That way you'll also be more likely to succeed at your makeover efforts. Also narrow your focus so you target the specific behavior you want to eliminate, like: "He's been talking back." "She's whining." "He's hitting."
Address the misbehavior the minute it occurs. The moment your child uses an inappropriate behavior is the time to correct it. That also means you need to address the bad behavior wherever you are including at grandma's, in the fancy restaurant, or at the doctor's office. Discipline is always more effective-especially with younger kids-if you address it ASAP.
Connect calmly with your child. Any behavior makeover must start by calmly addressing the child. Eliminate any distractions, take a breath to stay in control, get eye-to-eye, and make sure you have your kid's full attention. Then you can begin. If you need to take a timeout to get yourself in control, do so. Your child will be much more responsive to discipline if you are calm.
Clarify your concerns. Don't assume your child understands what he did wrong. Briefly describe the problem, why it troubles you, and what you behavior you expect instead. "When you used that tone, it was disrespectful. I expect you to talk respectfully." Behavior corrections should be kept brief. Describe to your child what he did wrong, and clarify how to correct the action. "I know you were angry, but you may not hit. Next time, tell the person that you are mad and what you want."
Teach a substitute. Without a substitute behavior, chances are he'll revert to using the old misbehavior. Just don't assume your child knows what you want him to do. For instance: don't assume your toddler knows how you want him to talk nicely. The whine may have become such a habit, he forgot. "I don't listen to whines. Listen to how my voice sounds. It's how I want you to ask for something. Now you try it."
Catch your kid's good behavior efforts. Don't overlook the simplest and often most effective way to change behavior. "That was a respectful voice. That's the kind I listen to. Good job!" Encourage every step along the way. The willingness to try, the first efforts and small successes, the recoveries from setbacks to the maximum amount of improvement. Behavior change is hard and deserves to be encouraged, acknowledged, and celebrated.
Establish a consequence. Suppose your kid continues using the misbehavior, the next part is to set a consequence. It must be fair, appropriate to the kid and fit the crime: "If you can't play nicely with your friend, then you can't play for a few minutes." "If you hit, you will go to timeout." (The general rule for timeout is one minute for the age of the child and the time starts the moment the child complies. And do not talk to your child.) Then, the consequence must be enforced each time your kid uses the misbehavior.
Pass your plan. Chances areyour child doesn't just see you, so pass your discipline plan to other caregivers in your child's life (the day-care worker, grandparents, the babysitter). The more people you have helping you target the same behavior and carry out the same discipline plan, the quicker your child's behavior will change for the better.
Stay committed to change. Even the best makeover in the world won't work unless you really commit yourself to changing your kid's behavior. And then your must be consistent with your plan so you do succeed. So don't give up until you do see positive change. Long-term commitment is necessary for any meaningful and permanent change.
Don't expect your kid to change on his own. His behavior will most likely only get worse without your intervention. Also, don't think poor behavior is "just a fad that he'll outgrow." You're just providing more time for your kid's bad behavior to become a habit. And then it will be even tougher to change. There's no getting around it: parenting is tough work.