Consistency is the key to discipline

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“If my kid gives you trouble, you have my permission to beat him.” “The problem with kids today is parents aren’t strict enough.” “When they took away spanking from parents and principals, kids learned they could do whatever they want. That’s the problem with kids today, they aren’t afraid of their parents or teachers anymore.” “When I was a kid, the principal had a paddle on his wall and if I didn’t behave, he would give me a few swats on the behind and I knew I better shape-up.”

These statements are constant reminders from parents and grandparent I work with daily that times are different today than years past. Fear and intimidation kept kids in line, obedient and well-behaved 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago. The problem is, kids were well-behaved when in the presence of the disciplinarian but often destructive and disobedient when out of sight of the teacher, parent or principal.

Punishment (spanking, hitting and intimidation) works well to stop an act from continuing in front of the one offering the punishment but continues when the punisher is out of the picture. Kids are smart. Boys and girls understand that if they want something, and no one is offering punishment, they might do whatever it takes to get what they want.

A wise person will teach kids to do the right thing even when no one is looking. Teaching a child that it feels better in his or her heart to be kind rather than mean, help others rather than hurt, and follow rules rather than break them is easier than one might think.

Positive reinforcement changes negative behavior five to one over punishment. A child who is rewarded for making positive choices will continue to make a positive choice — even when an adult is not around. A child who is punished for making a poor decision will discontinue the action only when the fear of punishment is inevitable. One will change a child’s behavior more quickly when one catches a child making a good choice and rewarding the positive behavior than simply spanking the child when he or she makes a poor decision.

Children love to make people happy and search constantly to find ways to make parents, siblings, teachers and principals satisfied with their behavior. The same child loses self-worth and often feels defeated when disappointing people he or she find important in his or her life. For this reason, simple praise for positive actions will continue the action to continue and condemnation for minor behavioral infractions will defeat the child.

The goal to continue positive child behavior is to intrinsically reward positive behavior and extrinsically punish negative behavior. We wish to teach a child that it feels good in his or her heart to make a good choice, even when no one is watching. We do this by praising the good choices kids make. We also need to hold kids accountable for poor choices made by punishing with love. Time-outs, taking away things kids enjoy playing with and natural consequences teach children that there is always a consequence to negative behavior.

Consistency is the key. Consistent praise and consistent punishment is paramount in teaching a child that the people he or she love will always hold him or her accountable for his or her actions. A child needs a predictable life. Offering positive reinforcement five to one over punishment and being consistent and predictable in one’s parenting will likely result in a well-behaved child who is kind, understanding and loving.

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Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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