This article is written by Karissa Tunis
For more on this topic, check out the full Child Behavior collection
I know that overall “Discipline” can be a very touchy subject, but it is something that is important to discuss.
First let me say that my experience only comes from raising my three, who are all still under the age of 10. I am not judging you, your parenting styles, or your beliefs. I am only writing this to share what I have learned works best for our little family, and hope maybe it will inspire you, give you something else to consider, or at least let you know that you are not alone in this parenting journey!
I used to dread disciplining. I hate making my little one upset, not giving in to their every want, or even having to pause their fun if someone needs a time out.
But when I switched from thinking of Discipline as a negative, to thinking of it as a teachable moment, I actually began to appreciate this very important task and role. When children mess up, it allows for an opportunity to teach them, or help them better prepare, for the next time they are in that situation. How amazing that we get to help shape our little ones, their decisions, and help them to grow into the best adult possible! My goal is to give my children the tools and skills they need to live in the real world someday!
I love when I get a compliment on my well-behaved kids. Not much pleases me more then when all three are on their best behavior, especially in public! But they are still kids. They still have their challenging moments, they disobey, throw tantrums, and have complete meltdowns.
But here are a few things that I have learned that work best for our family, personalities, and our learning experiences:
Before I react I like to figure out why they are acting up? Are they hungry, tired, or do they need to learn a lesson? Determining this will help me know how to appropriately handle the situation and come up with a solution.
Growing up I heard the word “No” a lot. While my children hear that word often as well, I like to follow it up with an explanation. Just saying “No” will often make them mad, especially if it’s not the answer they wanted. But when they can understand why, they seem to be more likely to respect the limit, even if they still do not like it.
Punishments need to be age and individually appropriate. All of my kids have to follow the same rules, but if my 8 year old daughter and my 4 year old son break the same rule, they both get in trouble but in a different way. But even if they were both the same age, I would still handle each one different because they are different and are affected by different things. What works for one, does not really impact the other.
Make the punishment fit the crime. If they are running in the house, I make them sit in time-out. If they are throwing toys, they lose those toys for a period of time. If they do something not nice to another sibling, they need to hug, kiss, and say they are sorry.
Set boundaries early on. I have seen first hand that the longer you let a toddler go without consequences, the bigger the problems will become, and the harder to gain their respect and set those limitations. If I teach my young son that throwing toys is not acceptable, then hopefully we can save the behavior from growing into something bigger and more damaging down the road.
- Redirecting is sometimes all that’s needed. It’s amazing how a new toy, a new room, or new scenery can make everything better! Sometimes just a new suggestion of how to play, or what to play gets their imagination going and them moving in a new direction.
I totally believe you need to pick your battles – but it’s a slippery line to walk on because once you give an inch, they will try to take a foot. My stand firm moments are definitely if they could hurt themselves, someone else, or something. If so, they are immediately removed from the situation and we discuss what was done wrong. It is so important to me that my children respect themselves, other people, and any possessions. They are taught to care for their toys, our furniture, etc., and are required to give someone else the same respect when entering their home.
- My “give-in” moments are much lighter things that are not typical struggles for my kids. Example – my children are amazing eaters, so if every now and then one of them doesn’t want to finish something on their plate, I’m more likely to offer a 2 bite compromise. But if your child hates to eat, this may need to be one of your stand firm moments.
All 3 of my kids are strong willed, and both of my boys have tempers. At times they will throw tantrums while screaming and kicking. If in public, we immediately leave. I don’t feel it’s fair for others to have to listen to this. If this happens at home, I will choose to ignore it – but let me be clear about this – because I ignore it, I am not saying I allow it! When my children were really little I would let them cry close to me so I can make sure they were safe. Once calmed down we would discuss the not appropriate behavior, and he/she would be disciplined based upon what all happened. However, now that my kids are older, they are sent, or sometimes even carried, to their room. In their room I let them cry all they want and get their emotion out. They have quiet toys, weighted blankets, and more to help them settle and regroup. Once they calm down, he/she can return to discuss the behavior, then we will discipline based on the situation. However, If he/she emerges from their room still upset, I calmly but firmly place them back in their room and calmly make it clear we will talk when they calm down. Sometimes this cycle needs to happen several times before he/she is actually calm. But I’ve learned it’s important to follow through on what you say! If I gave in the 2nd time he/she walked out crying, they would never respect me again, and then I’d have a child throwing a tantrum right beside me.
It is so important to follow through on what you say! So be careful what you threaten and make sure it is realistic. So often I hear parents say “If you keep doing that, Santa won’t come this year.” Obviously he will, so don’t threaten that (unless you plan to hide the gifts). I once even heard an older child talk back to his Mother and say “Yes he will, he always does!” and he turned right around and continued misbehaving. I used to tell my kids if they didn’t pick up their toys, I would get out a trash bag. This threat usually worked and the playroom would miraculously get picked up in about 10 min. But one day after asking my kids over and over to clean up, I threatened this again. But this time my daughter said “ok” and just looked at me to see what I would do. So without much hesitation, I grabbed a trash bag, scooped up the toys that were out on the floor, placed them in the bag, tied it shut, and placed it on the top closet shelf. (Note – my kids still had plenty of toys on their shelves to play with. I promise I’m not heartless). After we discussed how their actions lead to this, we agreed on what positive things they could do to earn their toys back. And several years later, that was the one and only time I ever had to do that.
Talk things through – Talking things through is so important to me, so I cannot stress enough the importance of this! In most cases a very valuable lesson can be learned from the mistake. It is so crucial that they understand so that the chances of repeating the same thing are lessened. Obviously certain lessons need to be learned over and over again before they really sink in (like sharing with your siblings). But remember, we are shaping their little minds for when they are older and in the real world. If they do not master the simple rules such as sharing, respecting others verbally and physically, we might be setting them up to fail.
And one of my favorite tips – always tell your child you love them! Even if you are not proud of their decisions, and even if you have to discipline them, it’s important that they still hear that they are loved! After every hard talk, I always hug them and say “I love you!”
So, with all that said, here is a little checklist I made for those moments when your sweet pea is not being so sweet:
1. Assess the reason they are misbehaving
2. Is punishment necessary, or would a redirect, snack or nap fix the issue, or can you talk it through?
3. Discuss what was wrong and ask what lesson can be learned from this? Make a game plan for how in the future we can better handle this type of situation.
4. Hug them and say “I love you”
5. Correct what was done wrong (put the toys away, say your sorry to your sister, etc.)
6. Thank them for now obeying. If needed, help redirect them to something different.
Now you can move on in a positive way! Once the situation has been handled and apologies or corrections are made, it’s over. We don’t talk about it because it’s all behind us. We may reference if another familiar situation arises, but we really try to move forward. I’m sensitive and my kids are sensitive so let’s not make the situation bigger then it needs to be, or make anyone feel worse then they need to feel.
Like the saying “When life gives you lemons make lemonade,” when there is a wrong please take the opportunity to help them learn what’s right.
*For more on this topic, check out the full Child Behavior collection*