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Practical Discipline Solutions That Work

What discipline means (and why it's worth getting right)

For many of us, when we think about 'discipline', it congers up an image of mean, old-fashioned looking parents (or teachers) who don't believe in having fun.

Discipline has a bad image... In this article, we aim to show you this image need not be true. There's a more appealing and practical discipline approach you can take and we hope to show you why your family can't do without it!

The word 'discipline' actually originates from a word that simply means 'training'. This definition is more relevant and less scary for our children and us parents. The purpose of discipline is to help you 'train' your young child to become a responsible teenager. Discipline is about being smart by making life easier - avoiding wasting time and energy having tedious battles with your children. Get discipline right, and your family will actually have more fun!

When should you start? Begin to introduce the ideas to your child at two years old, and progress at a pace that suits them. By investing in discipline will be rewarded by saving much more time in the future.

Getting discipline right can be difficult when faced with the reality of busy family life. The solution is to make discipline a priority.

Usually, parents limit themselves to their own personal experiences for their discipline techniques, but this doesn't always work because our children are different personalities growing up in a different environment. The consequences of poor discipline can be distressing resulting in family stress, problems at school, under achievement and strained parents' relationships.

Sometimes, getting discipline wrong can contribute to family break-up. The parents simply use up all their patience and energy dealing with the children, leaving nothing left for each other.

What's discipline got to do with your child's learning ?

A lot! We found many parents who desperately wanted to support their children's learning but couldn't. For example, completing homework would become a battle sure to end in a tantrum and tears (occasionally not just the child's).

Homework is an important part of school learning that provides essential practice, for young children this won't be excessive. Often it's all the avoidance tactics that children can use to wear parents down that wastes valuable time and energy.

For proven ideas on how to avoid homework becoming a battle read this article, "Motivate Your Child To Do Homework".

Unsurprisingly, this makes for a poor introduction to learning for the child and drains the parent's enthusiasm for supporting their child's learning.

This is a real tragedy for the child since parental support for children's learning is the biggest factor for children's learning success (click text for our article "Facts Every Parent Should Know").

Practical discipline approaches you can use

We wanted to seek out the best discipline techniques, so we put in a lot of effort asking parents what worked well for them. We discovered many clever and imaginative approaches! We'll pass on the best of them to you ... hopefully you'll find an idea or two that you can use.

Avoid Tantrums By Talking About Discipline When Your Child Is Calm

It's very common for parents to ONLY talk (or should that be shout?) about discipline in response to a problem. Obviously you have to stop your child behaving badly, but while your child is mid-tantrum, it's probably not the most effective time to get through to them.

This goes a long way to explaining why we often find ourselves repeatedly telling-off our children for the same thing. It's boring for us, boring for them and often ineffective. Perhaps this is why 'discipline' has a negative association with parents and children?

Don't make this mistake yourself, talk about good behaviour and what it means BEFORE tantrums happen, it's a case of "prevention is better than the cure".

So where to start? It makes a lot of sense to talk about some ideas and words that describe the behaviour we want our children to show. Start off introducing them slowly, until they see the importance and relevance of all of them. Try talking about a few of them everyday, this will help them to remember.

When your child shows an example of good behaviour, take the opportunity to use these words in a positive way by praising them. This helps avoid the rut of endlessly ‘telling them off’.

Since your not scolding your child but explaining things to them, you can use humour to keep them interested. You needn't be deadly serious when explaining discipline to your child, remember young children love a bit of silliness and you'll be helping to make it more memorable for them.

Here are a list of ideas and words worth explaining to your child -

Idea 1: Understanding the Difference Between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Behaviour

Discussing what is 'good' and 'bad' behaviour with your child will make a big difference to their behaviour.

Your child may begin to talk about incidents that have happened to them, and you can help them understand them better. For example, if they see their friends being bad, explain that they should not copy them.

Idea 2: Being Patient

It's a fact that young children don’t want to wait for anything! It's up to us to tell them about the need to have ‘patience’. Talk to your child about the need to sometimes 'wait' because you might be doing something else. Tell them they need to first think about if what they want needs to done immediately, before shouting for Mum or Dad.

Now is probably a good time to tell your child that you are not 'Superwoman' (or 'Superman'), and that you do get tired and can't jump to their every whim. Tell them that if they care about you, they need to balance their demands on you with the importance of what they want.

Idea 3: Being Selfish is Bad / Sharing is Good

A child who is selfish is not pleasant to be around for anyone.

The ironic thing is that parents with selfish children often avoid saying 'no' to them so that they always remain 'happy'. The trouble is that outside of this 'bubble', the child won't be treated the same way and this can be difficult for them to deal with.

A selfish child is no fun to play with because they never want to lose, or let anyone else have a go. Children playing with a spoilt child put up with this only until they realise they can have more fun with other children, often leaving the spoilt child isolated and unhappy.

So for your child's sake, think longer term and stop them being selfish because it's the kinder thing to do. Encourage your child to share their toys and it will go a long way to helping them be the kind of child other children want to be friends with.

Encouraging your child to have play dates with friends is great fun for them and an excellent opportunity for them to develop social skills. Before the play date, remind your child about sharing.

Idea 4: Being Considerate

Being considerate is thinking about others, not just yourself - you could argue that teaching your child not to be selfish is really the same thing, and you'd be right.

However, there's no harm done by emphasising that it's important to think about taking care of other peoples' feelings and possessions.

Idea 5: Being Respectful

Respect is about treating people the way we would like to be treated.

Explain it is not acceptable for your child to treat others (including you their parents and any siblings) badly.

Idea 6: Being Trust Worthy

For older children, it's a good idea to talk to them about 'trust'. When you leave your child to do something properly without having to worry, you trust them. Talk about how trust is hard to gain, but how easy it is to lose it.

Idea 7: Being Responsible

When you feel you can, let your child take on some 'mini' responsibilities. You'll be providing valuable opportunities for them to practice being responsible. Also by showing you trust them with these tasks you'll be boosting their self-esteem.

An example of a 'mini' responsibility is for them make their own breakfast (perhaps cereal and milk). You might end-up with a mess on their first attempts, but tell them to tidy up after themselves and remind them that next time be more careful. They'll soon learn.

By giving your child these 'mini' responsibilities from an early age, they naturally want to progress to more responsibility as they get older.

Encourage Better Behaviour Through Stories

In 1828, the Grimm brothers became famous for their collections of folklore stories with moral lessons designed teach children 'right' from 'wrong'.

Stories can provide an excellent way for children to explore the effects of good and bad behaviour.

For this reason, we decided to create our own special storybook designed specifically to communicate good behaviour messages to children relevant to today's children in a fun and interesting way. It covers all the main ideas in this article.

The stories provide a valuable opportunity to discuss behaviour with your child while they are calm.

"Terrible Tales - Stories To Encourage Your Child's Good Behaviour" (published by GSL for EasyStreetLearning) and is available now.

Remind Them To Be 'Good' Everyday

Young children have short memories, so reminding them about what behaviour you expect is part of being fair to them.

Using a 'good behaviour star chart' is a good idea, they are often used in schools. They make it clear that you value good behaviour and serves as a reminder to them every time they see it.

Don't Hide The Results of Your Child's Bad Behaviour From Them

Some parents try and hide the effects of their children's bad behaviour from them. They don't want to tell their children the hurt and distress they are causing.

The problem is that if the child does not understand the full consequences of their actions, they have fewer reasons to see why they should stop their bad behaviour.

Often the thing that stops young children's bad behaviour is when they realise the pain they are causing the people they care about the most.

The danger is, if left too late, the child won't care how the parent feels even when this is pointed out, the parent has become an 'emotional punch bag'. The child has learnt the parent has no feelings. The child is also learning bad relationship habits they could repeat in later life.

Have Clear Boundaries for Acceptable Behaviour

If you explain clearly to your child what they can and cannot do, then they will more likely not cross the boundary you set and stray into ‘bad behaviour’.

Think about a fence - any hole in the fence makes the fence useless, it the same with setting boundaries for behaviour.

Remind Them That Everyone in The Family Deserves to Be Happy

This point follows on neatly from the last.

Everyone in a family deserves to be happy, this includes Mum and Dad, not just the children.

This may seem like an obvious statement but it's one that children (and some parents) need to be reminded about.

Don't feel guilty about telling your child this, being happy at the cost of someone else is not a positive message.

Rewarding Good Behaviour

Rewarding good behaviour is another way for your child to see what things you think are important.

Remember rewards needn't be something you have to buy. It could be a loving hug, playing their favourite game with them, TV time or computer game time.

You could offer a simple treat given once at the end of the week. 'Kinder Surprise Eggs' were used by one parent cleverly in this way, "The cost is very low for the anticipation and enjoyment they give", they said.

When giving the treat, remind them what it is for, thank them for being good and give them a cuddle. Use the reward as another way to remind them to continue to be good.

Ensure Your Child Has Enough Sleep

When we don't have enough sleep we are grumpy (although we may not always admit it!)

Young children need their sleep much more than we do, so making sure your child has a good sleeping routine is fundamental to good behaviour and keeping tantrums at bay.

Bored Children Act-up, Occupy Them With Learning!

It's a fact children act-up when they are bored. Learning provides an ideal way to occupy them.

By bring learning into your home, you'll provide a healthy diversion for their energy and you'll be helping them succeed in life. With EasyStreetLearning, we will guide you with our 'Learning Tracks' on exactly how to make learning fun for your child.

If you thought learning was 'boring', think again! What we show you is how to show your child the practical side of what they learn in school.

Punishment for Bad Behaviour

'Punishment' is another word that is often seen as harsh, old fashioned and even unnecessary.

The reality is that if your child's bad behaviour continues even after you have explained to them and they understand their actions, parents need a way to put a stop the bad behaviour and send a message to their child.

It's key to have clear boundaries and punishments that they are aware of to be fair to your child. Take the time to explain the reason why being good is not just to avoid the punishment, but also to avoid the consequences of the bad behaviour on others and themselves. The punishment really acts as a 'reminder'.

Yes, it can be hard to punish your child and they won't be pleased with you but as we said before, not doing so will hurt your child much more in the long run.

So how should you punish your child? Well, at all times your child should know what punishments you will carry out if they are bad. This acts as a deterrent and helps guide them to do the right thing so they won't have to be told-off and punished often.

Have a small range of punishments including a harsh one that is reserved for when they have really been bad. Here are some examples of punishments parents told us they use -

Going to bed early.

Removing children from a situation with a 'time-out', don't use a bedroom.

Taking away any treats such as friends coming around.

Not allowing them to watch their favourite TV program.

A fine on their savings they may have.

Not allowing them to play on their games console or computer.

Taking away their favourite toy (this could be an example of their most harsh punishment)

Sometimes it's a good idea to give them a chance at redeeming themselves, if they do so you could decide to withdraw the punishment. This way you can give them a chance to turn things around but beware if the bad behaviour repeats, tell them they've used up their chances and be firm in seeing the punishment through.

Beware children's ability to avoid punishment by Oscar winning performances, crocodile tears, and their uncanny ability to make you feel guilty. They won't bother with these, when they know they have no effect on you.

Some reasons why parents can find discipline difficult

When we talked to parents, some told us why they found discipline difficult to carry out. Most of us know discipline is important, but these reasons can prevent us from taking effective action.

"Discipline Makes Me Feel Guilty"

Saying 'no' to our children is something we can find difficult. Since a crucial part of discipline is saying 'no' when it is required, this is a real dilemma for many of us.

Saying 'no' and making your child unhappy can make you feel cruel... your child's reactions are designed to do exactly that. However, the price of not being firm is that your child learns that if they try hard enough they will get their way.

So where does our guilt come from for saying 'no' to our children? Wanting to provide for our children is an instinct we have as parents... this has not escaped the advertisers. Sadly, both parents and children are constantly persuaded by advertising that a good parent never says 'no' to their children. Our advice is, "don't believe the hype!"

"Giving Them Whatever They Want Makes Me Feel Good"

As standards of living rise, we have to say 'no' to our children less and they are not used to hearing it.

If we've been lucky, we find ourselves in a position to offer so much more to our children than we had.

Children also have an instinct of knowing how to get what they want. Watch a toddler tantrum, and you'll see how their actions are designed to cause maximum embarrassment and guilt until they get what they want.

Giving in to this is not great for you or your child. It's essential they know you are in charge, not them.

A better idea than giving your child what they want every time they ask, is to give them modest rewards for showing special examples of good behaviour.

"I Don't Believe My Child Could Ever Do Anything Bad"

To hear that our child has been bad hurts us. It's instinctive to believe that our children would never do anything wrong, it can be much harder to see past this instinct and accept things we don't really want to hear.

A teacher told us, "When parents don't accept their child is at fault, they never get to attempt to show their child to a better way to behave. They are training their child not to take responsibility for their own actions and that it's not necessary to follow rules."

The motivation to prevent your child making the same mistakes again and again should help you accept that your child needs a change in their behaviour. They need your help. Don't just blindly decide they are blameless, often your child can only see things from their point of view.

At some point, your child will probably be upset about being told-off by a teacher when it was not their fault. Usually, the best thing to do is explain to them that a teacher has to look after thirty (or more) children and the reality is they don't always have the time to get to the bottom of every incident. Explain to them if they are well behaved most of the time this is best, their teachers will notice this.

"Discipline Is Being Undermined By My Partner"

The following scenario is very common... A child is being naughty, one parent tells off the child. The child begins to cry wildly, causing the other parent rush in to see what the commotion is. The child runs to the second parent sobbing, and runs to hug the second parent looking for comfort.

It's easy for the second parent to side with the child, it's nice to feel wanted.

Beware, children (somehow) are experts at 'divide-and-conquering' parents.

One solution to this problem is for parents to trust each other and not to fall for their child's dramatic displays designed to get their own way.

The good news is that by following this, the child won't see any point protesting to attract the attention and things will be a lot calmer.

"My Partner and I Have Different Approaches to Discipline"

Since attitudes to discipline are deeply linked to our own personal experiences, your partner could have a very different view about discipline to yours.

Another factor is that, generally speaking, Mums and Dads instinctively have different parenting skills. Dads tend to think longer term, while Mums tend to think of ways to cope in the short term.

This has real implications for trying to reach a common approach to discipline.

It's best to keep the focus on solving the problem and avoid resenting each other's approaches. It's a good idea to discuss with each other what your approaches are and agree to modify them if needed.

"I'm Too Tired to Discipline My Kids"

Discipline does take extra energy initially, the payback is later on from having children that know the difference between good and bad.

The trick to help tired parents, is for them to enforce discipline before they get too tired. Don't wait for their energy levels to drop too low before taking action to stop bad behaviour.

Dealing with specific toddler issues

Toddlers are great fun but also hard work for parents.

An excellent book that deals with many specific issues up to age four years is "New Toddler Taming" by Dr Christopher Green. In this book you'll find ideas for dealing with problems from bed wetting to establishing good sleep routines. Dr Green's approach is also based on practical ideas parents can easily use.

Establishing a good sleeping pattern for your child is crucial during this period. If everyone has the sleep they need most of the time, every aspect of family life will be easier with fewer dramas.


Where discipline is not done at all, the child is often disadvantaged - children don't want be around them and the child is unlikely to fulfil their potential. When done poorly, discipline is a grim and ineffective activity for both parent and child.

When done thoughtfully, discipline creates happy children who are ready to make the most of their lives and it also delivers a happy family that's a nice place to be.

Related links, books and articles

"New Toddler Taming", A book by Dr Christopher Green available at Amazon.co.uk
"Saying No", A book by Asha Phillips available at Amazon.co.uk
"Raising Boys", A book by Steve Biddulph available at Amazon.co.uk
"The Complete Secrets of Happy Children", A book by Steve Biddulph available at Amazon.co.uk

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