Let's start with the effective big seven -- the most effective, kindest, most positive disciplinary techniques out there. These are the ones you should be using. Here they are, in alphabetical order (so you won't think I'm ranking them by merit):
- expressing disapproval
- having a little discussion
- separation and replacement
- time-outs (also known as “thinking time”)
Education is a disciplinary technique, and I'm not talking about the normal use of discipline as a teaching tool. I mean using education as a direct consequence of misbehavior. Education is an opportunity to move your child to thoughtful from his normal stance as thoughtless.
In many cases, a child's misbehavior is based in ignorance. Racial slurs, or physically risky behavior (like smoking and driving too fast), can often be corrected easier and more effectively by a specifically educational response than by other forms of discipline (like scolding or making rules).
A child caught drinking to excess a couple of times could be taken to an AA meeting to see firsthand the ravages of alcohol. A child participating in racist behavior could be shown the movie Schindler's List, brought to a lecture on Martin Luther King, or, better yet, the whole family could get involved in community activities where the child can meet and become friendly with people from diverse racial groups.
Education is not about lecturing, and, since your child may not be open to hearing the truth from you, an educational consequence may be best imposed by another adult he respects.
It's a Good Idea!
Natural consequences are educational opportunities, too. Don't compromise on safety, but within those limits, allow your child to learn through experience the consequences of her actions.
Perhaps the simplest and most effective way of changing a child's behavior is to let her know that you disapprove of it. State your objections clearly, and give reasons. “Judy, I don't like it when you hit your sister. It's cruel and thoughtless, and I want my children to be kind and compassionate.” When your child hears your disappointment or disapproval, she may shape up. Your child needs your approval. Miss Judy will hear your anger, and resolve to change.
Disapproval works when it is stated clearly-once. Don't nag, rub it in, carry on, or hold disapproval as a grudge. What if you can't let it go? That's between you and you. Don't raise it again (and that means you)! Kids can hear a complaint or disapproval once-more than once erases the message from their little brains and closes their ears tighter than Scrooge's wallet.
Your disapproval needs to be expressed with conviction and passion, but without fury. Don't be wimpy or bossy:
- Wimpy parents tend to feel the disapproval, but express it so mildly and gently that no impact registers. Here's an example: “Honey, please don't pull Muffy's tail, dear. I really hate it when you do that, it's not a very nice thing to do, Sweetheart, and you want to be a nice little boy, don't you? Honey? Please stop for Mommy, dear. Mommy's getting a little bit upset and concerned,” and so on.
- Bossy parents tend to come down so hard on the disapproval that they frighten, or make their child feel like a personal failure or a dirty rotten piece of scum. Make sure that your disapproval transmits the message that it's the behavior you don't like, not the child.