Discipline does not work in a vacuum. Before you can shape and guide your child’s behavior you must first build a home where the child feels safe and you must establish a good parent-child relationship. There is a basic principle in discipline that states that you cannot effectively discipline a child who does not know you.
As a teacher I spend time each day for the first few weeks of school getting to know and building a relationship with my students. I teach them my goals for them and my expectations for their behavior. I also give them a glimpse of my personal life and personality. By the end of the school year the majority of my students, even ones with severe behavior problems in other classes, genuinely want to behave in my class and please me. They may not always behave appropriately, but when I need to reprimand them or correct their behavior they understand the consequence and learn from the encounter.
The same cannot be said for the average student I meet on campus who does not know me. Even if I use the same techniques with a student that I see crossing campus and not obeying the rules, my actions are usually much less effective and short lived. The same problem occurs when I have a substitute in my class. The class who is normally polite and productive for me is often rude and non-productive for my sub. Discipline cannot truly be effective unless there is a long established relationship between the child and the disciplinarian; hence it is essential that you build a good relationship with your child in order to effectively discipline him or her.
Start when your child is young to build a relationship by reading to her, playing games with him and going on family outings together. Have conversations about what is going on in your life, and encourage your child to tell you about his or her day. One of the best places to build positive relationships is at the family dinner table. Don’t let outside activities or the TV set infringe on this valuable time. Plan your week so the entire family sits down together at least a few times each week and lingers over dinner. For every negative exchange that you have with your child you should have many more positive exchanges. These exchanges should be fun and genuine, not stiff, contrived or scheduled. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your kids really get to know you.
One of the most important principles in building a home is to be sure that your child feels loved. “But of course I love my child!” you may say. But does your child know that he is loved? Even the parent who neglects or abuses their child may loves him, so what you feel is not relevant. What is relevant is how your child feels. A child who does not feel loved will not feel safe and secure at home. But if your feelings and thoughts are not relevant, then how can you know how your child feels? You can never really be sure of how your child feels, but the following important steps will show your child that you love him or her and build the kind of relationship that will show love and build security.
Give Hugs and Kisses- Most parents hug and kiss their little children. But as children grow and become less cute and huggable parents become less affectionate. As a normal part of growing and separating from parents children in turn are also less affectionate. They may also rebuff parents who try to show their love. Paradoxically, at about this same point in time children may need more affection, yet they are getting less. As children begin to grapple with peer pressure, increased stress in school, building more mature relationships outside of the family, and physical changes inherent with growing up, their self-image and security are challenged. If your child balks at your attempts to show affection, don’t give up. Be creative and more subtle, but do show affection. Give your child a peck on the check or top of the head as he passes by, as she sits watching TV or is playing on the computer. Don’t be afraid to add an, “I love you,” and do be careful around friends. The goal should be to convey love to your child, not to grandstand in front of the friends or to embarrass.
Plan Fun Together- As children get older and start to develop outside interests and participate in more activities with their friends, parents often have less time to spend with their children just having fun. Sometimes with older children and teenagers it seems that all of your time with them is spent in giving instruction and reprimands. It is therefore important to plan time to have fun together, and it becomes even more important as children grow. Eat dinners as a family at least a few nights a week and make a rule that conversations are to be kept to light topics. Plan one evening a week for a family activity. Plan dates with your kids one-on-one and let him or her pick the place to go. Use this time to let your child talk, and ask open-ended questions to get the conversation going. Listen more than you talk. Take family vacations, even if the trip is just a campout in the backyard with no phones or video games allowed.
Communicate– When your children are tiny it is hard to imagine that you will ever not feel close to them. But somehow, between babyhood and the teen years, communication is often hampered and that little girl who told you every thought and feeling that she had refuses to speak. Planning family fun can go a long way to help keep the lines of communication open. Often a child who will not speak to you at home or under a stressful situation will open up and be himself at his favorite restaurant. Be sure that you continue to communicate openly with your child, even if he or she shuts down. Talk about your goals and aspirations and everyday happenings. Just as you plan a time to have fun, plan a time to talk. Talk over dinner, or plan a time just for communication. Some families have regular parent child interviews. The main goal of the interview should be for your child to share and look at goals. Try writing down important things during the interview such as a list of your child’s friends, teachers names, interests, dreams and future goals. You can write important facts about your child in a journal or notebook kept specifically for this purpose. You can use some of the interview time to share ideas or concerns with your child, but this should not be the focus. Be sure that your child is able to fully communicate their thoughts and feelings, and give your child time to air grievances or complaints about you. Listen openly, not defensibly, and talk about possible solutions to problems.
Show increased love after discipline- No matter the age of the child it is sometimes hard for them to separate the discipline from the person administering the consequence. It is important that children realize that parents discipline because they love their children, not because of a lack of love. After you discipline a child always show an increase of love. Not only do they need the extra attention to shape their proper behavior, they also need to know that you are not the enemy.
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