Dealing with discipline is tough for parents. Are you being too strict? Are you being too lenient? Learning when to pick your battles is a skill every parent struggles with. Here are a few things we do at the Idaho Youth Ranch to change kids' behavior.
Dealing With Discipline
Parents often feel guilty and fear they are being either too harsh or too soft. Moreover, the unsolicited advice from just about anyone with whom you have any contact at all (parents, grandparent, aunts, teachers, and even strangers) creates conflict and frustration.
When kids come to the Idaho Youth Ranch, we often have to conquer behavior issues first. We use scientifically proven ways of changing behavior. Our goal is not to punish kids. We want to teach kids to make good decisions about their choices. Sound like something that will help you? Keep reading.
Consequences vs Punishment
Let us start with some vocabulary. Consequences are the natural outcomes for actions or decisions. For example, if you decide to eat fast food every day and do not choose to exercise the consequence will likely be weight gain, poor health, and increased cholesterol. Makes sense, right?
A punishment is an artificial outcome for a choice or decision. For example, staying out past curfew doesn’t necessarily have any natural out comes (like weight gain) your child can learn from. Therefore, a punishment like losing cell phone privileges is appropriate to make your point.
An easy way to save yourself some grief from your kids is by setting clear expectations about outcomes in the beginning and making sure the “punishment fits the crime.” Taking a teenagers cell phone for a week because he forgot to take out the garbage is extreme and will get you resentment and pushback.
Choose Your Battles
Letting your kids learn the hard way is tough, but will reap long-term rewards.
For example, if your child is difficult to get to bed on time, stop stressing yourself out about checking to see if she is asleep every 10 minutes. This will lead to anxiety for your child (thus making it harder to sleep). Anxiety builds resentment and resentment is the enemy of trust.
Instead, try setting the perimeter that she needs to be in bed at 9pm (or whatever time you establish in your home). Take away distractions like tablets, phones, TVs, or hand-held games. If your child then chooses to stay up, she will have to deal with being tired and sluggish the next day. That experience will teach her more than any punishment.
So when should you intervene versus allowing natural consequences? When your child is engaging in dangerous or inappropriate behavior, it is time to step in and teach your child.
Catch them being good
It is easy to forget to praise your child for good behavior. All children (even teenagers) crave your approval and a simple acknowledgement goes a long way. Telling your kids thank you for playing nicely together, taking out the trash, or using good manners can make such a big impact—especially if you start while they are little.
Think of it this way. Instead of punishing bad behavior, you are preventing bad behavior and motivating your kids to want to behave better.
At the Idaho Youth Ranch, we see a lot kids who haven’t learned any type of structured way to anticipate consequences, handle those consequences, and react in a healthy way.
In many cases, this is caused by improper use of punishment. When punishment feels random to a child or is used as a primary method of teaching, it places an unhealthy focus on negative behavior, elicits anger and fear instead of learning, and discourages goal setting or positive change.
However, when kids have a clear picture of expectations and consequences (for both respecting and ignoring boundaries), they can learn from their choices.
Punishment that is arbitrary, unnecessarily harsh, or used as a primary teaching tool can make kids feel out of control and resentful of parents and other authority figures.
Correct and Teach
Most of the kids we see at the Idaho Youth Ranch have experienced enough punishment to last a lifetime.
Instead of centering your parenting around punishment in an attempt to encourage good behavior, we recommend a primary focus on and celebration of positive behavior.
Encourage, celebrate, and reward good behavior in the form of responsibility, privileges, verbal praise, and support.
Let your kids know that your love isn’t conditional on their behavior while still maintaining boundaries and clear expectations.
Everyone makes mistakes--especially kids who are still developing, testing limits, and learning how the world and relationships work.
Meeting mistakes and bad choices with clear, logical consequences is an important teaching tool and a way of setting critical boundaries with kids--along with keeping your primary focus on “catching them being good.”
Interested in what you see here? Idaho Youth Ranch offers parenting classes to help parents develop skills to build and maintain positive relationships with their kids. Join our parenting gurus for this series where you can learn skills, ask questions, and have discussions in a non-judgmental, relaxed environment.