Discipline is different from punishment because it teaches children to learn from their mistakes rather than making them suffer for them. In fact, imposing suffering actually shifts the focus from the lesson that needs to be learned to who is in control. As a result, punishment focuses on the parent being responsible for controlling a child's behaviour, rather than the child controlling his/her own behaviour, which is the focus of discipline.
In a great book, Positive Discipline, author Jane Nelsen offers guidelines for using consequences, which she calls the Four R's of consequences: reveal, related, respectful and reasonable. Here's how they work:
Whenever possible, REVEAL the consequences of misbehaviour ahead of time so children will know what to expect the next time they choose to misbehave. ‘‘If you want to ride your bike, you need to stay on the sidewalk or I'll know you've decided to put it in the garage.’’
Notice how the responsibility for the behaviour and its effect are on the child rather than the parent. Can you tell how different this sounds than if the parent said, ‘‘Don't go in the street or I'll take your bike away.’’
The discipline should be logically RELATED to the misbehavior. Sending a child to bed or restricting a child from TV has nothing to do with riding a bike in the street.
Present your comments in a RESPECTFUL manner that lets children know they have a choice about how they behave. ‘‘When I see you riding your bike in the street, I know you're not ready to ride it safely and need to put the bike away.’’
Notice how different this sounds than, "That's it, get out of the street! I'm taking your bike away for the rest of the day! You could get killed out there!" When we speak to children in disrespectful ways, they respect us less and tend to talk back at us disrespectfully more often. We earn others' respect by showing respect to them first.
Provide a REASONABLE solution that will allow children an opportunity to correct the behavior while the lesson is fresh in their minds. ‘‘You can try to ride your bike again on the sidewalk after lunch.’’
Each time the child violates the rule, increase the time limit gradually. If you restrict children from a bike for a week the first time, they'll spend more time dwelling on their resentment than thinking about the lesson. If they make the same mistake again, they're likely to lose the bike for a month! Children need practice at being good — and we need to be honest with ourselves and decide whether our goal is to teach positive behavior, to show who is in power, or to get revenge.
If any one of the Four R's is missing from the discipline, it turns the technique into punishment, which has four new R's: Resentment, Rebellion, Revenge, and Retreat (lying, learning to not get caught, running away). If your child reacts in any of these ways, review how you presented your discipline. Chances are, one of the Four R's of Discipline was missing. But don't worry, children always give us another chance to learn from our mistakes!
• Visit parenting Coach Rob Stringer at www.ParentingWithIntention.ca to access his newsletter, blog, and radio show.