How To Escape 8 Discipline Traps


Our best attempts at helping our children learn self-control sometimes reveal that we are in short supply of it ourselves. It’s tricky not to yell, bribe or cave. Understanding how to escape these eight familiar discipline traps can help.

Trap 1. Threats, Not Promises

If you find yourself threatening for the fifth time, “We will all have to leave the beach if you throw sand again,” you’re in this trap. If you make idle threats, your kids will figure it out and probably won’t alter their behavior. You are teaching a dangerous disconnect: It’s okay to say one thing and do another.

The escape: Make your expectations and consequences clear beforehand. Let your kids know what will happen if they misbehave, and stick to your guns every time. Being more proactive initially helps avoid constantly responding to bad behavior. When you have to dole out punishment, make sure the consequence is reasonable and will be carried out. Keep your expectations realistic if you’re placing kids in situations where they will be unduly bored or challenged.

Trap 2. Yelling

Let’s face it. When you’re yelling, you’re not in control of yourself. In a recent study, 88% of parents admitted to screaming at their kids.

The escape:  When your blood pressure goes up, volume should come down. If you are not in the same room, move closer before addressing your child. State your demands in a firm tone. Screaming is ineffective.

Trap 3. Labeling Your Kids

It can be hurtful to voice your disappointment and frustration. When you label your child (“You’re lazy!”), you set him up for counterproductive behavior. It is unfair to compare him to siblings, friends or cousins. Excessive praise (“You’re the smartest!”) can also backfire. Kids who hear these messages and then confront challenge can become depressed or confused. They may avoid trying new things for fear of failure.

The escape:  Stop labeling and comparing. If you have to vent, do it far away from your child’s ears. Frequently what seems like a deficit or weakness is a developmental lag that time and maturity will heal.

Trap 4: Being a buddy, not a parent

It’s natural to want to be a friend to our children. But friends don’t tell their friends to brush their teeth, wear a jacket, work on the book report or get off the phone. That is parent territory.

The escape:  Be willing to be “unpopular.” Recognize that your own needs for acceptance and approval may get in the way of disciplining your kids. Children need to be guided and given boundaries and rules. Giving in and allowing them to cross boundaries will not help them make good choices.

Trap 5: Unrealistic expectations

Maybe your toddler refuses to share his Legos with a visiting playmate who has no trouble sharing. You’re getting nowhere trying to change his behavior, but you might simply be expecting too much of your developing child.

The escape:  Be patient. Understanding your child’s unique disposition is key. To set her up for success, recognize cues that she is not ready for a developmental achievement. If you frequently go head-to-head on the same issue, it is possible she is not yet equipped to move forward.

Trap 6. Motivating with food, toys, or money

You can easily become a slave to your kids this way. Whenever you say “if you….I will give you…,” you are entering the danger zone. Bribing is different than rewarding your children for good behavior.

The escape:  Just say no to bribes. When your child displays good behavior, praise her efforts afterward. Occasionally, it’s okay to recognize a pattern of good behavior with a reward that has not been promised.

Trap 7. Long explanations

It is unwise to explain rules with lengthy monologues. Not only do kids have limited attention spans, you could be giving them the opportunity to negotiate themselves out of good behavior.

The escape:  Keep it simple. Expect your kids to obey without excessive communication. If you’ve already showed your kids how to brush their teeth, then “brush ’em good” is all they need to hear.

Trap 8: Not listening

If your kids aren’t listening, one cause could be your own inability to hear them. If you do all the talking, you are modeling poor listening skills. Your kids may learn these skills and suffer socially.

The escape:  Talk less. Listening is one of the most powerful ways to show love to our children. It is a skill at which we can all improve.

Michele Ranard is a counselor and freelance writer.


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