10 Tips for Disciplining Your School-Age Child

Effective discipline produces children with healthy self-control and respect for authority. My first child was basically compliant. His eager to please manner helped me ease into my new role as disciplinarian. By the time he was in elementary school, there were six children under my roof. Discipline had to be streamlined. Natural born children and foster girls created an interesting dynamic, one which required consistent boundaries in order to guide them through their school years.

Children who feel secure are more likely to control their impulses which makes a more peaceful home. The following tips were discovered through much trial and error. Explore these discipline principles and be willing to adapt the ideas to fit your family. Often, a simple change in direction can shake things up just enough to turn bad behavior around.

1. Control yourself. Give yourself a time out if need be. Stepping back and looking at the big picture is better than letting something hurtful spill out of your mouth. While this is sometimes difficult due to sleepless nights, work stress or financial pressure, it is important to set a good example. If you don’t want yelling, then control your tongue. Speaking slowly in a low tone is very effective in gaining a child’s attention.

2. Don’t punish yourself. Before you ground your little hoodlum for days on end, stop and think it through. Are there reasons why you will not be able to stick to this punishment? Is grounding the only option? After grounding my son for a week, I looked at the family calendar and realized a better punishment would have been extra chores in this particular incidence.

3. Say what you mean and do what you say. If you are really not going to lock them in their room till they are thirty, then you probably shouldn’t say it. Empty threats do little to foster a good parent-child relationship. Kids will quickly realize you are not going to follow through and will stop listening.

4. Set clear boundaries. Ideally, parents will think of all the angles and have every situation covered before children enter the next stage. Since parents do most of their learning “on the job,” there are times when backtracking is necessary. For example, my young foster daughter had a habit of engaging any adult that looked at her in a long conversation about police actions. The details of her mom and dad’s arrest were not what the grocery clerk was looking for when she said, “Hi, little girl.” A little encouragement to find something out about the people you meet, instead of talking about yourself, made outings easier.

5. Natural consequences. Sometimes kids wind up punishing themselves. My oldest son took off running with his brothers brand new birthday gift. When he slipped and fell on top of it, breaking the toy in two, words were unnecessary. His dad drove him to the store and had him purchase a replacement. Natural consequences also include times when a child gets hurt doing something he shouldn’t. If you have told him to stop slamming the cupboard door, and his finger gets pinched, that may be enough of a future reminder.

6. Lighten up. Discipline doesn’t have to be all stern and serious. School-aged children have a lot on their plate. Some misbehavior is just a result of all the transitions they are going through at this age. As an adult you know how hard is to do everything right when you are stressed. Even when rules are broken, it is okay to be gentle and let your child know you still love them. Rules are in place to keep children safe and discipline is simply training.

7. Stop talking about it. No need to nag, beg or lecture. Instill a sense of confidence in your child by showing them that you trust them to listen the first time. When a child is expected to behave, they often live up to this high standard.

8. Give them a chance to succeed. You’ve set the rules and made it clear what the consequences are. Now, give them some space. Hovering over their every move is not a way to create independent children. Let them prove themselves to you. My son has access to a cell phone for when he is riding bikes. When I unsuccessfully tried to reach him, he got the riot act. Apparently, he had turned the phone to silent, accidentally. Rather than punishing him immediately, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. The next afternoon he was told if he didn’t answer the phone, he would lose that privilege. You can be sure he was quick to answer from then on.

9. Share feelings. Show the cause and effect of their actions. This is not an attempt to dump guilt on your child. One of my daughters is very sensitive to nuances and needs little explanation; she knows when someone is sad or angry. The other is nearly oblivious to emotional clues and has to have things spelled out to her. Cater your conversations to their personality.

10. Let them redeem themselves. After the discipline is delivered and the storm is over, move on. Let them help make dinner, or go with you to the store. Smile and break the tension that is left in the air. Children will make mistakes and it is your job to train them, but it is counterproductive to hold bad behavior over their head.

Overall, discipline is a way of life. We all need to follow rules in order to be productive members of society. Being proactive and positive when your children are young, will make the long trek to adulthood a more enjoyable journey.

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