Preschool children seem to have a language all their own punctuated with screams, fits and temper tantrums. With the curiosity, lack of fear and a sense of independence common in young children, it is no surprise that parents name discipline as a top concern. Establishing discipline early on can help you keep your daredevil safe and make family time more enjoyable. The good news is that some of the most effective discipline approaches are common sense. Sharing what I have learned, these tips are drawn from my experience as a teacher and 13 years at home parenting our four children.
1. Present a united front.
Parents and caregivers need to be in agreement about the rules and consequences. Consistency is the key to effectiveness.
2. Be specific.
General rules like “be nice” are too vague. To be effective, you need to give specific instructions. Instead of saying, “be good at dinner”, try, “at the restaurant I need you to stay in your seat and play quietly with your trains.”
3. Develop a “zero tolerance” policy.
The Super Nanny advises giving children a warning before punishing bad behavior, which is fine as a general rule. However, some rules have no wiggle room. I have zero tolerance for hitting. Hitting is punished first time, every time. You probably already enforce zero tolerance rules like using a car seat. Zero tolerance is harsh, but effective.
4. Be prepared to leave with an unruly child.
I have left more than one cart full of groceries to take a child home mid-tantrum. It is inconvenient, but it sends a clear message.
5. Don’t negotiate with terrorists.
Take the word “if” out of your vocabulary. A statement like “If you stop screaming, I will give you candy” is a bad idea. The child’s lesson becomes “if I scream, I get candy”.
6. Find your “teacher face.”
Remember the look your teacher could shoot across the cafeteria? Maybe she raised an eyebrow or glared over her glasses. Students knew the look was a warning. When you learn how to make a teacher face, your child will soon recognize it as a warning.
7.Use a soft but firm voice.
Face it, if yelling worked most of us would have remarkably obedient children. As a teacher, I learned that speaking just above a whisper makes children stop and strain to hear what you are saying. Try it.
8. Maintain child’s dignity.
Humiliating or degrading a child will only undermine his trust in you and his self-esteem.
9. Catch her being good.
Most children are eager to please grown-ups. Encourage this inclination by complimenting good deeds and good behavior.
10. Keep your sense of humor.
When two-year-old Ben filled the dog’s bowl with chocolate milk, he wasn’t misbehaving. He was offering Dixie a drink. Adding dog food to make an Alpo-chocolate soup wasn’t a discipline issue, it was childhood exploration. My point is, children have to be allowed to be children. It helps tremendously if you can laugh about it.