Correcting Behaviors vs. punishing: a better way to discipline my kids
Parents want their kids to grow up to be good people. However, some of those “good” behaviors are not innate; they need to be taught.
For example, most kids don’t naturally share well. If left to his own sense of morality, my preschooler will grab the toy he wants, push the other kid to the ground, and run away to enjoy his victory. I have watched him do things like this, aghast that my child could be so ruthless. But, I have also watched other kids do the same thing to him. Still, that obviously doesn’t make the hit and run okay.
The discipline dilemma
How can parents reinforce the idea that such behavior is unacceptable?
Do you take the child to time out?
Do you make him or her apologize?
Do you take away the toy?
Parenting guides abound with conflicting ideas of how to discipline kids effectively. What parenting strategy will you choose?
To make this decision, it’s important to understand our goal as parents in regard to discipline. “Discipline” gets a bad rap sometimes because it brings up images of classroom dictators with tightly-wound buns wielding yardsticks at their cowering students.
But when we look at the root of the word itself, we get a completely different image. Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil (source). Our children are our students. They need us to guide them. In all we do, let us remember that our primary role is not enforcer or dictator. It is teacher.
The solution: Correcting Behavior
The skill of Correcting Behaviors approaches discipline with teaching children what they should be doing as its main goal. It’s not about punishing the child for a mistake or a poor choice. It’s about showing them a better way to live and equipping them with the skills they need in order to make good choices.
As you read the following steps of the skill of Correcting Behaviors, look for the focus on teaching:
(Get the printable version of the steps of Correcting behaviors here.)
- Get the child’s attention
- Express empathy
- Describe the bad behavior
- Deliver a reasonable consequence
- Describe what you want your child to do instead
- Give a reason why this is important to your child
- Practice the new behavior and then reduce the consequence
Now, compare the above process with the more traditional, “go to your room, and don’t come back until you’re ready to apologize” approach. When we simply send our kids away, they may or may not actually know what they did wrong. They likely won’t take the time to consider what could have been done differently. They just sit and stew until they get bored enough that they decide that giving a half-hearted “I’m sorry” is worth being able to get back to playing with their toys.
In the past, I would send my four-year-old to his room, and then I would join him a minute or two later so we could talk about what happened. However, usually our “meaningful” conversations resulted in him squirming and just wanting to get away, and me feeling like I was talking to a brick wall. Nobody learned anything.
3 things I love about using the skill of Correcting Behaviors
1. It focuses on my child’s feelings and perspective
Sometimes as a parent it’s hard to know how to get through to your child. How do you convince a three-year-old that hitting is bad? Kids at such a young age tend to be self-centered and often haven’t developed a strong sense of empathy for others. They don’t understand the idea of what is socially or morally acceptable, so why NOT hit your brother when he makes you mad?
I love that Correcting Behaviors reminds parents to take the time to express empathy for our kids (they’ll learn it as they see us show it). The skill also emphasizes the importance of giving your child a reason to make a better choice. Why shouldn’t you throw toys? Because the toy might break, and then you won’t be able to play with it any more. Why should you use your words to ask for help instead of whopping your sister on the head? Because Mom and Dad can and will help you solve the problem if you ask (then you have to follow through, no matter how busy you are). As we give kids reasons to make good choices, they will begin to do so. They just need motivation.
2. It focuses on good behavior instead of bad behavior
What I love about Correcting Behaviors is that it goes beyond identifying that the behavior was bad. It helps the child identify and practice what a better choice would have been. The role-play aspect of the skill is important because it takes a negative interaction with my child and turns it into a positive one. As we practice good behavior together, his brain reinforces those positive mental pathways. This practice prepares the child to be able to make that good choice next time.
2. It focuses on teaching rather than punishing
Since I started having my son actually role play the desired behavior with me, I’ve felt like our “time out” time has been more positive and more productive. It’s no longer about punishing him through isolation. It’s about taking a break for a minute so that I can teach him an important skill.
He still receives a consequence for poor choices, but I make sure it’s a realistic, logical consequence that is closely related to the incorrect behavior. Then, I try to give him some kind of reward or a reduced consequence for being willing to practice the good behavior with me. I love that immediately following a negative consequence, I am able to give him a positive consequence for making a good choice—being willing to practice the desired behavior for next time. This helps reinforce that good choices lead to good things, and it helps us both leave “time out” satisfied and happy with each other.
How Correcting Behaviors has made a difference in my family
My kids still make poor choices sometimes, but I feel like using Correcting Behaviors is giving us a better way to develop the strategies they need to make better choices in the future. It’s a learning process. Behavior doesn’t change overnight. However, it is changing. I have seen fewer tantrums, more attempts to use words rather than fists, and a little more peace in our house.
Most of all, I am seeing my kids express a greater desire to make good choices. I love that my four-year-old will say, “Mom, was that a good choice?” or he’ll tell his little brother, “Good job! You will get a good consequence because that was a good choice.” They will learn. When we take the time to teach them, make our expectations clear, and react consistently to their behavior, we will see progress. Slow, but progress nonetheless.
Give it a try!