How to discipline your child – part 4

In our last post, we discussed how words alone are simply not an effective means of discipline. This is because a small child’s world is based on their immediate and physical experience. Words alone will not change a young child’s behaviour. 

However, words are very important when it comes to explaining just why the cookie is crumbling in the way that it is, so to speak…. With this in mind, the question that many parents have is, “What should I say while I discipline my child – and what not?”


Pearl of Wisdom #4

Words must be used wisely – they make a huge difference

DON’T habitually say ‘no’ or ‘stop that’ without any explanation:

When your default-response-setting is on ‘no’ or ‘stop that’, your child is robbed of a valuable learning experience in the discipline process. In addition, any sane person (children included) will eventually just ‘switch off’ to those repetitive words, rendering them completely meaningless and ineffective.

DON’T say something that ‘labels’ or ‘belittles’ your child:

Words are powerful tools for building up or breaking down a child’s spirit, and the way in which you describe your child forms his self-image, which is still tenderly developing. What you say about your child will become who and what they believe they are – and we all know that kicking the dog does not mean that your child is a terrible person, just someone who is need of parental guidance.

So always talk with, and about, your child as if he is able to choose how he wants to act. Being disobedient or stepping out of line is something that he has chosen to DO, it’s not something that he has BECOME. In other words, rather say, “I don’t like the way you are acting right now” or “I don’t like the way I feel when you talk to me like that”, instead of, “You’re naughty” or “You’re rude”.

DO say what you don’t want, and then add what you do want:

When your child does something that you don’t want him to do, follow this recipe:

FIRST state what you don’t want them to do and why

SECOND state (and demonstrate if you can) what you do want them to do and why
For example, when my son hits his little brother I will say, “Don’t hit your brother. It hurts him and he doesn’t like that! I want you to touch him gently. Like this. See, he likes it when you touch him that way.”

DO let your child know that you understand that he is upset:

When your child is upset because he isn’t getting something he desperately wants, follow this recipe from Ann Richardson’s book Toddler Sense (Metz Press, 2010):

– Acknowledge and name the feeling
– Mirror the feeling
– Explain why

For example, if your child wants to watch TV after bedtime, you could say “I know you are feeling angry because you can’t watch TV, I would feel angry if I were you too, but it is time for bed and TV time is over.”

To summarise, words alone do not make an effective discipline routine. However, they are important tools with which to decode your child’s behavioural experiences in a simple, effective and respectful way. And that’s enough words from us for now!

Words: Loren Stow

when we know better… we do better

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