Discipline for children is most effective when it’s aimed at creating cooperation and a sense of trust and respect.
When parents focus on using discipline strategies that are respectful and positive, children thrive and grow well.
One common challenge when it comes to discipline is motivating children to listen and cooperate without having to ask the same thing thousands of times.
Since children don’t always jump right into doing what is being asked, it’s common to see threats and bribes used as a way to discipline.
But…did you know that threats and bribes can actually make your child’s behavior worse?
Threats and bribes ignite power struggles.
Threats make children feel discouraged and combative.
Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting explains “threats create disconnection and undermine the parent-child bond.”
Does your child tune you out until the yelling and threatening starts?
This is a good indicator that learning new ways to communicate and discipline can be helpful for the whole family.
Threats and yelling are so common but in the long term can negatively impact your child´s self-esteem, capability and well-being.
Research even shows that using threats to discipline children also makes parents more stressed out and frustrated.
This negative spiral can lead to more misbehavior and a broken bond of trust.
Warmth, patience and effective communication help children thrive.
When you focus on your own communication you are modeling important skills every child needs.
Opting to problem solve and communicate also fosters resiliency and healthy development of self-esteem.
Decades of research shows that a failure to meet a child’s psychological and emotional needs can lead to severe mental deficiencies and physical illnesses.
Parents that are warm and at the same time firm meet children´s psychological needs of safety and attachment.
Here are three effective ways to move beyond bribes and threats and start inviting cooperation.
1. Notice and transform threats and put downs
Here are some common examples of put downs that don’t help children cooperate or change their behavior:
- “You are being so bad. You will pay for this big time.”
- “Oh, I’ve had it with you. You are just being so terrible!!!”
- “Do you want a consequence for that?”
- “looks like you want time out. is that what you want?”
Children need specific information to change their behavior and should not be responsible for potentially getting a consequence or time out. As a parent, your communication needs to be clear and specific. Instead of threats, give enough information so your child can feel ready and able to make better choices.
Research based effective alternative: Be very specific and describe the behavior that is not acceptable. Then tell your child what YOU will do.
“Touching every item at the store isn’t ok. I am going to hold your hand while we finish shopping.”
“Kicking your brother isn’t ok. I will help you find something else to play with.”
“I don’t like the way you are throwing that car around. I will help you clean that away. Let’s find a soft ball for you to throw.”
2. Help your child feel capable and encouraged
Even if your child is not cooperating with you or seems to not quite care about what you are asking them to do, being encouraging and warm is better than yelling or threatening.
You don’t have to be permissive or let your child “get away” with things. Encouraging cooperation starts with clear communication and a willingness to meet your child where they are in that moment.
Here are some examples:
“Screen time is over. Do you want to plug the tablet into the charger of give it to me?”
“Next time you want to use my tablet come talk to me first.”
“Your brother wants to play alone. I can play with you or you can play in your room, which would you like to do?”
3. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally
Your child will at times behave in ways that are unhelpful and even surprisingly awful. This does not mean you have failed as a parent.
Your child´s misbehavior can be an opportunity for you to offer guidance. Don´t get stuck judging yourself when you could be actively stepping in to help your child do better. There are no perfect children, only children that are growing and learning.
Sometimes it helps to remember these things to stay calm:
- Children DO need you to repeat expectations often.
- Children often move at a different pace than we wish they would (plan extra time)
- Just because a child CAN do something doesn’t mean they are ABLE to do it when you think they should
- If your child is running low on rest / food or had a hard day they are much less able to be cooperative
- Modeling the behavior you wish to see is sometimes is the only possible way to side step a power struggle and move forward
Of course there are moments when children just really would rather have some space to cool off, or they may be having a hard time because they are tired or overwhelmed.
In such situations, it helps to ask yourself :
- “What do I want my child to learn from this situation?”
- “What can I do to HELP my child cooperate?"
The research is clear, proper attention, particularly, in moments of distress, such as when children are misbehaving and experiencing emotional overload, like throwing a tantrum, lay the foundation for the development of self-regulation. That´s the ability to understand and choose proper behaviors.