How do you discipline a child who will not listen? Is there a “best way” to discipline children? How can you ensure that your discipline strategy does not harm your child? These are among the questions that many parents struggle with and while there is no one-size-fits-all response, we now know that certain discipline approaches reinforce your child’s negative behavior. Here are 15 discipline mistakes most parents make.
15 discipline mistakes parents of young kids make and how to fix them
1) You focus on your child’s negative behavior
While it is normal to focus on your child’s negative behavior, doing so reinforces it. The problem with focusing on negative behavior is that it does not teach your child about the positive behavior that is expected of him. Telling your child not to scream does not tell him what to do instead. Identifying the appropriate positive behavior to your child’s negative behavior teaches him exactly what is expected of him and increases your chances of fixing negative behavior.
Why focusing on positive behavior can reduce your child’s negative behavior
Numerous studies have shown that when you focus on positive behavior, you increase the chances of reducing your child’s inappropriate behavior. There is now proof that “catching your child being good” can help reduce negative behavior irrespective of whether the behavior in question relates to “normal misbehavior” issues such as not listening, refusing to do chores or homework, frequent tantrums, refusal to follow instructions, or “more serious” child discipline issues such as aggressive or verbally inappropriate behavior.
Two relationship experts, Gottman and Levenson found that the praise to criticism ratio has a powerful impact on couples’ staying power. They found that the perfect ratio to a happy relationship is 5 to 1, meaning that to develop strong and positive relationships, each negative interaction requires at least five positive interactions. The parent-child relationship works more or less along the same lines. The more you give positive feedback, the happier will be your child.
2) You forget that discipline and love go together
Did you know that research says that the most effective way to reduce your child’s problem behavior is to work on strengthening your parent-child relationship? The relationship you have with your child influences his behavior and that’s not all – children in families that spend time together have better social, academic and psychological outcomes. The available research has found that:
- The more kids participate in family bonding activities, the fewer behavioral issues they display
- Close knit families are better able to cope with life’s challenges
- Alcoholic parents are less likely to transmit their alcoholism to their children if the family shares simple activities such as dinner and holiday practices.
Effectively disciplining your child: The power of connection
Discipline cannot work if there is no connection between you and your child. It is not uncommon for children who “feel unloved” to repeatedly misbehave and to push limits in an attempt to attract attention. For example, before applying the consequences of your child’s behavior, make sure she knows that she matters. Show empathy and let her know that she is being disciplined because you love her and want to teach her to react appropriately.
Science says that strengthening the parent-child bond is one of the most effective ways to reduce problem behavior in children who repeatedly misbehave. Here is a free 30-day challenge to help you and your child hang out together every day. The best part – most of the activities need approximately 15 to 20 minutes a day!
3) You use negative labels
What is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect emerged from Rosenthal and Jacobson’s studies. This phenomenon suggests that when you have positive expectations of your kid, these expectations can affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies. The opposite phenomenon—the Golem effect—suggests that low expectations lead to poor performance. Although much criticism has been leveled against Rosenthal and Jacobson’s studies which have remained inconclusive and difficult to replicate, we now know that labels affect how individuals are perceived.
How using positive labels can reduce child discipline issues
We all tend to act in line with what we believe is expected of us. “Aggressive” kids will continue to act aggressive when they are consistently described as aggressive. “Hard working” kids will continue to put in effort when they are made to believe that working hard is a fundamental part of their nature. Negative labels reinforce negative behavior. The words you use to describe your child shape his behavior.
Replacing negative labels with positive ones will ultimately change how you view your child, his behavior, and how you react to it. While positive labels help build up your kid, they do not mean you should excuse bad behavior. Your aggressive kid is not a born leader, nor is your sloppy kid an artist. Hiding behind labels to avoid dealing with behavioral issues does your kid no favors.
4) You react in the heat of the moment
Reacting in the heat of the moment. We all do it: You’re running late, your daughter is still in her pajamas, you shout to her to get dressed as you’re getting breakfast ready. She does not budge. You start yelling then blame her for your reaction.
Reacting in the heat of the moment may get you results, but not necessarily the ones you want. Yelling at your kid only makes you feel guilty and bad about yourself. It also scares your child. Instead of reacting from an angry place, take a pause first. Disconnect from the situation before talking to your child.
5) You have no clear behavioral expectations
The line between expecting too much from your child and expecting him to give the best of himself is rather blurred: How far should you push him to achieve his goals? Just how much “pressure” is too much and when is it not quite enough? When do you know whether you need to push harder or to loosen up?
Parental expectations have a great impact on your child’s success. In other words, what you believe your child can achieve largely influences his academic, behavioral and social outcomes. What this means is that you have the power to influence the kind of person your child is, and the kind of adult he becomes:
- If you show your child that you believe that he is capable of better performance, he is likely to perform better.
- If you show him that you think he’ll never make it, he is likely to think of failure as a fundamental part of his nature and to put in less effort.
- If you make excuses for his behavior, you will simply give him a reason to behave in line with what you expect of him.
What are your behavioral expectations? What do you consider to be acceptable and inacceptable behavior? What values guide your parenting?Different parents have different expectations of their children. Being clear about your expectations and sharing those expectations with your child will allow you to manage his behavior more effectively.
6) Your child is unaware of the consequences of his behavior
If you want your child to behave better, he must be aware of the consequences of specific misbehavior. This means clearly communicating the expected behavior and the consequences for inappropriate behavior.
7) You allow yourself to be drawn into power struggles
Children will always try to get your attention in positive or negative ways. As they grow older, they will challenge your authority. That’s just the way it is. Your job is to avoid getting drawn into power struggles because they will wear you out unnecessarily.
Getting into arguments with your child about her behavior will not reduce bad behavior. Instead, make sure that she is aware of the consequences of misbehavior, give her a warning when she starts displaying inappropriate behavior, and apply the consequences of that behavior.
8) You have no strategy
No strategy works all the time, with all kids, and for all discipline issues. That is why it is important to establish a “discipline toolbox” with your behavioral expectations and possible positive discipline strategies and consequences. Most discipline strategies fail because they are applied inappropriately. The Discipline Bundle is filled with all the resources you need to establish an effective strategy you can use to address different behavior issues.
9) You forget to take into account your child’s triggers
We know that emotions drive behavior. This means that your child’s “misbehavior” may actually be a reaction to strong emotions such as frustration, anger or fear. We also know that this behavior may be driven by fatigue, hunger, sensory issues or a lack of routines. Determining what affects your child’s behavior can make it easier to manage it more effectively.
10) You are inconsistent
Applying consequences today for behavior that was ignored yesterday is a common discipline mistake. By being inconsistent, you sent mixed messages to your child and reduce your chances of succeeding to eliminate or reduce negative behavior. Having clear boundaries makes it easier for you child to understand what is expected of her.
11) You make everything a big deal
Not all your child’s behavior requires you to intervene. By reacting to everything your child does, you miss the opportunity to show her what really matters in terms of your behavioral expectations. You also run the risk of ruining your relationship. Differentiating between your negotiables and non-negotiables can help increase the effectiveness of your discipline strategy.
12) You humiliate your child
Discipline is not supposed to humiliate your child. As Pam Leo says, “you can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better”.
One 4-year study examined what impact mothers’ harsh discipline practises had on young kids before they joined preschool. The study found that the kids who had harsh and hostile mothers had more behavioral problems at school. A second study found that children who described their parents as authoritarian were more likely to display delinquent behavior over time. In other words, punitive environments can increase your child’s problem behavior.
The thing to remember is that discipline is about guiding your child and helping her adopt appropriate behavior; it is not about humiliation and power games.
13) You overreact
Overreacting is a common discipline mistake that many parents make. This may look anything like:
- Grounding your child for a month
- Throwing an “adult tantrum”
- Physical punishment
- Taking your child’s behavior personally
Your ability to handle your child’s discipline issues calmly determines whether you will succeed or fail in helping her change her behavior.
Overreaction is often a sign that you have not yet identified an effective discipline strategy. Setting clear behavioral expectations and consequences is a first step toward reducing overreacting and adopting a more intentional approach to your child’s inappropriate behavior.
14) You do not practice what you preach
As parents, we serve as models through our direct interactions with our children. Our way of doing things and reacting to different situations teaches them to differentiate appropriate and inappropriate behavior. You cannot talk to your child about excessive screen time when you are addicted to screens yourself.
Being a good role model means adopting the attitude and behavior you would like to see in your child: an empathetic parent = empathetic child; an optimistic parent = an optimist child; an aggressive parent = an aggressive child.
15) You forget that your child is not an adult
Your child’s stage of development dictates much of her behavior. Toddlers scream, want to “do what they want”, and have sleeping issues; many three-year-olds have crazy tantrums; ten-year-olds can drive you crazy with their attitude.
Depending on their developmental stage, children behave in certain ways, and these may be because of various reasons. Some of these include: their inability to deal with big emotions, difficulty following multiple interactions, their need for attention (in both positive and negative ways), and so on. Understanding that kids will be kids, especially when their behavior is not dangerous or harmful to themselves or others, can change how you view and react to it.
If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, The Discipline Bundle will help you determine an appropriate and respectful discipline strategy you can use to reduce his/her problem behavior.