Without hesitation, he responded, “I don’t need three wishes, only one. I wish that when my parents said ‘no’ they really meant ‘no.’” This teenager, like all children, needed firm and consistent boundaries from his parents. His parents’ failure to provide these boundaries left him searching for others who had the courage to do so.
As I said in last Sunday’s column, 95 percent of all discipline should be focused on the prevention of misbehavior. This means that 5 percent of the time you will face the unpleasant task of correcting misbehavior; enforcing boundaries. Even though unpleasant, good parents understand this and don’t avoid this responsibility. They understand that when corrective discipline is necessary, this, too, can be an opportunity for valuable learning. All children need appropriate boundaries. Some accept these boundaries readily while others test and/or challenge nearly every boundary. Don’t disappoint them by being inconsistent, unfair, or unsure. Know your role as a parent and be ready to act in the best interests of your child. The steps below should be helpful.
Correction of Misbehavior:
Step 1: Meet your Child’s Needs: Like the first step for preventing misbehavior, even when you find it necessary to correct misbehavior ask yourself, “Is my child’s misbehavior a sign that his needs are not being met?” If this is true, attempt to meet those needs. This may make the next step unnecessary.
Step 2: Communicate: Clearly communicate why the behavior is unacceptable. Maintain a “strength’s orientation” by affirming that you believe he can do better. “You knew that it was wrong to cheat on the quiz, but you did it anyway. I know that if you study, you won’t need to cheat.” “Staying out after the time we agreed upon caused your mom and me a lot of worry. I know you can do a better job at watching the time.” “Saying such mean words to your sister never helps you get what you want or need. I know you can speak kindly and I’m sure that will work much better.”
Step 3: Natural Consequences: Whenever possible, allow your child to suffer natural consequences. “If you cheat on a quiz, you don’t learn the material.” “If you stay out after our agreed upon time, we become worried, frustrated, angry, and resentful.” “If you are mean to your sister, she won’t want to play with you.”
Step 4: Logical Consequences: If natural consequences fail to work, logical consequences become necessary. Logical consequences are related to the natural order of life. “If you cheat on a quiz, you should receive a zero.” “If you stay out after our agreed upon time, your actions will create conflict with your mother and me.” “If you are mean to your sister, you will have to play by yourself.” Allowing a child to suffer logical consequences teaches valuable lessons about the order of society.
Step 5: Inflicted Consequences: If logical consequences fail to work, inflicted consequences become necessary. The two best types of inflicted consequences are “Time Out” and “Deprivation.” Time out means insisting that your child sit for two minutes for each year of life (i.e., a four year old’s time out should be eight minutes; a six year old’s time out should be 12 minutes). Deprivation may mean grounding or removing a privilege. “Since you cheated on that quiz, you cannot continue to play sports.” “Since you stayed out after our agreed upon time, you will not be allowed the freedom to go out next weekend.” “Since you treated your sister meanly, you will sit in time out.”
Whenever step(s) of correction become necessary, remember to focus on the child’s needs and communicate firmly while conveying love and the best interests of your child.