Disciplining Children -- 10 Common Mistakes Parents Make

July 15, 2015

Are you making life harder than it has to be with your child? Here are some discipline techniques that work!

You told Bella she can't leave the table until she finishes her peas, but she won't eat. Do you make her sit there all night or go against your own word? When it comes to disciplining children, parents sometimes make things more difficult for themselves than they need to.

Here are 10 common mistakes that parents make in disciplining children:

  1. Confusing Discipline With Punishment
    "The goal of discipline is to guide the child to become a responsible, considerate and joyful human being," says Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, founder of Aha Parenting and author of "Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings." Your child just hit his brother? Instead of spanking or yelling, explain that it's never OK to hit and offer alternative responses.
  2. Disciplining While Angry
    When disciplining children while angry, you see your child as the enemy, says Dr. Markham. "This sabotages your goal of correcting the behavior. Your child shuts down when this happens." Children need to know that you love them no matter what.
  3. Not Having a Strategy
    When you react to misbehavior without a plan, you're probably not being effective. Dr. Tom Phelan, a registered clinical psychologist and author of "1-2-3 Magic," suggests you use a counting system. "If Aiden argues when you tell him he can't have a cookie before dinner, say, 'That's one.' If you get to three, your child gets a predetermined consequence," says Dr. Phelan.
  4. Not Paying Attention to Your Child's State of Mind
    Maybe your child acts out when she's hungry or tired. "When fewer or simpler directions are given to a tired and grumpy kid, you'll see fewer problems," says Dr. Pete Stavinoha, a co-author of "Stress-Free Discipline" and director of the pediatric neuropsychology service at the Children's Medical Center of Dallas.
  5. Being Inconsistent
    If you expect your child to act a certain way, model that behavior. Otherwise, you're giving an inconsistent message. "Role-modeling good behavior helps your children avoid bad behavior because you're communicating through action what you want them to do," says Dr. Stavinoha. Remember that kids copy bad behavior, too.
  6. Talking Too Much
    Lecturing rarely works. Dr. Phelan explains that parents often think they can fix a problem by talking, but when that doesn't work, parents often get excited and start yelling. Your children are throwing a football around the house? Simply take away the football, recommends Dr. Phelan.
  7. Bribing
    Your child is making a scene at the grocery store, so you bribe him with candy to get him to quiet down. This rewards the bad behavior. But if you offer the reward ahead of time, such as telling your child that if he is good at the store, he can have a piece of candy after dinner, that's a win-win for both of you, explains Dr. Markham.
  8. Waiting Too Long
    Your children have been bickering in the car, but you just want to get to where you're going, so you say nothing. "When we put up with things too long and end up being pushed to the limit, we go over the edge," says Dr. Markham. The best way to deal with this problem is to stop it before it starts. Separate your children or give them separate toys to keep them occupied.
  9. Not Connecting With Your Child
    "Your goal when disciplining is to get your child to want to do the right thing versus doing the right thing out of fear," says Dr. Markham. Do this by establishing a connection with your child. Let him know that you understand why he misbehaved and that you love him no matter what. Now he's open for your correction and guidance.
  10. Not Praising Good Behavior
    "Praise is very powerful, but most of us don't say anything when we're happy," says Dr. Phelan. When you notice that your children have been playing nicely, tell them how proud you are of how well they're playing together. "A positive relationship gives you a favorable advantage and makes all your parenting strategies more effective and potent," says Dr. Stavinoha.

Back to the example of Bella not eating -- a better approach is to not set up a power struggle in the first place. If your child won't eat, shrug it off and say, "I see you're not hungry." Then take her plate away and tell her she can have something at the next meal or snack time.

Laura Agadoni is a parenting writer and mom whose articles have appeared in various publications, including Modern Mom, The Penny Hoarder, Tom's of Maine, Global Post and Livestrong.

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