The following is an excerpt from an article by Jeffrey Bernstein. Dr. Bernstein will be the keynote speaker for MCCA’s Counselor Breakfast in February.
As both a father and a clinical psychologist for the last 20 years, I'm all about setting healthy behavior boundaries for my kids and giving my children "consequences" when necessary. I also make sure my kids show me the respect that all dads are due. But as a "yeller in recovery," I learned the hard way that shouting at your kids and issuing commands does little to stop defiant behavior. In fact, it tends to fuel defiance. Many older fathers I've counseled over the years have shared with me that their deepest regret was being too tough on their kids.
We dads tend to have an innate thinking pattern of discipline as the way to "show my child who is boss" or "make him pay for his mistakes." I'm all for supporting your parental authority and having your child be accountable for his negative actions. But you must consider discipline a way to teach your child rather than a way to control him or her. This is the only way to make discipline work for you.
Before you can discipline your child effectively, you must first have the self-discipline to understand your child. Understanding your child is just as important, if not more important, than loving him or her. Think about how many adults have felt loved but not really understood as children. You may even know some.
Consider the origins of the word "discipline." It comes from the word "disciple," which, of course, is a person who receives instruction from another person. Dads who have what I call a "punishment mentality" don't teach their children to make positive changes in their behavior. Instead, these dads use shame, and intimidation to influence their kids to behave differently. Nothing will fail more quickly when trying to encourage positive changes in your defiant child than blindly and rigidly adhering to this approach.
Here are six smart strategies for disciplining your child:
1. Set a good example. Like it or not, you're a role model for your child. If you want to teach your child that being inflexible won't help resolve conflicts or problems, then don't be rigid yourself. Remember, yelling is nothing more than a grown-up temper tantrum.
2. Be consistent. Consistency is critical to effective discipline. If you give an "if, then" statement, you must follow through with the "then" part. Many fathers complain to me that they are just too tired to follow-up on their "thens." But the more consistent you are, the more you will conserve your energy in the long run because you'll be putting a stop to the misbehavior.
3. Try to understand what fuels your child's defiant behavior. Over the years, I've seen countless fathers give consequences without ever considering why their children's problematic behavior occurred in the first place. To set consequences that make sense to the child and support the kind of behavior you want to support, you must understand why your child is acting the way he or she is. work. How many times have you seen a child with overly strict parents act out-or become lost?
4. Take emotion out of the equation. When you give consequences to your child, be firm and non-controlling-and, above all, stay calm. How can you give consequences and still appear noncontrolling to your child? Trust me---the more emotion you take out of discipline, the more effective it is.
5. Use consequences that make sense. When most dads hear the word "discipline" they think of "consequences." This usually means taking away privileges. This may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many mothers and fathers forget that children learn from consequences only if they know that what they did was wrong. Yes, many defiant children know that their actions are inappropriate. But this is not always the case.
6. Make sure your consequences come on the heels of your child's misbehavior. The "wait till your father gets home!" school of discipline is a bad approach. Delayed consequences just give defiant children time to rev up and become more likely to avoid taking responsibility or their actions. Immediate responses that occur soon after misbehavior are much more effective. outside of school.
Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD., is a child and family psychologist and executive coach in Exton, Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books on parenting, including Liking the Child You Love (2009).