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Help Your Children Develop Self-discipline

Help Your Children Develop Self-discipline

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By Debra Habedank, Director, Center for Child Development, NDSU

Children’s misbehavior can be frustrating to adults, but we also can see it as an opportunity to teach, a chance to model self-discipline and character. Emo­tional development, like other learning, takes time when given learning opportunities. And children, being the excellent imitators they are, will follow our example, for better or worse.

If we yell at children, they will yell; if we hit them, they will hit. We get better results when we discipline calmly and teach our children to express their feel­ings in acceptable ways. Here are a few ideas to help children develop self-discipline:

  • Be clear and consistent. Set and discuss rules and consequences. Rules should be clear, simple and few. Some like having only one basic rule: You may not hurt yourself, others or things. For exam­ple, to stop a child from hitting another child, kneel and calmly state, “You may not hit your friend. People are not for hitting.” Then add, “I know you are angry. Can you tell me why?... OK, how can you let me know that you want to use his toy when he is done?”
  • Offer choices. “Do you want to brush your teeth now or after we read a story?” “Would you like milk or juice with your snack?” Remember, only give choices you can accept. Even simple choices will help your child feel more in control and, therefore, better able to cooperate.

Ignore certain behavior, such as cursing or stomping, if it is not harmful. A child will learn quickly that he/she will gain nothing by acting out. On the other hand, the child will learn that “right” behavior gets results and a favorable reaction from adults. The point is, recognize and attend to be­havior you want to encourage rather than behavior you don’t want to encourage.

No more “no.” Keep it positive. Both parents and children get tired of hearing “no” all the time. Too many nos lose their meaning and do not help a child learn what will get them a “yes.” Positive statements teach children what is appropriate.

Telling a child what not to do is not enough; you also should teach better alternatives. Picking up on “right” behaviors and complimenting the child immediately is important for parents. Catch your children sharing, helping other children and dealing with frustrations by using their words and not their hands.

No matter what we adults do, children will have times when they lose control. Aggressive acts call for an adult to step in and negotiate the situation between the two children. Helping each child share his or her story of the situation and then asking, “How can we make it better?” allows children to arrive at their own solution and not totally depend upon an adult to solve the problem for them.

All children misbehave at some time; it’s part of finding out what appropriate behavior is and where the limits are. As parents teach children appropriate behavior, what the expected rules and boundaries are all about, remembering the goal of discipline is important. Discipline means helping a child develop self-control and a sense of limits, and learn from his or her mistakes.

Source: Adapted from Family-Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs by Diffily and Morrison: print/Ref_About_Discipline/

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