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 Positive Discipline

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PostSubject: Positive Discipline   Wed 22 Oct - 3:36

Positive Discipline
By Joe Whitehead, Parents' Source, September 20, 2001


Positive Discipline. For some of us this phrase is an oxymoron. When we were kids, we were positive we wanted to avoid discipline. In fact, hearing the word "discipline" may evoke thoughts or feelings about being punished. On the other hand, if the phrase were presented as "positive guidance" we would likely have an association with teaching or learning. Indeed, positive discipline involves guidance, not punishment, and means of teaching children what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable within the family and in the world outside the home. It teaches with consistency and respect, so that what the parent asks of them makes sense. Positive discipline supports children in developing a positive sense of self-worth as valued individuals. Further, discipline, as guidance, can actually be proactive by teaching children what to do and how to behave before problems occur.
When we become parents, our methods of disciplining our children may reflect our experiences in our families of origin. Some people who grow up in an atmosphere of harsh physical punishment may perpetuate those practices in their own families. Their refrain may be heard as, "My parents (hit, spanked, whooped, and so on) me, and I turned out okay." However, they may have forgotten their emotional reaction at that time, and the shame that often accompanies such instances. Also, when they are unable to respond directly to physical punishment, kids may act out their feelings by fighting with siblings or talking back to teachers in school. In addition, belittlement and verbal barrages can lead children to tune out their parents. Other people who grew up in similar circumstances may vow to work to overcome tendencies toward harshness and succeed in doing so. Still others who have experienced respect, fairness, consistency, and guidance have a firm base upon which to pass on those powerful lessons.
Even in the earliest stages of the parent-child relationship, adults have opportunities to lay the groundwork for positive discipline that can carry through their child's teen years. This groundwork relies on developing communication within a caring, dependable relationship. A few tools that facilitate communication include using words your child can understand at their developmental level, physically getting down to their eye level when offering guidance, being specific as to what your expectations are for their behavior and how they can meet those expectations, and telling your child when you make a mistake in your parenting. It can be a handy attribute to be humble. Not only will our children naturally make mistakes in learning acceptable behavior, but we as parents will not get it right all the time either. Most importantly, spending time with and listening to your child every day will strengthen your relationship and facilitate communication when problems arise.
In addition to communication, positive discipline requires that your expectations match the capabilities of your child. For instance, while food shopping may not be on your top ten list of favorite Friday night activities, it probably is not in the top 100 for your young one. Therefore, expecting a placid, meandering trip with your child through the food aisles may be unrealistic. Planning ahead for games of "I Spy," "I'm Going On a Picnic," or, when permissible, bringing along a book or travel game to occupy your child can help the trip go more smoothly.
Can you remember being caught doing something wrong when you were young? How many times? Now, how often were you caught doing something right? Hmmm. Though being proactive in your guidance may feel unnatural, give it a try. When passing through a room where your children are happily playing a game, offer up, "Hey, you two are really doing a nice job of taking turns." While you may initially stun your kids, your specific praise might increase the frequency of this behavior that you like to see. It sure beats, "You had better give him a turn!" after you are approached by a tearful toddler asking you to resolve the transgression.
Another cornerstone of positive discipline actually lies within the parent's behavior. The "Do as I say, not as I do," approach is not very effective in guiding your children toward the desired behavior. Imagine a child's confusion after being spanked and scolded, "Don't hit your brother." Similarly, think of a parent, cigarette in hand, lecturing their teenager about the health risks of smoking. As the most important person in your child's life, if your words and actions do not match up, then what you do or model for your child will speak volumes more than what you say.
Finally, as a parent, it is important to consider that you may not, and do not have to have every answer regarding your child's behavior. Acknowledging and accepting the need for help from outside your family can be an invaluable first step in sorting out and resolving difficult problems. Contact a family support groups, mental health professional, or local mental health association when your family needs help

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