Effective Discipline to Prevent Child Abuse

By Dawn Shewmaker, HAFB Family Advocacy

There are literally thousands of books written by experts that describe how to get your child to do what you ask.  All of these resources exist because not every solution works each time, for every child.  Not all children respond to discipline and redirection in the same manner. For example, some children can be redirected with a clear and simple request, while others seem to need additional support and an on-going reminder of what is expected of them.  As a result, parents have to try different tactics to see what works with each child.  And, what works when a child is five years old may not be effective when he or she reaches age ten.

Of all the possible methods parents use to discipline their children, one of the least effective is corporal punishment, i.e. spanking.  There is no research that shows spanking to be an effective form of discipline, just the opposite in fact.  Spanking can cause children to feel embarrassed, angry, and vengeful.  As April is Child Abuse Prevention Month it is a good time to remind parents and caregivers that discipline should be used as a tool to teach a child to think about any unwanted behavior and why it was inappropriate.

Rather than using discipline, consider trying positive reinforcement.  Although people may gravitate towards monetary rewards or gifts, positive reinforcement can be free.  Spending money on children every time they do something well can not only be financially draining but can deprive children of quality time with their parents.  It can also teach children to value material things rather than relationships. Simple rewards parents can use include things like choosing a game to play with the family, picking out the television show or movie to watch, one hour of alone time with a parent, choosing the “food theme” for supper, or not having to do one chore for an evening.  Simply acknowledging your child when they make good choices can be a powerful reinforcement of good behavior.

If you are going to use discipline, remember children of different ages respond to different consequences.  Clinicians suggest keeping their ages in mind when handing out consequences.  Infants and toddlers are too young to understand long explanations.  Time outs are effective for toddlers – e.g., sitting quietly for one minute of each year of their age – in response to something negative they might have done.  It is very difficult for them to sit still and stay focused for long periods of time, which may result in parents feeling more frustrated than before the time-out.  Time outs are also beneficial for parents.  Know your limits! When you feel yourself getting frustrated, make sure your kids are safe, and, if possible, take some time to cool off.  Sometimes, it is better to wait a few minutes before you do something you regret.

Children need to be held accountable to their designated responsibilities. Kids who are avoiding their responsibilities often try to engage parents in emotional discussions, causing parents to become frustrated. The focus should remain on the child’s non-compliance, not the parents growing irritation and impatience. Providing children with matter of fact stipulations of their actions keeps the communication simple and clear. It also significantly minimizes the child’s attempt to challenge their parent.

Children need to know they are loved unconditionally, and parents need to know they can enjoy their children.  Effective discipline can meet both of these goals.

Keeping the Peace is sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Bedford, a representative group of citizens interested in ending violence in families, communities, and beyond.  Dawn Shewmaker is part of the Family Advocacy Program at HAFB, a constituent member of VPC. The VPC meets the first Tuesday of every other month at 8:00 a.m. at First Church of Christ Congregational, 25 the Great Road, Bedford.  For more information call 781/275-7951.

Contact:  sueb@bedfordma.gov


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