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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
Positive Discipline and Child Guidance
New Page 7
Every adult who cares for children has a responsibility to guide, correct and socialize
them toward appropriate behaviors. Positive guidance and discipline are crucial
because they promote children's self-control, teach children responsibility and help
children make thoughtful choices. The more effective adult caregivers are at encouraging
appropriate child behavior, the less time and effort adults will spend correcting
children's misbehavior. Using physical force, threats and put-downs can interfere
with a child's healthy development and there is strong evidence that spanking can have
negative effects on children.
Family specialists also agree that a perfect formula that answers all questions about
discipline does not exist. Children are unique and so are the families in which they live.
A discipline strategy that might work with one child may not work with another.
Effective guidance and discipline focus on the development of the child. They also
preserve the child's self-esteem and dignity. Actions that insult or belittle are likely
to cause children to view their parents negatively, which can inhibit learning and can
teach the child to be unkind to others. However, actions that acknowledge the child's
efforts and progress, no matter how slow or small, are likely to encourage healthy
Teaching children self-discipline is not easy. It requires patience, thoughtful attention,
cooperation and a good understanding of the child. It also requires knowledge of one's own
strengths and struggles with disciplinary issues. Unfortunately, the only preparation for
most parents is their own experience of being parented. Such past experiences may not
always be helpful in raising today's children.
Child misbehavior is impossible to prevent completely. Children, usually curious and
endlessly creative, are likely to do things parents and other caregivers have not
expected. However, there are many positive steps adults can take to help prevent
misbehavior. (see also: Guidelines
for raising a well-behaved child)
- Set clear, consistent rules.
- Make certain the environment is safe and worry-free.
- Show interest in the child's activities.
- Provide appropriate and engaging playthings.
- Encourage self-control by providing meaningful choices.
- Focus on the desired behavior, rather than the one to be avoided.
- Build children's images of themselves as trustworthy, responsible and
- Expect the best from the child.
- Give clear directions, one at a time.
- Say "Yes" whenever possible.
- Notice and pay attention to children when they do things right.
- Take action before a situation gets out of control.
- Encourage children often and generously.
- Set a good example.
- Help children see how their actions affect others.
Possible reasons children misbehave
If parents understand why their children misbehave, they can be more successful at
reducing behavior problems. Listed here are some of the possible reasons why children
- They want to test whether caregivers will enforce rules.
- They experience different sets of expectations between school and
- They do not understand the rules, or are held to expectations that
are beyond their developmental levels.
- They want to assert themselves and their independence.
- They feel ill, bored, hungry or sleepy.
- They lack accurate information and prior experience.
- They have been previously "rewarded" for their misbehavior
with adult attention.
- They copy the actions of their parents. (see also: Dealing with
Positive discipline techniques
True misbehavior occurs when a child chooses to behave inappropriately. Before you take
action, ask yourself the following questions:
|Is the child really doing something wrong? Is there a real problem?
(or are you just tired and out of patience
No, I am just tired and out of patience today
If there is no real problem, release your stress
away from the child.
Yes, my child is misbehaving
|Is your child actually capable of doing what you expect?
If you are not being realistic, re-evaluate your
|Did your child know at the time that she or he was doing something
If your child did not realize she was doing
something wrong, help her understand what you expect, why, and how she can do that.
|If your child knew what she was doing was wrong, and she
intentionally disregarded a reasonable expectation, your child misbehaved.
Responding to Misbehavior
5 strategies parents can use
||Allowing children to experience the consequences
of their behavior is also called "learning the hard way." For example, Gena does
not put her books back in her school bag after she finishes reading. One day she loses a
book, and therefore must find a way to replace it.
||These are set consequences that follow specific
misbehaviors. The child should be able to see how the behavior and the consequence are
directly related. For example, Andrew, who is a teenager, knows that if he stays out past
his curfew on a school night, his parents will not allow him to go out with his friends
over the weekend.
|If children damage something, they need to help
in fixing it or in cleaning up. If they cause someone distress, they should help in
relieving that. For example, "Now that you made your brother cry, please come
apologize and help me soothe him."
||During time out, children are required to spend
time alone in a specific place that has few, if any, rewarding characteristics. This
strategy gives the child a chance to reflect quietly on her or his behavior away from
others. When giving a time out, be calm and firm. One minute for each year of the child's
age is appropriate. For example, "Hannah, we have talked often about how hitting is
not acceptable. But because you hit Jerry, please leave the playground and go to the Time
Out Table for five minutes. Please think about how Jerry might have felt when you hit
||This strategy can work when you notice that a
child is not following the rules and is being uncooperative. Quickly get the child's
attention and introduce another activity. For example, "Tom, please help me water the
flowers now. You've been riding the bike for a long time and it's now Lena's turn."
Used with the kind permission of the Department of
Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia. Copyright 2000 University of
Missouri. Published by University Extension,
University of Missouri-Columbia.
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
Please read our full disclaimer.