Children should not be allowed to hurt themselves or other people (verbally or physically) or destroy property. They must learn how to control themselves instead of depending on other people to control them. Discipline is really about building self-control.
Children Making Choices
The process of learning self-control and self-discipline is linked very closely with how a child feels about themselves and their relationship to the world. It's important that we help build and strengthen children's ability to determine for themselves what's right and wrong, and how to control their own behavior.
It's wonderful when we can count on children to do the right thing because they want to, not because they have to. It's very important to provide as many opportunities as possible for youngsters to make their own choices and decisions. But whenever we give a child a choice, we should be prepared to honor his decision. It's also very important for children to experience the consequences of their decisions. In addition, helping them stick to decisions once they are made teaches youngsters to make responsible choices. But not everything is a choice; not everything is negotiable. Sometimes we have to say "no" to children and mean it.
Foundations in Infancy
The foundation for self-discipline and self-control begins with infancy. It's important to guide and discipline children so that they feel supported and valued, not judged and rejected. Warm, nurturing relationships plus firm controls combined with the reasons for rules help promote self-discipline and self-control in children. We can help by being consistent with children in words and deeds. Children appreciate knowing just what the rules are at home or in the classroom. That way they know where they stand and the consequences of their behavior.
It's important to approach aggressive behavior according to the age of each youngster. Children behave differently at different ages. Physical aggression of one kind or another is very common in the early years. It is an unavoidable part of the developmental process. Preventing problems before they start is the ideal thing to do. Here are some tips that can help prevent incidents of harmful aggression before they start:
- Position yourself so that you are able to see a large area of the room or play yard.
- Rather than suddenly stopping an activity, warn children in advance that time is almost up.
Our goal is to teach our children how to solve their own problems since, as adults, they won't have a teacher or a parent to settle their differences. There are two general rules that may help you decide when to intervene: Ask yourself, what is the likelihood of someone getting hurt or property being damaged? If trouble is really brewing, be decisive. Take action yourself before the child does.
Six Steps of Intervention
There are six steps to follow when intervention is necessary:
- Warn the child and redirect him, if he will accept such redirection. It's important to help the child understand that his behavior is up to him. It's his choice but if he chooses to continue, you'll carry out your warning.
- If necessary, remove the child promptly and keep him with you. If he persists in doing what he has been told not to do, act calmly and promptly. Remove him and insist that he sit beside you, telling him he has lost the privilege of doing whatever he was doing.
- Discuss feelings and rules after a reasonable period of calm. This is a very important part of handling a discipline crisis because once the child knows that you understand how he feels, he won't need to keep on showing you how he feels.
- Be sure to involve the child in the decision when to go back, because taking responsibility for his own behavior is a crucial part of instilling self-control.
- It's important to help the child be successful when he does come back, so that he has the experience of substituting acceptable for unacceptable behavior. It will probably be necessary to take a few minutes and get him really interested. Be sure to congratulate the child when he has settled down.
- If he goes back and does the same thing again, we have to go through the steps again. But after that, he has to choose another place to play.
"Time out" is certainly an improvement over spanking, yelling or shaking a child, but it still has its drawbacks. First of all, it's easy for a child to feel emotionally abandoned when she's sent off by herself. Besides that, we frequently become involved in secondary struggles when the child tries to sneak away and we have to catch her. Also, many time-outs go on too long, either because it's such a relief for us to have the child removed or because we forget she's there.
Letting off Steam
Some kinds of aggressive behavior are common during the early years and there is much we can do to help children let off a little steam. One way we can help is to provide plenty of large motor activity and other opportunities for children to use up their energy. In some situations, noise can also be an excellent outlet for expressing aggression. In addition, there's nothing like pounding play dough or hammering on the workbench to relieve stress, tension and aggressive feelings in a child.
Recognize Our Flashpoints
It's particularly important for us to recognize and control our flashpoints. Let's teach ourselves to model self-control. Once we've stopped the action, say to the child, "Wait a minute--I need to think this over before I decide what to do about it."