April is National Child Abuse Awareness month. Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the U.S., which can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional/mental maltreatment. Some parents choose to use corporal punishment as a discipline tactic for misbehavior – and since this approach involves inflicting physical harm on a child, there can be a fine line between corporal punishment and child abuse.
Since one of your most important jobs as a parent is discipline, it is important to understand how discipline differs from punishment. Discipline should be viewed as a positive way to teach children how to behave. Used correctly, proper discipline can help kids build self-esteem, develop self-control, learn respect for themselves and others, express their emotions in an appropriate way and become more self-reliant.
Why do children misbehave?
Children misbehave for a variety reasons. Often kids misbehave simply because they are experiencing physical discomfort or are just tired. They may misbehave out of frustration or a desire for attention. Many children have difficulty controlling their impulses, especially at younger ages. Some will try to challenge rules and test limits. As a parent, how you respond to their misbehavior teaches kids how to act next time in a similar situation. For example, if your child pleads long enough, will you give them the toy they want? If so, they have learned what method they need to use to achieve their desired result.
Here are a few parameters to consistently employ when thinking about discipline:
Set limits and guidelines. Children look to their parents to provide the boundaries and rules they should follow. Specifically state your expectations so that any potential misunderstandings are avoided.
Be consistent. Enforcing the same rules without fail lets kids know explicitly what the boundaries are.
Start early. Laying the groundwork early with young children regarding discipline will pave the way for an easier path for everyone as they mature. Be a role model. There is no substitute for spending time with your children and modeling the behavior you want to see in them.
In general, it is important for parents to take a positive approach to discipline. When possible, focus on what kids should be doing instead of solely on what they’re doing wrong. Take the time to explain the reason behind why you are taking a certain action. Choose what battles are important. Don’t ask a question about an issue that is not up for debate. For example, don’t say “Are you ready for bed?” if what you mean is “It’s bedtime.”
Rather than using physical punishment, try these strategies as a discipline tactic:
• Loss of privileges – take away games, phone, screen time, car, etc.
• Grounding – take away outings with friends, social events, etc.
• Parental disappointment – let your children know that if they misbehave, how saddened or upset you will be with their actions
• Restitution – reward good behavior by returning items or restoring privileges
• Time out – give children a one-minute time out for each year of their age
Recognizing your own limits
All parents can lose their temper at times. In the event that you begin to yell or think you may harm your children, walk away. It is okay to tell your children that you are upset and need a time out. Once you are calm, return to handle the situation in a mature manner. Providing effective discipline can be a tough part of parenting and no one is perfect – but it is possible to be consistently fair-minded, firm and loving all at the same time.
Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Beech Acres Parenting Center
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)