The most effective discipline plans are proactive not reactive.
What this means is that the worst time to come up with a discipline strategy is when you’re angry.
Why is this? Because we don’t do our best thinking when we are angry. Parents tend to give consequences that are not easily enforceable when they are angry. Even worse, sometimes they give consequences that are more a punishment to them than they are to their child. For instance, grounding your teenager for the next six months because of a bad attitude or coming home late for the third time in a row. When you’re mad you don’t think about what it’s going to be like enforcing that consequence. Most of the time there is no follow through of the consequence once the parent isn’t angry any more. Your children know this and count on it.
To make matters worse your child believes they’re getting a consequence simply because they got you angry. Consequently, they focus on your mood rather than on their behavior.
A better strategy is to establish rules and consequences for breaking the rules that are reasonable and because they are reasonable they are repeatable. That way you don’t have to keep on coming up with a new consequence every time your child breaks that particular rule. This can only be done when you were calm, cool and collected.
Children respond much better when they can accurately predict what is going to happen in any given situation. When they get consequences that they can’t predict they feel blindsided and victimized. When the rule and the consequence have already been established, the responsibility is on them because they knew the rule and the consequence before they broke the rule. This was their choice.
By the way, don’t expect them to be happy when they get consequences. You are not happy when you get consequences. Why should they?
You can even sympathize with their position and tell them that you’re unhappy that they are unhappy. Just make sure you follow it up with, “I know you will be much happier when you don’t make the same mistake again and so will I”.
Okay, let’s put this all together.
You find yourself yelling at your child every day because they leave their “stuff” laying in the middle of the living room.
This is the time to make a rule. “If you leave your stuff laying around the house you will have to pick up everything, bring your stuff to your room and stay in your room quietly, without toys or electronics for 20 minutes for each item and I will let you know when the time is up.”
Remember, you have to enforce the rule every time, “as sure as the sun rises in the east”. Your child has to believe that this will happen every time they break the rule for the rest of their lives.
Very often things will get better rather quickly. However, a couple of weeks go by and the child breaks the rule again. At that point and very quickly, if the parent doesn’t enforce the rule everything slides back to the way it was before the rule was established.
Children will always test limits. However, if the limits are fair and consistent, your child will have a sense of security and trust in you as a parent and as an authority.