Every family has different fundamental beliefs, rules, routines, and ways of handling conflict, but here are a few time-tested and proven techniques that can work for everyone!
Make a list of family rules. Your children can help too! Get their input on what they find is reasonable and important in your home, and even some ideas for logical consequences. Post family rules where everyone can see them. Then, in the event of a conflict or rule breaking, all you need do is refer to the set of rules you wrote together. This takes the onus off of parents as “bad guys” because it’s a family rule. If you worked together to create your family rules, then everyone has agreed they are reasonable. The rules should be simple and to the point, The list should be short (no more than ten) and just your “big ones”, so as not to be overwhelming. Some good rules are: We are kind. We are honest. We do not shout. we keep our promises. We do homework right after school. We do not whine… And so on…
Avoid power struggles or any sort of argument about the family rules. Arguing teaches children the art of manipulation. When you banter about your reasoning, after stating your decision/rule, it can indicate that there is room for discussion. That is fine if there is a possibility you will change your mind. If not, avoid further back and forth. Instead, state your expectations or the rule and then explain/remind them of the consequences for not following through.
Choose your battles thoughtfully. Avoid nagging or setting limits that really aren’t necessary. Determine whether the behaviour is worth making an issue of. Is the behaviour illegal? Unsafe? Destructive? Age-inappropriate? Immoral? Or is it just annoying?
Use humour to diffuse situations when possible. A little humour can go a long way. Keep in mind that humour does not include sarcasm or teasing.
It is important for BOTH parents to be “on the same page” with regard to discipline. Children can easily identifying the “weaker” (less stringent/strict) parent, and an even easier time manipulating that parent. Both parents need to be consistent and willing to work as a team. This applies to all adults who play a big role in the child’s life.
Consequences need to be logical. For example: “You were late coming home the last two nights in a row, so tonight you will not go out, because I am not sure I can trust you to be on time.” Then, provide a positive alternative outcome: “You can try again tomorrow, to show me that you respect our house rules.”
Be sure to settle up consequences immediately. Avoid delaying the consequences by making comments such as, “Wait until your mother/father gets home!”. This undermines the authority of the parent making the statement. Delayed consequences also mean nothing at the time, and children then bank on the hope that they’ll be forgotten.
Avoid shaming or humiliating. This may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often it happens unknowingly. It is important to use discipline as an opportunity to teach. Shaming and humiliating will teach the child that she is not valued. No other good comes of it.
Back up your words, with action. Not following through with consequences, acknowledges your own lack of authority, and your child will soon learn to “tune you out”.
Make sure that consequences are unpleasant, but never harmful or demeaning. If you send your child to her room for 30 minutes and she spends her time there playing video games and talking on the phone to her friend, then she’s really not getting a consequence. If you take away your child’s phone privileges, but your child rarely uses the phone, then that’s not really a consequence either. It needs to be unpleasant, to be a deterrent.
Catch your child being good. A LOT. Praise, compliments, and positive attention will go a long way. Instead of general comments though, such as, “Good job!” or “Wow, that’s great.”, be more specific by saying: ”Wow, you must have studied hard to get such a good grade on your test; way to go!” or “That was very generous of you to share with your sister; that makes me feel happy!” This is more personal to a child.
Lastly, be sure to let your children make decisions. Giving children the knowledge to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and then allowing them to choose, will almost always result in them making good choices.