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Discipline Mistakes That Parents Often Make

Discipline Mistakes That Parents Often Make

There is no instruction manual on being a parent. So much of it seems made up on the fly! Because of the impromptu nature of the job, every parent makes mistakes when it comes to disciplining their children.

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Here are some areas where you can make small adjustments and make a big difference in the effectiveness of your discipline.  

Adults & Children Experiencing Discipline

What we share in this article can be summed up nicely with the following:

  • The ways YOU prefer to receive feedback and correction as an adult are very, very similar (if not exactly the same) for children.
  • The inverse is also true — children are confused and upset by the same kinds of bad correcting behaviors that you are.

To drive this point home, all of these points will have an example for kids and an example for adults. Seeing them side-by-side makes discipline a lot less confusing.

Now, we understand a child does not have the brain of an adult. (Reasoning with a 2-year-old? Forget about it.) Regardless of the developmental stage they are in, the overall assertion remains the same that there are behaviors that humans respond well to and behaviors that (at best) are confusing or (at worst) are damaging.

4 Common Discipline Mistakes 

These are the most common mistakes that parents make as it relates to disciplining their children.

1. Inconsistent Discipline – This is when parents fail to enforce rules consistently or apply different punishments for the same behavior. Inconsistency is confusing and undermines your authority as the parent. Your child might wonder, “If the rules seem to be completely arbitrary, then are mom and dad really in charge?”

  • Kid Example: Liam (4) knows that he gets 30 minutes of time on his tablet a day. Some days, his dad sets timers and tablet time ends in exactly half an hour. Any whining or complaining on Liam’s part is met with stubborn resistance from dad. But on other days, especially when dad is distracted or tired, Liam spends three or four times his normal allotment on screens.
  • Adult Example: Linda misses a deadline at work, and the boss is irate. For the next project, she scrambles to meet the deadline with time to spare. But when her boss finds out, he says it’s not a big deal and she can extend the next deadline if she needs it.
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There are two good ways to address disciplinary inconsistency: parental diligence and communication. 

  • For parents, being consistent is hard and demanding. Being engaged and motivated to enforce the rules that are important for your family is a full-time job. But consistency makes children feel safe. There’s no guesswork or anxiety when a child knows there are lines that can and can’t be crossed.
  • On the other hand, don’t turn every molehill into a mountain. Communicating that life is a little unpredictable to your kids is important. Screen time is a perfect example. If you’re going on vacation and screentime in cars or on airplanes is going to be something that keeps everyone happy and a pleasant “splurge” for your kids, communicate that! Explaining that spending hours on screens every day is bad for them but occasionally spending more time on them during special times of the year helps them understand that this isn’t inconsistency on your part.

2. Overly Harsh Discipline – Punishing a child too severely or using punishments that don’t fit the behavior can damage a child’s self-esteem and create a hostile parent-child relationship. 

  • Kid Example: Kayla (5) accidentally knocks her mother’s favorite coffee mug off the table and breaks it. As punishment, her mother takes one of her favorite toys and breaks it, too. 
  • Adult Example: Paul and his father get into a heated disagreement. Afterward, his father sends out a family text saying the upcoming family Thanksgiving is canceled because of Paul’s behavior.

Harsh discipline is often doled out in a moment of anger. Before declaring anything, take the time to cool down and think about how you want to deal with the situation.

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Disciplining too harshly creates a big emotional divide between a child and a parent. If a child isn’t sure if a tiny mistake will incur a huge punishment, anxiety, depression, and a propensity to lie are all potential outcomes for them. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that overly harsh discipline is associated with an increased risk of anxiety and depression in children.

So what’s the line for “overly harsh”? The quickest and easiest way to evaluate that is to ask the question, “Does my child feel shame for what they’ve done after I’ve punished them?” If the answer is yes, it’s automatically too much. Disciplining a child in front of large groups of people or bringing up their mistakes to other people in front of them are both examples of overly harsh discipline that parents may not recognize.

The next easiest way to answer that question is to ask, “If I was receiving this punishment from my boss at work or a friend/family member, would I think it was over-the-top and hurtful?” If the answer is yes, the same is most likely true for your child. 

3. Ignoring Positive Behavior – Focusing solely on negative behavior can create a negative environment and discourage positive behavior.

  • Kid Example: Ricky (3) has had difficulty sharing. There have been many moments where he’s received a timeout or other punishments because he refused to share. But any time he puts in the effort to share, his father doesn’t say anything or acknowledge that he’s trying. 
  • Adult Example: Emily knows her sense of style is unconventional, but she doesn’t think it breaks any rules in the workplace. Her boss thinks differently and reminds her of it frequently. For an entire week, she decides to follow the dress code to the letter to show her boss that she’s listening to her feedback. However, her boss doesn’t acknowledge her effort once in the five days. 
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For your child, only focusing on their bad behavior makes you a judge. Ignoring positive behavior can decrease the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. But if you can remember to call out their good behavior when you see it and encourage them when you know they are trying, you’ll transition from judge to coach. 

4. Not Listening to Your Child – Dismissing your child outright — even when you’re positive you know the whole story — can make them feel alienated and stoke resentment toward you. 

  • Kid Example: Kenslee (5) never gets a word in while her dad is correcting her. Many times, he assumes things instead of asking her what’s happened. This often leads to her being dismissed or getting punishment she doesn’t deserve.
  • Adult Example: Aaron never walks out of a meeting with his boss feeling heard. Each time, he knows his boss has a set idea of what needs to happen moving forward. Any suggestions Aaron has or any information he shares that might refute what his boss is saying is dismissed or ignored.

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Being ignored or dismissed makes anyone feel helpless. For kids especially, it can discourage communication and increase the likelihood of behavior problems. According to a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, parental responsiveness is associated with better behavioral outcomes in children.

Discipline and shaping your child’s behavior is one of the toughest jobs a parent has. It’s so necessary … but also so demanding, draining, and overwhelming. But you’re not alone, and no one is expecting perfection. If you read this list and realize you’ve been off course with some of your discipline tactics, the best thing to do is accept it without beating yourself up. Talk to your kids about things you want to change and even apologize to them. Not because you’re a bad person — you just didn’t know! 

Now that you do, go forth and keep being the superstar parent you are.

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