By James Wood, M.D.
Much has been written about what proper discipline is for children. Some think that children should not be disciplined at all, believing that it is too traumatizing to young children. This is misdirected thinking. Let me begin by saying that all children need discipline, some more than others. This is a parental responsibility. This is how children learn right from wrong, good from bad and safe from dangerous. Instituting proper discipline at the right time is how children learn and should not be left to baby sitters, teachers, and other well- meaning people. There may be some crying along the way and this is to be expected. Parents need to be, or should be, the authority figure. Basic discipline needs to begin sooner rather than later, and certainly needs to be in place well before school starts. It is the most unfortunate teacher who acquires a class of children where there was little or no discipline, ever, before the first day of school.
What are the elements of discipline?
Punishment for wrong doing. This should be done right away, as soon after the event as possible. This need not be mean or arbitrary. It could be removal of a desired object or a time out. Please note that a punishment is what you do and not what you say. Also note that a spank or a swat may teach a child that hitting is OK.
Acknowledgement of wrong doing. The child needs to know what they did wrong. Require them to tell you: “what did you do wrong?” Please note: they were wrong, not “bad”.
Require remorse. “I’m sorry that I did ….”
Repair. If something needs to be “fixed”, do it now. For example, be clear about establishing new rules or guidelines.
Reward. Reward for positive performance. Reward (hug) for being a good listener and reward (verbal) the next time the child handles the problematic situation correctly.
Over time, children develop pride in themselves that they know right from wrong, which is an important step towards accepting the responsibilities of being a good citizen.