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Tactics for parents who are discipline pushovers

August 30, 2012
By Sue Junge , Times-Republican

For many years, my husband did some traveling for work and wasn't home much during the week so I was the one "in charge" for pretty much everything. And especially when it came to disciplining our children. They were pretty young at that time, but I had to try several different approaches for each child, many times ending in "just wait till your dad gets home!" And then by the time dad got home, the incident was forgotten and reprimanding the kids was the last thing he wanted to do when he hadn't seen them for a while. But I was not a softie on them for sure, but I have seen many parents who DO have a lot of trouble when it comes to disciplining their children. has some great suggestions for those of you who have trouble disciplining their young children.

Play Deaf - Want to make sure you don't hear "poopyhead" a dozen more times today? Pretend you didn't hear it the first time. Kids crave attention, so making a big deal out of minor misbehavior will only reinforce that it's an effective way to get your attention. Many times children will scream and flail on the floor to get what they want, if possible and you are sure they are safe, just walk away. When they see that their crying isn't affecting you, they generally will stop.

Childproof Your Day - If you flounder when your kid has a meltdown, put the odds for good behavior in your favor by thinking ahead about their needs and keeping environments child-friendly. Going to the grocery store seems to be "ground zero" for tantrums and acting out. Spend a few moments before you go dreaming up some distractions (a fun story to share or word games) which can make a tedious errand more bearable for an antsy kid - and prevent you from having to play disciplinarian. For very young children, you may bring some small toys or books so they have something to do while sitting in the cart.

Give a Choice - Have your children ever ignored you when it's time for bed? Try giving them a choice, "would you like to go to bed on your own or be escorted?" If they want to be escorted, take their arm as if they are going to ball and with an accent, lead them down the hall. Having options seems to make children more cooperative. Offering control over small decisions (leggings or tights? two books or three?) will help even a younger child feel that her desires are being taken into account, just make sure you're offering options you can live with (don't offer, "Put your dirty clothes in the hamper or wear dirty clothes" if you won't actually send your kid to school with stains on her shirt). Another upside: It helps kids learn to make good choices. If your 4-year-old decides to skip gloves in the dead of winter she'll probably make a different decision next time, and you won't have to be the bad guy.

Be a Master Distractor - Your toddler doesn't want to get in the stroller? Sing "Twinkle, Twinkle." Songs work wonders; when my 1 year old granddaughter doesn't want to have her diaper changed, I start a song and she immediately smiles and tries to do the hand jesters with me. Your preschooler and his pal are squabbling over a toy? Break out some Play-Doh. It may seem elementary, but for young kids, especially under age 4, taking their focus off the heated subject at hand works wonders - better than scolding and punishments. Even for older kids, humor or a change of pace can go a long way toward deflecting tension.

Pretend Play Before the Behavior - It's still possible to instill good behavior through old-fashioned play. If there's a situation that tends to elicit tantrums or whining - sharing with a sibling, sleeping alone -"practice" the behavior you want to encourage by role-playing with your little one. This will give your kid a hands-on, visceral understanding of exactly what you'd like to see from them. For example, demonstrate what a quiet, calm body looks like at bedtime: head on the pillow, eyes closed. Through this method your child will not only learn the right way to behave (such as waiting for a turn to talk), but they'll also enjoy demonstrating what not to do (interrupt Mommy loudly and persistently) and taking a turn playing the softie in charge while you try on the role of the kid.

Setting Rules - Much of the heavy lifting of discipline comes before misbehavior happens, not after. Having a few well-thought-out guidelines will result in fewer instances where you need to be the bad guy. First, be realistic. Setting reasonable expectations means first understanding what your child is developmentally capable of. For instance, 3-year-olds lack the maturity and social awareness to share consistently. If you insist on sharing at this age, you'll only end up fighting them. For additional info on age-appropriate behavior, go to Second, know yourself. Only set rules that you're willing to go to the wall for every time, like no hitting. You may dream of a world where your kids make their bed each day - but if you know you'll give in when they push back, scrap bed-making as a requirement or amend the rule in a way you can get behind (such as saying that beds must get made but you'll help). And last, make it official. You may call a family meeting to collaborate on a few essential house rules that everyone can agree to. Let kids contribute every step of the way - offering ideas, decorating the list, and choosing a spot to post it. Then, if they break a rule, you can direct them back to the agreement they helped create.

Try a few of these suggestions; you may still be a discipline softie, but you will have a child who's actions reflect that their parents have taken the time to teach them appropriate behaviors and respect.


Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit



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