How should a parent discipline their child?

MaggieMay asks: How should I discipline my child?

When Handsome first brought me home from the pound, I had two main interests:  First was Not Going Back To The Pound, and second was CHEWING!  Chewing everything I could get my teeth on, including Handsome’s ankles.  I lunged, I dove, I bit, and I destroyed a lot.  Eventually I started to realize that one of my two main interests conflicted with the other one.  Luckily, though, Handsome read some good books and got a good class, so things went pretty smoothly.

Here’s the trick he found.  To leave dog toys all over the house, and whenever I would chew or bite something I shouldn’t, he’d say “No,” and then grab one of those toys, stick it in my mouth, and shower me with affection and congratulations for being such a smart puppy.  I liked that!  Eventually I learned to, when I wanted to bite or chew, grab a toy instead of the table leg or friend’s skirt I wanted.  Life got much more peaceful.

I see parents making mistakes disciplining their children, where they could learn a lot from this dog-training method.  Disciplining kids is not easy, but it can be simple.  Here are some basic rules I suggest:

First, just like my biting, kids need to misbehave.  It’s part of growing up.  They have to test limits.  When they do so, there’s no reason to take what they say or do personally.  Truly, it’s not about you.  They’ll find ways to push your buttons, but try to relax and see it for the silly game it is.

Second, rules and boundaries need to be CLEAR.  If your kid runs in the house one day and you say it’s okay, and another day he does it and you ground him for a week, he won’t learn the rules; he’ll just think you’re mean.  Set boundaries you can live with, and stick to them.  He’ll still rebel against them, but again, that’s just part of being a kid.

Third, discipline and punishment isn’t the same as shaming.  What I said above about Handsome showering me with affection and compliments?  That’s a great ideal to aim for.  Compliment that kid for being so good.  Even compliment him for understanding when you punish him.  Rewards accomplish a lot, and make discipline a lot easier.

Fourth, a cute line I hear people laugh at occasionally, Pick Your No’s.  Did you have a kid so that your house would always be quiet and peaceful?  If so, you’re CUCKOO!  Learn what you can live with and what you can’t.  For example, Handsome has never been cool with me running across a street to chase a cat; that might be one of your rules too.  Can you make it just ten rules?  Try.  See how few you can have, and then be sure to  stick to them consistently.

Fifth, the S-word.  Handsome never spanked me.  He did heave me through the air once when I ate an old record album cover, but he never spanked me.  And I ended up perfectly behaved.  See, he knew that if I thought a raised hand might mean a spanking, I’d be afraid of hands; maybe I’d be so afraid I’d bite one.  Instead, to me hands are things that pet, that scratch my ears, that might hold treats.  What do you want your kid to feel when you approach?

(Similarly, he never yelled my name when scolding me.  So hearing my name is always a positive feeling to me.  But I know that words like “No!” mean I’d better pay attention right away.)

So I believe it’s possible to find lots of other punishments and consequences (time-outs, removal of TV or Computer time, no dessert, or just a scolding is usually enough).  But if you are pushed to the level where you feel you have no recourse but to spank, here’s the rule that will keep you safe and legal in any US state:  Open-palm, over clothing, on the butt.  And keep it restrained: If it leaves any sort of a mark, you have gone too far! You are liable to be guilty of child abuse!  Again, the three O’s – Open-palm, Over-clothing, On the butt.

And just to reiterate, I learned a lot more from Handsome giving me treats and compliments than from any punishment.

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