An important element of disciplining a child of any age is the tone of voice parents use. When they sound firm and sure of themselves, children often respond well, but when parents are unsure about what limits to impose, their children get mixed messages.
The most effective tone is respectful but firm. Parents should begin setting a limit by speaking in a quiet, polite, firm voice. If that doesn’t work, they can assert themselves more forcefully and speak in an authoritative voice. But yelling at a child is not as effective as firmly stating a limit (although it’s often difficult to keep from yelling). It’s sometimes helpful to stand close to a child, quietly repeating a warning or prohibition.
When disciplining a child, parents should always consider their own anger. Sometimes, when bothered by personal problems, parents may overreact to their child’s behavior. Of course, parents should not be too forceful and harsh when disciplining their child. If the child always loses or is often given negative feedback and doesn’t feel accepted, what incentive does she have to behave well?
Parents who are too hard on their child only encourage her anger and aggression while causing her to feel badly about herself.
It may be helpful for parents to remember their own feelings as children. Were they disciplined harshly? Do they want their child to know the same anger and frustration they once experienced? Parents who felt unfairly disciplined often say they won’t treat their child the same way, but in moments of anger, it takes a great deal of patience to deal with misbehavior in appropriate ways.
Remember that children learn not just from your words, but from your actions. If you treat your child with kindness and respect and show that you value her, she’ll model her behavior after yours. When children feel good, they usually behave nicely and have an easier time accepting the limits you impose. And when children are treated courteously, they learn what courteous behavior is. It’s as important to praise and encourage your child when you’re pleased with her as it is to set limits when you’re unhappy.
As you discipline your child, you should look for the source of her misbehavior; otherwise, you’ll spend time treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. You may see dramatic changes in behavior when you give your child more time and positive attention or when you address situations that are troubling for her: a difficult school year, problems with friends, or uneasy sibling relationships.