Disciplining is a difficult job that gets a little easier when children reach the early elementary years.
At these ages, they’ve integrated many of the rules they’ve heard over and over, and they usually behave in socially acceptable ways, needing fewer reminders. Their impulsive exploration slows down and they give more thought to what they’re doing. They also become more capable of listening to reason. Parents of an early-elementary-aged child reasonably expect her to consider other people’s feelings, behave well in public, give of herself, and share with others.
Many adults use the same disciplinary methods their own parents used. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” While teaching children right from wrong is essential, don’t follow the examples of your past if they include spanking or slapping.
Effective discipline is neither harsh nor lenient. Harsh punishment, including spanking and other physical punishment, makes children angry and resentful. They aren’t motivated to change their behavior, only to sneak and manipulate and try to get away with more misbehavior. They’ll think about the unfairness of the punishment rather than their own actions. At the other extreme, discipline that’s too lenient is ineffective. A chronically misbehaving child who only has to say a fast “I’m sorry” or tolerate a brief “time-out” won’t learn to control her misbehavior.
Kids may misbehave because they want more attention paid to their words, interests, and activities. A child who feels left out or unconnected, perhaps because of family problems, a new baby at home, sibling rivalry, or a mother’s return to work, may seek negative attention if that’s all she can get. For example, one sibling may fight frequently with her brother because she feels he gets more of their parents’ time. Then her anger and jealousy might be directed at him.
Sometimes children act out their frustration and sense of helplessness by misbehaving because they’re unhappy, insecure, or unsuccessful in school. In such a situation, parents should talk with the teacher, offer more encouragement, and closely monitor their child’s progress and behavior.
Be flexible and give encouragement and praise to reinforce positive actions. If you worry about how her behavior is viewed by other adults, take comfort in the fact that kids who misbehave at home often don’t misbehave when they’re out. More struggles take place between parent and child than between child and peers or child and other adults. A child who says, “You’re mean!” to her parents usually knows it’s unacceptable to say that to her teacher or her friends’ parents. All people act and express themselves differently in the comfort of their homes.
Discipline is a difficult issue. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior or unsure of your own ability to set limits, take parenting classes on discipline or consult with a professional who understands child development. Such specialists can help guide you in the appropriate direction.