“I don’t love you anymore,” your little one screams as you exert your authority to keep her from doing something unsafe. You know she’ll be back soon with a different attitude, once she forgets you ruined her fun, and you hope she decides to follow the rules so you don’t have to get on her so often. That would make your parenting job easier.
No one wants to spend time with an undisciplined child. Permissive parents seem to think that allowing the child to do whatever he wants reduces conflict and keeps him from getting angry, according to Dr. Laura Markham, child psychologist, mom and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.” Unfortunately, it allows the child to get into many unsafe and unhealthy situations that parents should curb. The child doesn’t understand why he isn’t liked or wanted by peers or adults or that he can’t have everything he wants instantly. That creates a very unhappy child, and later an unhappy adult.
Disciplining your child is an act of love, even if she doesn’t immediately understand that. She learns that her actions have consequences and she can choose whether the consequences are positive or negative by following or ignoring the rules. She learns to deal with not getting her own way and to consider someone else’s desires besides her own. She can become a well-behaved child that adults and peers alike enjoy having around or she can behave like a brat and get the discipline she needs to pull her back in line.
The purpose of discipline is to teach the child to choose appropriate behavior. You do this by creating an inner voice that directs your child to make appropriate choices even when you aren’t standing over him to ensure he does the right thing. Teaching your child that good behavior has positive effects and misbehavior has negative effects, especially when the effects follow logical consequences, builds that inner voice. For example, if he leaves his bike out on the driveway, Dad might accidentally run over it with the car. If he forgets his coat at home and the weather turns cold, he will either not be allowed outside or he will get cold when he is outside. He learns to think about the cause and effects of his behavior.
Prepare for the Future
Someday your child won’t be a toddler or preschooler and you won’t be there to enforce the limits. Early discipline prepares her for that day by teaching her limits that keep her safe and arm her with a sense of what she should do. Your disciplinary strategy might include explaining why a specific limit is necessary or the logical consequences of defying gravity or the laws of motion. She might not appreciate it today, but one day she will, even if it doesn’t happen until she’s the parent with a child who needs to learn limits.