The 8 Biggest Discipline Don'ts

Don't make these discipline mistakes.
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In a fit of frustration, you flew off the handle and screamed at your child. Now he’s bawling, you feel guilty and no one has learned any lessons about proper behavior.

This type of disciplinary “don’t” happens to the best of parents, but that doesn’t mean it’s a reaction that should occur frequently. From caving to your little one’s demands to being tempted to spank, avoid these discipline don’ts if you really want to teach your child how to manage his behavior.

1. Don’t Let One Parent Always be the Bad Guy

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting mom--or whomever spends more time with the child--to always be the one to discipline. Or on the contrary, some parents are tempted to say, “Wait until your father gets home!” to avoid disciplining a child. But, letting one parent be the strict disciplinarian upsets the balance of the family.

Naturally, a child who is only punished by one parent will begin to resent that parent, gravitating toward the other parent as “the fun one” or “the nice one.” A child should see both parents equally as disciplinarians and as loving adults.

If one parent stays at home with the child and, therefore, is more likely to be around when a child must be disciplined, make sure the little one knows that the other parent is on board. On the weekends, leave the discipline up to the secondary parent, whenever possible.

2. Don’t Undermine Your Co-Parent

If one adult lays down the law (and a punishment to go with it), the other parent must stay on board, even if she doesn’t agree with it--within reason, of course.

If the punishment harms the child, you’re allowed to have a conversation about why it was applied and why you disagree with it.

Have this conversation away from earshot of the kid, though, as you want to present a united front. Your child needs to know that if mom gives a punishment, he can’t run to dad to have it taken away.

3. Don’t Cave in to Your Child’s Demands

When your little one is throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, it seems so easy to just stuff that sugary cereal or candy bar into his arms, just to get him to calm down. But, as your child gets older, he’ll quickly learn that mom and dad respond favorably (in their eyes) to bad behavior. Then, he’ll have a meltdown whenever he wants something.

It’s hard to stand your ground, but it’s important to teach your child that he can’t get what he wants by acting out. Create rules and stick to your limits. Your child will learn you mean business.

4. Don’t Discipline When a Warning is Appropriate

Some behavior should result in an immediate consequences. If your child hits you, give him an immediate consequence. But, if your child is jumping on the furniture--and she doesn’t know that’s against the rules--give him a warning first.

Tell your child that if she does it again, she will get a punishment. Give a clear if…then statement by saying, “If you jump on the furniture again, I’ll take away your electronics.”  

5. Don’t Forget to use Discipline as a Teaching Tool

What good is handing out a punishment if your child doesn’t understand why they’re receiving it?

If your child bites another kid, sit him down and help him understand how and why it hurts the other person, both physically and emotionally.

If he steals a library book, it’s time for a lesson about why it’s wrong to take things that aren’t his. Only then should you discipline your child, so he understands that the consequence of his actions are what led to the punishment.

6. Don’t Lose Your Temper

Do your best to keep your cool (sometimes easier said than done!) when your child is pushing your buttons. When you’re angry, you could yell louder than you want to, say things you don’t mean or dole out consequences that aren’t appropriate.

Instead, take a parenting time-out so you can calm down before you handle the situation. Head to your own room for a quick breather; if you’re not able to leave the child alone, simply turn around and take three deep breaths before talking.

7. Don’t Make Empty Threats

Much like caving into your child’s demands, making empty threats teaches your child that you don’t mean what you say. If you tell your child that if he screams one more time, you’re going to leave the library and go home, but then you continue to let him look at books after a few more screams, what incentive does he have to listen to you?

Your child will learn pretty quickly whether you mean what say you. So, before you make a threat, think about whether you’re willing to follow through with it. Only provide that warning if you’re sure it’s something you’re prepared to do.

8. Don’t Use Corporal Punishment

Once the favorite disciplinary tactic of parents everywhere, researchers have found that spanking does more harm than good. It undermines a child’s trust and can lead to increased aggression. 

Spanking doesn’t teach a child any lessons, other than a problem can be solved by hitting. On top of all of that, research consistently shows that corporal punishment has no positive effect on a child’s behavior--so, really, all you’re doing it harming your child without anything good coming out of it.

How to Make Discipline Effective

So, with all this talk about what not to do when it comes to discipline, what are some discipline do’s? Do remember to always be consistent in your discipline and explain upfront what you expect from your child.

Reward good behavior; positive reinforcement works much better than negative discipline in changing a child’s behavior and attitude. Finally, model good behavior yourself -- after all, kids learn from what they see their parents doing.