Dr. Cindy Taylor

Clinical Psychologist

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Home Parenting Articles Discipline and Parenting

Discipline and Parenting

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Children need limits and structure.  The typical ADD child needs more of that than others, but all children need limits.  They need for you to lovingly set rules and be consistent.  Do not lie to your children.  If you tell them you are going to discipline them, then do so.  Do not make idle threats with children or it will be difficult for them to trust you in other things.  Make sure the children know where they stand with you.  Make sure they know right from wrong and what will happen if they choose the wrong thing.  Consistency is important in this one.  They need to receive consequences every time they do the thing you have told them not to do.  Many parents will react and punish their children out of frustration.  They’ve just hit their limit and are tired of arguing with the child and will then punish them.  Discipline, and thus the child’s future behavior should be based on what is right and wrong behavior, not on the emotional state of the parent.  Too often children begin responding to the parent’s emotions and not to whether their behavior fits within previously stated rules or not. 

As a society, we have rules.  We do not need our children behaving however they wish as long as nobody is around to get angry with them or to see them.  They need to get a firm sense of what is right and wrong and learn that there will be consequences every time they do the wrong thing.  This is how children learn to be  responsible and behave appropriately when the parents are not around.  They learn right from wrong instead of how to predict a parent’s reaction and emotional state.  This is how codependency can develop later in life - always watching and anticipating the reaction of others.  Children who have no discipline at all begin to feel anxious and depressed.  They do not know where the limits are and they do not know what will happen if they do certain things.  They attempt to experiment anyway because they are curious, but if an adult is not present to lovingly, but firmly teach them and administer consistent consequences, the child becomes nervous and uncertain. 

Children are like adults - when we do not know what to expect or how to anticipate the situation, we feel a little nervous.  Over time, children can become very worried and anxious and feel very out of control in their environments without consequences.  Structure and limits help bring a sense of safety and security to the child.  Children who know they will consistently receive discipline for an action also develop a sense of internal control.  They are responsible for their actions and environment.  They have control over what happens to them.  Much research has been done on individuals with depression.  They develop what is know as “learned helplessness.”  This comes from environments where natural cause and effect relationships are not
present.  For example, if the child is not doing anything wrong and dad comes in drunk or in a bad mood from work and yells at the child, then the natural cause and effect relationship is not in place.  In this case, the child has had no control over the situation, or has been helpless.  If this happens repeatedly, then later in life, when this individual is in a situation where he or she actually does have control, he or she will not attempt to exercise it because it has not been helpful in the past.  

There was a famous study done by a researcher where he administered painful electric shock to two dogs.  One of the dogs could stop the shock by turning its head a certain way in the harness.  The other dog had no control over the length of the shock.  His shock only turned off when the other dog took the right action.  In the following experiment, the dog who had no control in the first experiment was placed in a cage which was divided into two parts.  One side had shock coming from the floor and the other side did not.  The dog had only to walk to the other side of the cage to escape the shock.  Unfortunately, this dog did not move at all.  It made no effort to attempt to escape because it had not been able to control what happened to it in the first experiment.  The experimenters surmised that the dog had been taught to be helpless. 

Many adults in horrible life situations, abusive relationships, bad jobs, or unfulfilling lives have learned to be helpless.  They have learned early on that what they do has little or no effect on the situation and at some point in their lives, they have stopped trying.  Let your children know that their behavior counts -- in one way or another they will get a consistent reaction from you.  If they do well, praise them.  If they do the wrong thing, discipline them.  Take the time to instruct your children on what your expectations of them are and always remember to separate the child from the behavior. Do not ever tell children they are stupid or bad, tell them their  behavior is bad and that they have the ability to correct it.   

Parenting is not an easy task, but well worth the effort.  Hang in there and remember- you don’t have to be the perfect parent.  Your children will know your heart, too.  If you love them and are honest with them, many mistakes can be forgiven.    

Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2014 23:57  

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