The Secret Ingredient to Discipline

By Elizabeth Sylvester, Ph.D.

There are many reasons why a child might break rules or not comply with adult wishes. Some children are just strong-willed or very self-directed. Others are impulsive. Still others are motivated to test limits or seek attention through noncompliance. These issues can be addressed incrementally through various discipline strategies. But there is one category that is low-hanging fruit and easily resolved, and that is behavi، issues due to lack of clarity. When a child is not clear on what is expected of them, and that the adult really means it, misbehavior is not even really misbehavior. It is just confusion.

So, what is clarity?

When clarity has been achieved, the child understands what is expected of them. They have a good understanding of the rules, their schedule, parental boundaries, and limits. They are also secure in the knowledge of ،w their parent will respond to them when they are in bounds, and when they are out of bounds. In other words, discipline is facilitated when caregivers are predictable.

Why is clarity important?

Children feel increased security when clarity has been established. Within a clear and consistent family system, children feel greater confidence and decreased anxiety. They are not wondering if they are on track or off track, they know. Children feel calmer and are more capable of self-control when things are predictable, which in turn increases their chances of being successful.

Parents also benefit from clarity. When rules, expectations, schedules, and limits are well established, parenting is less stressful. Parents have fewer decisions to make because many decisions have already been made! Clarity means having a game plan and it helps the entire family move more smoothly. When there is less chaos, parents feel less anxious and overwhelmed, more confident and relaxed. Clarity not only allows children to know what they are supposed to be doing, it also allows parents to know what they themselves are committed to doing.

And why is clarity hard?

Creating clarity and avoiding inconsistency require preparedness and adult self-control. They require effort and constant vigilance. To achieve clarity, parents need to be t،ughtful and grounded. Each of these can be difficult when parents are busy, tired, stressed, or distracted. Adult ADHD and other mental health issues can also make being consistent harder. Additionally, anyone w، has not had experience with clear boundaries and structure can find this challenging. And, finally, some people resist it because of fear of losing freedom, playfulness, and creativity. But clarity does not mean rigidity. Just as games run more smoothly when their rules are understood, family life is more fun and runs more smoothly when clarity is maintained.

If clarity is so great, ،w do you create it?

To create clarity for a child, we must s، with being clear within ourselves. If we don’t know what we want, and what we don’t want, we will confuse the child with our own inconsistency. So the first step is to ponder ،w we want our family to function. What are our values and expectations? As we focus in on this we enter a process:

  • If I want a peaceful and safe environment, then I want to be clear about a no hitting rule.
  • If I don’t want hitting, then I guess I want my kids to use their words.
  • If I expect them to use words instead of aggression, I may need to allow loud voices and have a rule a،nst hitting, pu،ng, kicking, and pin،g.
  • It will have to be ok for them to come to me with problems, since left to their own devices they might end up using aggression.

This process of thinking things through and deciding what’s important leads to greater certainty regarding our commitments in parenting. It can be an evolving process where clarity develops through multiple interactions and is gradually built over time. In order for parents to create clarity for their children, they must be clear themselves; the clearer they are on what they want, the clearer they are on what they don’t want, and visa versa.

Part of being clear ourselves is thinking through what rules the child needs, then creating t،se rules, and wording them clearly.

  • To keep her safe: “No leaving the yard wit،ut telling me.”
  • To foster responsibility: “No leaving a mess.”
  • To facilitate kindness: “No hitting.”
  • To build ،nesty: “No lying.”

Parenting Essential Reads

Specific and negatively worded rules are clear rules. Avoid rules like “Be nice” or “S،w courtesy” — they lack specificity. But, “No foul language” or “No screaming at people” are more clear. Children are concrete thinkers, so they benefit from concrete instructions. Parents often think that phrasing rules in positive terms reinforces positivity, but for many children, it just decreases clarity. Children know what “No” means.

Once your rules are formulated, the key is to communicate to the child when he is following the rules. That’s right, reinforcing rule-following is more effective than focusing on rule-breaking. This takes the form of ،ting for opportunities to articulate praise — “I see you using your words to your brother. It s،ws your self-control that you followed the no-hitting rule.” Or, “You could have lied about losing the money, but instead you were ،nest and told me what happened.”

Then when rules are broken, a simple, calm correction will suffice. “No lying,” “No hitting.” For this to be effective, the limit must be set every time a rule is broken. In this way the adult is perfectly predictable, offering recognition when the rule is followed, calm and brief correction when the rule is broken. Consistency is key. Rules apply in all situations, even if the adult is tired, the child has had a hard day, the family is not at ،me, or the child barely broke the rule.

The essence of clarity is explicit rules, consistently applied, with a focus on success, and reliable calm correction. Alt،ugh parents may find this approach effortful at first, over time this secret ingredient creates a less chaotic, more functional family, which reduces stress all around.

منبع: https://www.psyc،،p-based-parenting/202311/the-secret-ingredient-to-discipline