As a single parent, you bear the sole responsibility for disciplining your children, shaping their behavior, and helping them make good choices. You can't count on having someone else being there to back you up or to help you choose the most appropriate consequences when disciplinary action is needed. So in order to make quick, sound decisions, you'll need to develop a "toolkit" of effective child discipline strategies to choose from. The following discipline strategies, used within the context of a loving parent-child relationship, will help you have a positive influence on your children's behavior.
Establish a Set of House Rules
Testing your limits is a healthy part of your children's growth and development. In order to be an effective disciplinarian, you need to have a game plan in place before they misbehave. What are your expectations? Create a set of 3–5 child discipline rules that apply in all situations. These are the "house rules" that apply at all times (even when you're not home).
Taking the time to occasionally review these ground rules together will reinforce your expectations and help raise your children's awareness of their behavior.
Use Praise to Your Advantage
Genuine praise has a powerful effect on your children's behavior, as well as their overall self-esteem. Regardless of how cavalier your children may appear, they actually crave your approval and the acknowledgment of their achievements. This includes their efforts to work hard at following your directions as well, so make a point of telling them that you noticed. Seek out opportunities to praise them each day.
Develop a Firm and Serious Tone of Voice
It's important for us, as parents, to realize that raising our voices, or yelling, only teaches our children to tune us out. Instead, develop a serious tone you can turn on when you want your kids to know you mean business. This voice is likely a notch or two lower than your regular speaking voice. It is especially effective to turn on this "firm" voice when you're issuing a warning.
At times, our children misbehave because they want us to tell them where "the line" is. Communicating a boundary tells your child that you believe they are capable of managing their own behavior within a certain context. For example, you might say, "You're welcome to play outside, but you must stay in the backyard." Setting boundaries reinforces our expectations and sends a message to our kids that we believe they are capable of doing what we ask.
Redirect and Separate
Sometimes the most appropriate child discipline response is simply redirecting your child's attention. This is especially helpful when you're dealing with sibling rivalry or young children who are expressing their own curiosity, as opposed to directly disobeying your directions. For example, if you don't want your toddler to push the buttons on your keyboard, redirect his or her attention to a different, age-appropriate toy to play with. "Disciplining" your child in this way provides a new opportunity to successfully behave.
Sometimes you can simply ignore misbehavior and your child will learn to modify it on his or her own. For example, if your child is at the market, try saying "I can't hear you when you're whining," and then truly ignore them until the whining stops. Before long, they'll realize that the best way to maintain your attention—which is what they want!—is to curb that unpleasant whine.
Time outs can be an effective child discipline strategy. It means simply removing your child from the situation for a period of time. Select a location, such as a special chair, to be your time out spot. The general rule of thumb is one minute of time out per year of age. For example, a three-year-old would be in time out for three minutes. The main key to using this strategy effectively is to avoid engaging your child in conversation during the time out. You may also find it helpful to use a kitchen timer to count the minutes for you.
Loss of Privileges
Removing privileges is another powerful child discipline tool. When your children begin to outgrow the effectiveness of the traditional time out strategy, you can begin putting toys in time out. As children grow, this might change to removing video game privileges or even restricting the privilege to wear favorite items of clothing. You'd be surprised by how effective this strategy can be! In addition, it is helpful to reinforce the distinction between "privileges" and "rights" as you employ this strategy.
Sometimes it's best just to let the natural consequences of your child's actions speak for themselves. If your pre-teen gets detention at school for talking back to the teacher, don't intervene and try to arrange for a more convenient punishment. Instead, allow your child to experience the unsettling result of the natural consequences. Sometimes that's the best "lesson" in itself.
Behavior modification is when you help your child become aware of a certain behavior by noting their progress on a chart or calendar. For example, if you want your children to take more responsibility for brushing their teeth, you might post a behavior modification chart in the bathroom where they can add a check mark each time they remember. You might agree that after ten check marks, they'll receive a special treat or reward, such as going to the park or playing a game together. As a child discipline tool, behavior modification can be a powerful option to store in your "toolkit" of effective discipline strategies.