We've all seen them: the out-of-control toddler hurling handfuls of sand at the park; the whiny-voiced 3-year-old begging for candy in the grocery line; the sassy 7-year-old yelling "you can't make me!" at the restaurant.
And we've privately dissed their parents, reassuring ourselves that we'd never be such a wimp if our child was terrorizing the playground or disrupting everyone's dinner.
But then it happens: the massive meltdown that takes you completely by surprise. And suddenly you are that parent — the one flailing to figure out what to do. The truth is, every child presents discipline challenges at every age, and it's up to us to figure out how to handle them.
Why is discipline such a big dilemma? Because it feels like a tightrope act. On one side there's the peril of permissiveness — no one wants to raise a brat. On the other side there's the fear of over-control — who wants to be the hardliner raising cowed, sullen kids?
What we need is a comfortable middle ground to ensure that our little ones grow up to be respectful, caring, and well behaved.
First, the ground rules
To set the stage for discipline success, here are the bottom-line rules many experts agree on:
1. We're all in this together.
Right from the start, teach your kids that your family is a mutual support system, meaning that everyone pitches in. Even a baby can learn to "help" you lift her by reaching out her arms, says Madelyn Swift, founder and director of Childright
and author of Discipline for Life, Getting It Right With Children
2. Respect is mutual.
One of the most common complaints parents and kids have about each other is "You're not listening." Set a good example early on: When your child tries to tell you something, stop what you're doing, focus your attention, and listen. Later you can require the same courtesy from her.
3. Consistency is king.
One good way to raise a child with emotional strength? Be consistent and unwavering about rules and chores, says Harvard professor Dan Kindlon, author of Too Much of a Good Thing
. Even if you pick just one chore to insist on, your child will be better off, Kindlon says. "Being firm and consistent teaches your child that you care enough about him to expect responsible behavior."
4. Life's not always fair. We're so afraid of disappointing or upsetting our kids — too afraid, say some discipline pros. "If a child never experiences the pain of frustration — of having to share a toy or wait their turn in line — or if they're never sad or disappointed, they won't develop psychological skills that are crucial for their future happiness," says Kindlon.
Wednesday: tools of the trade, real examples, real parents, real solutions.