Guidelines for making positive discipline work in your home

Taking Action
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Few parenting topics are more controversial than the subject of discipline.  It seems everyone has an opinion on how to make children behave.  But are we making this all harder than it needs to be?

As we continue our special ‘Taking Action for Families’ series, we turn our attention to the concept of positive discipline.

“I think we look at discipline as this big, angry, ugly word out there and I’m trying to let parents know it’s a positive word,” said Babette Powe of the National Children’s Advocacy Center.

Babette Powe works with the Healthy Families Program at the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville.
Babette Powe works with the Healthy Families Program at the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville.

As someone who works with parents in the Healthy Families Program at the National Children’s Advocacy Center, Powe has given a lot of thought to discipline.

“I don’t like the word, my child is being bad.  I like – the behavior is unacceptable, and we need to teach them what is the appropriate behavior. Before we can teach that, we need to know what is appropriate at that age,” said Powe.

For example, you can’t expect a 3-year-old to behave in the same manner as a 6-year-old.  You also can’t expect each child to react the same to different discipline techniques.

Joy Davis has learned that in her journey as a parent and foster parent.

“We’ve been stumped on a regular basis with each of them,” said Davis. “We thought we had it figured out with my son and then he hits a new age or a new learning curve and it throws us completely off track into a new one.”

But, the Davises always make sure their children know the consequences of their behavior.

Joy Davis
Joy Davis talks with us about her experience using discipline with her children.

“You will have to sit in your room or go in time out or lose the tablet or, if you do this so well, you earn it back,” Joy said.

Powe says time outs and taking things away can both be very effective methods of positive discipline, if done correctly.  With time outs – as a general rule, these should be one minute long for each year of age.  So, a 4-year-old should spend four minutes in time out, with the time starting only after the child has calmed down.  When time is up, ask the child to tell you why he or she was in time out and remind them why the behavior is unacceptable.

As for taking things away, whether a toy or a tablet, the time-frame is important.   A couple of hours or a day can work.  A couple of months won’t.

“If you’re going to take something away, it’s not to break the child and break their spirit, it’s just to teach them that there are the privileges they have to be able to earn,” said Powe.

But what if mom and dad aren’t on the same page with discipline?  What if they’re not even in the same home?

“A lot of times, you can’t control that other household. So, I just say – in this household, this is what we do. And sometimes if that other parent sees you modeling something they will try to look into that,” said Powe.

Finally, Powe believes not every small act requires action.  Sometimes just a talk about why it’s wrong is enough.  After all, our children aren’t perfect — but neither are we.

Here’s the bottom line.  For any discipline to be effective, parents need to clearly communicate their expectations.  Children should know the rules and know the exact consequences if they break them.  Also, be consistent.  Discipline won’t work if it varies based on your mood at the time.

Also, it’s worth noting most research shows discipline is ineffective starting before the age of three.  Thursday, July 16 on WHNT News 19 at 5:00 p.m. we’ll look at keeping children safe at every age — as we continue our special series.

We’ll also host a special Taking Action Line for Families.  From 4 to 7 p.m. experts from the NCAC will be here to take your calls and answer your parenting questions.  We’ll post the number to call at 4 p.m. on WHNT.com, Facebook and Twitter.