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SALT LAKE CITY — According to the American Psychological Association, the three primary goals of any parent should be: making sure your child is healthy and safe, preparing your child to live a productive life as an adult, and passing on cultural values.
In order to raise your child using the APA’s goals, it’s likely you’ll have to employ a few different methods of discipline to keep him or her on the straight and narrow. It's also likely your methods will change as time goes by and for each child.
Using discipline effectively includes catering it to fit the child’s stage of development and age. Putting your tween in a "time out" will probably not adequately modify his or her back talking, but taking away electronics likely will. The same goes for grounding your toddler from attending that play date next week: It just won’t work because it’s not age-appropriate.
So how do you discipline a child according to age and stage? Here’s a breakdown of some methods that will successfully work for ages 2 to 12:
The first thing that all parents should understand is that bad behavior from this age group is totally normal. According to Dr. Joan Simeo Munson, Ph.D., “A child between the ages of 2 and 6 does not have the frustration tolerance, the language skills or reasoning abilities that an older child or an adult has.”
Knowing that the language and reasoning skills in this age group are not developed, it’s important to keep the discipline simple and easy to understand. Many things a child needs to be disciplined for in this age group are related to the safety of the child or others, so it’s important to act quickly.
Christa Hines, mom of eight from Provo, UT, realizes that it’s important to act swiftly when her 2-year-old son runs into the street. She immediately pulls him to safety, then gets down to eye-level with him and tells him that he cannot run into the street. After that, she brings him into the house and away from the danger.
As with any age, but especially this age, it’s important to establish consistency in discipline and to let your child know that you’re in charge. Your child will feel safe and secure when there are established routines and rules. You may need to help children in this age group to follow through, so be prepared to offer multiple reminders.
Your 6- or 7-year-old now has the pressure of school and social situations bearing down on her or him. Many of the behaviors you’ll need to discipline for are related to these new experiences.
Since children in this age group want to be more independent but still need help, you should encourage them to look for better solutions to a problem. If your son or daughter is sent the principal for arguing with another classmate, find out why it happened and help your child to talk through alternate ways it could have been handled.
Children this age are better at controlling their impulses, but they still have a hard time waiting for rewards. It’s important to reward your child immediately for good behavior, like keeping his or her room clean. Katie Steed, associate clinical professor of BYU's Counseling Psychology and Special Education program, and mom of three, says, “You have to praise and give attention to the behaviors you want to see increase. It’s so easy to correct a child when he does something wrong, but is he getting the same attention for the things he’s doing right?”
Children in this age group are becoming aware of how they compare with their peers and will be prone to back talk and become sensitive to comments. Although he or she knows right from wrong and can follow through on expectations, there will still be plenty of opportunities for guidance and correction.
It’s important to use natural consequences with this age group. If your son refuses to collect his dirty laundry and bring it to the laundry room, don’t wash it. If your daughter forgets her homework at home, don’t bring it to the school.
In addition to using natural consequences, in situations where there maybe isn’t a clear consequence, use the opportunity to talk with your child and come up with a consequence you can both agree on.
Back when your tween was a toddler, you established that there were clear rules and boundaries and that you are in charge. It’s time for a reminder, so make sure you clearly set expectations for chores, homework, privileges and behavior outside of the home.
Instead of using "if-then" statements in a negative way, turn it around. Try saying, “If you finish putting away your laundry, you can go to your friend’s house” instead of, “If you don’t put away your laundry, you’re not going to your friend’s house.” Simply wording it a different way can turn behavior into an incentive.
Taking away privileges at this age is a great way to make your tween rethink breaking the rules again. Put a time limit on it — one day is usually enough — and take away electronic devices, spending time with friends, or any other privilege that means a lot to your child.
Regardless of your child’s age, modeling appropriate behavior is the best way to teach your child to handle many different life situations. If you hit, expect your child to hit. If you yell, you can expect that from your child too. As a parent, the most important discipline tool you can have under your belt is to talk the talk, and walk the walk.
Jennifer Lambert, a graduate of BYU, is a freelance writer, editor, and mom in Provo, UT. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org