How to Discipline Your Child – 4 Tips for the Proactive Parent

Val Mullally

September 28, 2017

how to discipline your child

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How to discipline your child must be one of the most frequently asked parenting queries. We love our kids but there are times when we feel like we are saying the same thing over and over again and getting nowhere. How to set limits in a fair way that gets the results we need? Every parent would love to know the secret to effective discipline but each situation and each child is unique. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to parenting!

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But there is one thing I can say for certain whatever your situation, and whatever the temperament of your child – it’s easier to hold the limits you want if you think ahead of time about how to discipline your child and what is the long–term goal you wish to achieve.

It’s much easier to discipline effectively when you’ve already thought about how you will respond when your child’s behaviour is challenging. It makes sense that you’ll find it earlier to handle discipline issues when you focus on being proactive – clearly set the limit before things careen out of control.

Here are four practical tips from my parenting book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t” that help parents take steps to positive discipline before you lose the cool or the behaviour gets out of hand.

# Tip 1: Use gerunds to remind children of the behaviour you expect

family at restaurant

Gerunds are short phrases, said in a firm, friendly tone. When you repeat it often, it reminds your child of the behaviour you expect.

For example, when you eat out at a restaurant you might say ‘sitting nicely’ or ‘good table manners’. It’s a short, specific, gentle phrase which reminds your child of what you have discussed at other times about the behaviour you expect.

So rather than a stream of negative instructions: ‘Pull your chair into the table. Eat your food over your plate. Take little bites and empty your mouth before putting more food in your mouth. Don’t kick the chair,’ instead say ‘Sitting nicely.’

A gerund is a brief, friendly reminder to your child of the behaviour you expect.

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# Tip 2: Word instructions in the positive

Boy Watching Television

When you say, “Don’t run’” your child hears “Run”, so rather turn the statement around into a positive statement of what you do want. For instance, instead of saying, “Don’t run,” say, ‘Walk.’

Likewise if your child is standing in front of the television when you’re trying to watch it, rather than saying, ‘Don’t stand in front of the TV,’ say something like, ‘You can come and sit next to me and watch TV or you can play on the other side of the room.’

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# Tip 3: If your child is busy, give a few minutes warning when it’s time to end that activity

Young couple swinging daughter between them

This is important if your child is engaged in what he’s doing. Say for instance the children are rough and tumbling with dad. Everyone is bouncing around madly and now it’s time to stop. Like slowing a car, you don’t go straight from fifth gear to first. Slide down through the gears. Gradually ease the level of the play. Warn them play will stop in a few minutes.

Encourage less energetic movement, like arranging the pillows on the bed – and gradually ease them into ‘second gear’ and then into ‘first’. A gradual shift down in the energy of the play can help move through a transition in a pleasant and cooperative way.

#Tip 4: Give clear instructions

Use a firm, clear tone of voice and eye contact to show you mean it. I remember watching a father rough-and-tumbling with his son. It was time to end the play. “Please stop now,” Dad repeatedly requested whilst his son continued to bash him relentlessly with the pillow. The son was not getting the message that the game was over because Dad wasn’t making it clear.

Use a firm, authorative tone of voice, clear body language and eye contact so your child knows what is expected. This is not a time to use ‘please’. ‘Please’ is a request, which may be ignored. You are not making a request, you are setting a limit.

Sometimes your child may ignore your instruction because he doesn’t register it. If you yell instructions at your child over your shoulder as you dash out the door they will go unheeded. Rather, move into arm’s length, make definite eye contact and address your child calmly and clearly by name, and give the instruction or request.

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When Your Child’s Behaviour Is Challenging

mother yelling at child

Keeping these four tips in mind can help you stay in a calmer, more positive frame of mind at times when you are wanting solutions on how to discipline your child.

If you have been finding yourself yelling then you might find 10 simple ways for parents to stop themselves yelling at kids useful.

Knowing how to discipline in a proactive way is important because how we deal with challenging behaviour can have a life-long impact on our family relationships and our child’s self esteem.

That’s why I took over three years to write, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t”. I wanted to give parents the essential tools I’d discovered in over thirty years of working with children and being a parent – tools that work when you are serious about wanting to create a calmer, more harmonious home.

You can download your Kindle or paperback copy of  “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t” now from Amazon.

Over to you now. Do you find it easy or difficult to discipline your child? Tell us in the comments below. 

How to Discipline your child

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Like this? Share it with your network!

Published On: September 28th, 2017 / Categories: For Parents / Last Updated: March 31st, 2021 / Tags: , , /

About the Author: Val Mullally

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Val Mullally focuses on activating your inner wisdom in work, parenthood and life. She is an accredited Parenting Coach, Professional Reflective Practice Facilitator and founder of Koemba Parenting. She offers Parenting courses (both face-to-face and online), and is available as a workshop facilitator and a keynote speaker. Val is author of: 'BEHAVE - What to Do When Your Child Won’t’, ‘Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer, Happier Parenting’ ‘Baby and Toddler on Board – Mindful Parenting When a New Baby Joins the Family’ and ‘Ancient Wisdom for Business Success – How to Lead with Courage, Clarity and Confidence’ She is currently co-authoring ‘In Defence of the Naughty Child - Understanding Sensory Sensitivity’ and will be speaking on this topic at TEDx Wexford on 11 August 2022. Val spent many years in Southern Africa, where she worked as a teacher, principal and trainer in Education. She and her husband now live in the place her heart calls home, in their traditional Irish cottage in North County Cork, Ireland.

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