Doctor mom blog explores child discipline and how to avoid reinforcing unwanted behaviours
Doctor mom blog explores child discipline and how to avoid reinforcing unwanted behaviours

As a parent I realize how challenging child discipline can be and the importance of consistency. I have talked previously about methods of discipline and parenting that I try to practice with our daughter (and encourage my patients to try) including positive reinforcement parenting. Another tactic I try to avoid is reinforcing unwanted or challenging behaviour with Madi. Sometimes it can be tempting to give in when Madi is going into toddler-melt-down, but giving in and throwing her the iPad sometimes makes the acting out behaviour happen more frequently. As often as I can – I try to stick to my guns and avoid reinforcing or rewarding unwanted behaviours in Madi.

Try your best not to reinforce or reward unwanted or challenging behaviour. 

Sometimes it can be hard to stick to your guns when parenting and enforcing child discipline. But children are smart and often will learn how to “call your bluff.”

For example: if your child throws a tantrum because you took away their iPad – do not give them back their iPad to stop the tantrum.  This being said, I will be honest in admitting there have been times that I have given in and given my daughter her iPad back in an attempt to abort the melt-down, but I try my best in general to not reward her challenging behaviour. 

In the example above: if your child keeps failing their school subjects because they are skipping classes and not doing their homework, do not reinforce this challenging behaviour by rewarding your child with privileges they usually receive when they behave well (ie: allowing your child to keep their phone).  Rather, inform them that the phone privilege will be taken away, and they will have it back when they earn back the privilege.  

Don’t punish or discipline your child for something that is outside of their control. 

Punishing your child for something that is outside of their control may confuse them.

For example: if your child got a 30% on their exam because they were really really struggling to learn the subject. Or if your older child has wet the bed in the middle of the night. These are circumstances that may be outside of your child’s control, and they may need your support.

If a challenging behaviour keeps occurring in relationship to something your child does not have control over, try to help them overcome this barrier. 

For example: if your child keeps getting 30% in math because they simply don’t understand, try to help them learn, and allow them to keep their privileges. (I never did well in math during elementary school and my aunt tutored me on weekends).

If your child misbehaves, explain objectively, with examples, why you are taking away a privilege.

Removing a privilege when your child acts out or misbehaves may help to avoid reinforcing unwanted or bad behaviours.

For example: if your child is skipping school and not handing in assignments, then fails their math test, explain to your child why you are taking away their cell phone privileges.

For example, you could say: “You have skipped 5 classes this month, and did not hand in your homework on 3 occasions.  You now have received 30% on your test.  We had an agreement that you could have access to your cell phone if you maintain grades above 75%.  Could you please return the cell phone back to me.”   

When you take away a privilege as child discipline, allow your child to earn it back

When your child misbehaves (everybody behaves badly sometimes) give your child a clear path to earn-back any lost privileges or rewards.  Giving your child an incentive and a way to earn back lost privileges may motivate them to change their behaviour.

In the example above: this could try saying something like “If you go to all of your classes over the next 3 weeks, and get over 75% on your next quiz, you can have your phone privileges back”

Remember that enforcing child discipline is challenging and we all slip up

As many of you know, parenting and enforcing child discipline is hard work. I try my best to not to reward Madi when she is acting up, but there have also been times when I have given in to unwanted or challenging behaviour. In general, I try my best to practice what I preach and find that my daughter responds well to rewarding and reinforcing her good behaviours, and when I do my best to refrain from rewarding her bad behaviours.

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