If parents want to have an impact on an unacceptable behavior exhibited by a child, it is important to prevent it from happening or interrupt it when it does. Reacting afterward is ineffective, which is why punishment doesn’t work well.
If you have a child who has a hard time with transitions, for example, you can help by creating cushions of “getting-ready-to-do-something-new” time. These cushions allow your child to get mentally ready to make a change rather than feel off balance by sudden switches. “We are going to need to finish up breakfast in the next five minutes” or “We have about five more minutes before we leave for school” are little preventive measures that will help prime your child to stay on track.
Interrupting a behavior that is out of line can also be helpful. If you see a child is losing control and about to hit, bite, or scratch another child, you can go over and intervene. Interrupting a destructive behavior is limit setting. When you set limits, you can help a child regain control, express his or her feelings, and think about choices and actions.
Effective discipline teaches, and effective discipline leads to conversations about behaviors and connection. A parent’s job is to stay engaged with children even when discipline is necessary, which is not always easy to do. But if parents are harsh and cold, the child feels isolated, powerless, and shamed. The end result of ineffective discipline is that the child hasn’t learned what he or she can do in a given situation, and the parent often feels badly after the fact for reacting in frustration in the moment.
You can help your child regulate emotions and behaviors by using prevention and limit setting. Make eye contact, talk softly, and hold your child gently.