By: Justin Harrison
Boys will be boys, and little girls will be little girls. Acting up is natural for children as they develop their identity and become more comfortable in their environment. But what do you do when the child goes too far, and decisive discipline is in order? Of course, you want to use the right amount of corrective energy, and not risk damaging the child's self-esteem. On the other hand, you're probably leery of spoiling the child or setting them on a path of bad behavior.
As most child psychologists will agree, the major priorities of discipline are to keep your child from hurting themselves and others, and to teach the child a basic understanding of morality, or right and wrong. To paraphrase an old saying, discipline begins at home, and good disciplining habits begin with teaching the child a healthy respect for your parental authority. While of course all children are individuals and it's impossible to create an all-purpose timetable, experts recommend you start asserting your authority as early as six months. It's important in these early months to set priorities and to stay consistent - early discipline and boundaries are largely the template on which a child's future behavior will be based.
Priorities should reflect you goals for raising a happy, well-adjusted, obedient child. Many parents choose to reserve the strictest punishments for harming or bullying other children, disrespecting property or parental authority, or willfully causing harm or damage to animals, others, or belongings. Moderate discipline is used for when the child doesn’t follow by set rules - observing the proper bedtime, refuses to eat food provided or take medicine, and failure to do chores or work. For very small children, some acting out is to be expected and to a certain extent tolerated. For many children between the ages of two and three, repeatedly saying "no" to everything is a natural growing impulse and should be tolerated. Similarly, children may act out without meaning harm, and parents need to exercise the utmost discretion in determining what is willfully bad behavior and what is a natural consequence of growing pains.
Once your child becomes old enough to read, putting the rules of the house down on paper and posting them is a good way to get your child to understand not just your rules but also a sense of fair play and equanimity. You should also consider what type of punishment - grounding, lack of privileges, time out, etc - will be levied against what type of rules infraction in advance, and stick to this policy over time and between siblings. Children understand and indeed even crave structure, and nothing undermines their respect like seemingly arbitrary discipline. Setting your policies and sticking to them actually helps your children to behave.