Ask caregivers about their favorite part of having children, and you'll receive a variety of answers. But discipline probably isn't the top of any list.
Although that doesn't make it any less important.
"Every child is different," says Jamie Nordling, Ph.D., social developmental psychologist and assistant professor at Augustana College. "But every kid needs discipline."
This can be a challenge for the best of parents. Here are a few expert tips to help.
When children disobey or misbehave, it can be easy to let your anger guide your reaction. But this often leads to over-the-top consequences.
We’ve all made a threat to our kids we don’t really intend to keep. (“If you don’t stop yelling, I’m taking away all of your toys.”) The point of discipline is to change behavior, so it's important to ensure that the consequences are appropriate.
"When the punishment is too harsh, kids don’t internalize it," explains Jamie. "Children only remember the punishment."
This may mean that taking a deep breath or leaving the room is a good first step for you. Then, you can let your anger subside before dealing with the actions.
Sue Klingaman, early childhood mental health consultant at Robert Young Center, agrees. "Think about discipline - which is really teaching for next time - instead of punishment."
Sometimes, parents can prevent misbehavior in the first place. For example:
If there's a breakable that is off-limits for your young child, put it away instead of allowing it to be out in the open.
Child-proof areas that are out-of-bounds.
If you know leaving your friends house will be hard for your son, warn him of the upcoming transition. Telling your child what to expect can help reduce tantrums. (i.e. "We will need to pick up in 10 minutes and then we will be going home.")
Be aware of situations that might be hard for your child to cope with. If you know she hasn't had a nap and is exhausted, then a trip to Target may not be in the cards right away.
These are simple ways to set limits without punishment.
Be encouraging of independence.
For many kids, disobedience actually stems from the desire for independence. Your son wants to tie his own shoes or make his own breakfast. Your daughter wants to get the art supplies out herself.
"This is a fight for independence," Jamie says. "And it's something we should encourage."
That doesn't mean you should allow your child to steamroll you. But there are times when you have to give some control over to your kids. This could mean giving your child two options ("Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?"). Both options are appropriate and it gives your child some freedom.
So pick your battles - and still give them independence when it’s appropriate.
Be open about emotions.
Just like adults, kids need to learn to deal with their own emotions. And this emotional intelligence can be as important (or more) than any academic pursuits.
"Focus on social-emotional skills when disciplining," explains Sue. "Ask yourself, 'what does my child need to learn?'"
You may only think that safety issues need to be addressed, but most behavioral issues also provide an opportunity to teach your kids about emtional intelligence. Working with kids to identify and manage their own emotions can help prevent tantrums and even stop misbehavior before it begins.
No child is perfect (And no caregiver is, for that matter.) That means that discipline is an important part of living with kids.
But when done well, consequences can help kids understand limits, manage their own emotions, and even stay safe. And while discipline may not be a favorite part of life for parents, these outcomes make any battles worth it.