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Parents use discipline to guide child actions
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Discipline is one of the most important tools for parents' as they teach and guide children to become moral, independent adults.
Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said discipline comes from the word "disciple," which means a follower, and does not necessarily involve punishment.
"What a parent needs to do is guide children in their learning processes," Davis said. "Discipline is positive guidance. It helps children learn self control and decision-making based on the limits you set."
Davis said parents must teach their children that every action has a consequence, either positive or negative. They can then help the children learn how to make choices that bring positive results.
Part of discipline is providing boundaries and rules. Davis said young and old children push parents, even beg, for limits. These limits should be simple and age-appropriate.
"Children crave the stability that limits provide because they know that a certain behavior is never tolerated, and they can expect their parents to handle a situation the same way every time," Davis said. "Consistency is the key to effective discipline."
She said that within those boundaries, children should be given choices and allowed to make decisions. An example would be to let the child choose from two outfits to wear the next day.
"By giving children a choice, they have some control over their environment," Davis said. "Limit choices to just two options, and make sure you can live with the decisions the child makes."
Teach rules early, starting with simple rules for safety and progressing to rules that guide children into morally and socially acceptable behavior.
"We walk inside. That's a rule that schools have, and it helps prepare children for kindergarten and school," Davis said. "Indoors, we use quiet voices, and our loud voices are for outside. We should be respectful of each other, which means we keep our hands to ourselves and don't hit and pinch."
Parents should teach these characteristics to their children through discipline and their own behavior.
"You cannot instill those things in your children if you're not modeling that behavior yourself. Part of discipline is the parent modeling appropriate behavior," Davis said.
She offered seven principles of discipline in helping parents know how to guide their young children's behavior.
- Tell children what they can do instead of what they can't do, or focus on the do's instead of the don'ts.
- Promote a positive self concept.
- Offer children choices and be willing to abide by their decisions.
- Change the environment instead of the child's behavior.
- Work with children instead of against them.
- Give children safe limits they can understand.
- Set a good example.
"The ultimate goal of discipline is to help children become responsible for their own behavior," Davis said.