A good discipline plan is built on clear expectations, consistency and parental warmth. The goal of a good discipline plan is to stop ineffective behaviors and increase positive ones so that a child will grow up to be a functioning well adjusted adult. Self-discipline only develops when a child is taught how to think and behave through parental modeling, consistent instruction and emotional warmth.
Corporal punishment, usually spanking, is employed by some parents who feel it is the only thing that works. In truth, spanking does more for the parent than it does for the child. Spanking gives parents a powerful feeling of control but in fact does not stop bad behavior. The fact that a parent and child are in my office seeking counseling is evidence that the parent feels out of control and the negative behavior hasn't stopped.
What happens too frequently is that children learn to lie to avoid a spanking or they figure out how to get even with a parent. This diverts the focus away from learning positive behavior. I prefer to help parents identify target behaviors specific to the child's developmental level and then match rewards and consequences to shape the behaviors that will serve them in the real world. If a child leaves her bike in the driveway and it gets run over, that is a real world consequence. Spanking would not add anything to the learning experience.
Behavior is learned over time and repetition is required in order to achieve mastery. Those who learn to type do so by receiving some form of training, whether it occurs in a classroom or it is self-taught. After practicing what they have learned, typing becomes quick and accurate. I have never heard anyone say that he or she was hit by the boss for not typing fast enough. I have heard some say they gained or lost an opportunity for advancement based on performance. Consequences need to flow from this logic.
From the day a child is born, his parents begin shaping the behavior and attitudes he will take into the adult world. A deliberate and methodical approach that parents discuss and agree upon in advance and then apply consistently is the most logical and effective approach.
Spanking is reactive and usually emotionally charged for the parent and the child. It brings fear into the relationship that is not necessary and in fact can be damaging. I have talked to many adults who recall their own upbringing with spanking bitterly even if they understand that their parents were only doing what they were taught to do.
When spanking is threatened, the goal becomes to avoid a spanking, not to make a better choice or change a behavior. It detracts from the goal of discipline by raising the emotional level so high that the new decision making process is based on self-preservation not self-discipline.
I have found it helpful to have parents come up with 3 or 4 house rules and post them on the refrigerator. The goal is to set the overall tone of the home. Values such as honesty, kindness, peace, cooperation, doing things the first time asked, and patience can be incorporated into the rules. From that short list, parents then spell out the expectations and responsibilities for each child. Every good employer has job descriptions for employees. Each child should know what is expected of him or her. Then, a list of self-applied rewards and consequences can be developed to match responsibilities. Self-applied means that the child knows exactly what will happen, good and bad. It is written in the plan. Emotionally reactive parenting is greatly reduced. Parents should feel free to change and fine tune the plan as needed, but changes need to be made as a parenting team and the children need to be informed.
My goal was not to demonstrate a detailed discipline plan, but instead to suggest a way to help kids develop behavior that will serve them well for a lifetime while preserving warmth and respect in the parent-child relationship.