Parents face dilemmas like this almost daily: Mikey talks back when you tell him to pick up his toys. He's been talking back a lot, in fact, and you've had it. After getting your anger under control, you send him to his room. You tell yourself: "He'll think twice before he sasses me again."
The next day in the car, you tell Mikey to stop kicking the back of your seat. But he keeps kicking all the way to the store, then throws a fit when you won't buy him a box of Happy Hyper Flakes cereal.
When you get him home, you put his favorite toy on a closet shelf, sit him down for a time-out, and tell him he won't be allowed to watch his favorite Veggie Tales video all day. But after his time-out there's another confrontation, and you're about to lose your mind. That's when you ask yourself: "What am I doing wrong? Why can't he just behave?" You know you can't go on like this, but you feel like you've exhausted all the options.
We make discipline a bigger challenge than it needs to be, in part, because we tend to equate discipline with punishment. But punishment is only a small part of the process. It's more helpful to think of the positive side of discipline, a word that means "training." In training our children to become responsible adults, we teach them the values and skills they need to succeed in life. It's a positive enterprise.
For example, when a child is rude to an adult, a parent's initial reaction might be to punish the child. But before taking that step, consider whether proper manners have been explained to the child. Rudeness can be replaced with respectful behavior. And in practicing good manners, the child also learns important social skills that she'll use the rest of her life. Where punishment might have solved a temporary problem, training sets behavior on a positive course for life.1