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5 Big-Kid Discipline Dilemmas - Solved!

Fine-Tuning Your Parenting Style

Staying calm, standing your ground, being consistent. They're the hallmarks of good parenting, but also easier said than done. Fortunately, shoring up any weak spots in your parenting doesn't require a whole new personality. With just the tweaks below, you could be in for a much calmer dinnertime.

If you're a screamer:
While alone and relaxed, rehearse a couple of key phrases, such as "After dinner, everyone helps with cleanup," advises Crista Wetherington, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children's Medical Center, in Dallas. This gives you a response to whip out when you're exasperated, so you can avoid emotion-based spouting off.

If you're a softie:
"Pick one or two behaviors that are really inexcusable, and tell your child in advance what your expectations are," Wetherington says. For example: "This week, we're going to work on mealtimes. If you raise your voice, you will be taken away from the table." Stand firm on a single issue, and your child will learn that you've developed a backbone.

If you're a flip-flopper:
"Choose one issue and solemnly swear - out loud, to someone - that you will not change your mind," says discipline expert Betsy Brown Braun. If you start to feel like you're folding, remind yourself that children feel more secure when parents are consistent.

If you're too tough:
For every reprimand, challenge yourself to praise your child three times for good behavior. "If you pick and pick, it makes kids think they can't ever make you happy," Wetherington says. "Children need to learn that they can make mistakes and recover." So when you feel an excessive scolding coming on, ask yourself: Is this absolutely necessary?

If you and your spouse send different messages:
"Whichever parent starts the argument finishes it, and that 'no' wins," Brown Braun says. Couples need to see eye to eye on the big stuff, like whether it's okay to watch TV on a school night, but for smaller issues, agree to disagree.

Suzanne Schlosberg, a freelance writer living in Bend, OR, is coauthor of The Essential Breastfeeding Log.