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5 Discipline Traps to Avoid


5. Always focusing on the negative

Sometimes I think we parents must sound like the grown-ups in the Charlie Brown specials, all "WahWahWah." And when you've got a kid who has trouble with rules, it can make for a really difficult relationship when all you seem to do is reprimand her.

The solution is to catch your child being good. If she goes a solid 15 minutes without picking on her sister, she should get kudos. Even if it's only five minutes, try your best to notice it. You'll be surprised how effective this can be: It's human nature to like praise, and to want to please the people we love.

This can work for you in other ways, too. As you enter a store, instead of saying, "If you don't behave, I'll be really angry and won't get you a treat," try saying, "We have to get the shopping done, and I need help. If everyone is good and helps me, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home." Think about it: Which would you rather hear?

It's not a bad idea, actually, to ask yourself variations on that question often. What would you rather hear? How would this make you feel? Granted, you're a grown-up, and would probably need to be told only once not to bite. But asking yourself questions reminds you that your kids aren't just crazy beasts put on this earth to make you insane (although it feels that way sometimes) and that discipline isn't just about keeping order. Discipline is about keeping our children safe -- and helping them grow up to be kind, successful, happy adults.

So the next time your child is the one throwing sand in the sandbox, take a deep breath. As you scoop her up and think about what might work this time (since your last method didn't), remember that she is little and has so much yet to learn. And, most of all, remember that you love her. Because that, more than anything else, is what discipline is really about.

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a contributing editor and a pediatrician who's busy raising five kids.