The Real Reason Disciplining Your Kid Is Such a Downer

The Real Reason Disciplining Your Kid Is Such a Downer

If disciplining your kid bums you out, there’s a good reason.

By Kelly Bryant

Picture it: You’re at the park with your 2-year-old, and everything seems hunky dory until you notice him throwing sand … at other children. You reprimand him, he stops, then, five minutes later returns to the sand throwing. His targets aren’t happy, you’re not happy, and despite a warning that more sand throwing will result in a mommy-imposed eviction from the park, he keeps on chucking.

You have no choice – you have to pull your kid out of there. You gave the warning, it was ignored and, unfortunately, now it’s go-time (in the most literal sense). Your toddler erupts in a tantrum, goes boneless, and you find yourself actually feeling a little guilty on the tear-filled drive home, even though you feel like you did the right thing. So what gives?

“It's common for parents to feel bad when their children are distressed,” says Dr. Dana Royce Baerger, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

But to describe these as feelings as guilt Baerger says is inaccurate, you’re actually experiencing empathy.

“It's natural to question a parenting choice when faced with a crying child, because parents are motivated to care for and nurture their children, not to harm them,” she explains.

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Instead of viewing your empathy as a weakness, Baerger suggests looking at your feelings in a positive light.

“It can be helpful for parents to recognize their empathic response as a sign of a strong parent-child connection,” she says. “However, it would be a mistake to offer inconsistent discipline and guidance on the basis of transient emotion. Children need predictability and structure.”

If you can remain calm and firm, positive discipline does a major service for your children, like encouraging them to develop better self-regulation and problem-solving skills. And if you want them to really learn how to handle those big, strong emotions, teach them by modeling those skills you’re preaching yourself at home.


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It’s also important to note the difference between punishing a child’s actions and providing consequences for them. While in the moment of a scenario similar to the example above, you may feel like the meanest mommy ever offering a punishment, but Meg Akabas, parenting instructor and author of 52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom, explains why you’re actually instituting a consequence.

“In the parenting education/child development world, we characterize a punishment as a result an adult imposes for an undesirable behavior that is unrelated to the behavior, which feels punitive to the child and, in the long run, is not very effective,” she says. “On the other hand, a consequence is a logical outcome of an undesirable behavior (in this example, the child isn't behaving in an acceptable way at the park, so he can't play at the park) and a very effective parenting tool employed by appropriately authoritative (but not authoritarian) parents.”

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So take a deep breath, parents. The road of child discipline may feel long and treacherous at times, but with reasonable consequences dealt in a way that fits the situation, your kids’ behavior will benefit.

“Long-term goals should be kept in sight,” says Akabas. “It's a parent's job to teach their children about appropriate behavior. When they use logical consequences, follow through, and are consistent, it will pay off in the long run. So, I say to parents: Keep your eye on the prize!”

How do you handle discipline in your home?

Kelly Bryant is a freelance writer and pop culture junkie. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons. Follow her on Twitter @MsKellyBryant.

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