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FOR RELEASE: February 25, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Parents Asked to Focus on Discipline – Not Punishment

When you hear the word "discipline" do you see images of spanking, scolding or shouting at a child for misbehaving? According to child health experts at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, many people believe discipline means verbal or physical punishment, when in reality discipline means "to teach."

"Discipline, used properly, transmits the values of family, school and communities to children, teaches acceptable behavior, and helps children learn how to make wise decisions when dealing with life's problems," said J.R. Nida, M.D., commissioner of health.

Nida said children need discipline to learn how to get along with others, to understand limits of acceptable behavior, and to experience the logical consequences of their actions. Often parents use discipline to protect young children from danger, such as staying away from a hot stove.

The appropriate discipline will vary by age. For very young children, parents can choose techniques such as distraction and removal of an object or the child from an area of danger. In comparison, a school-age child needs to understand family rules and consequences of violations to better understand the importance of keeping the rules set at school or by society. For example, if a 10-year-old child comes home late after school without parental permission or a good excuse, then the child might give up television for one day.

Parents should support school rules and become familiar with the discipline code or policy of the school. If a teacher says the child is not completing homework satisfactorily, parents need to supervise the homework more closely. Homework encourages and reflects the development of self-discipline and good work habits.

Also, parents should stress the "do's" rather than "don'ts" and praise children when they behave well or accomplish something. Studies have shown that physical punishment, such as hitting or slapping are not appropriate discipline because they teach children that physically aggressive behavior is the way to resolve conflicts. Verbal abuse is personal and lowers self esteem in children and adults.

Below are some discipline tips recommended for parents:

  • Set a good example. Children learn more by how parents act than by what they say.
  • Set limits on behavior but don't impose too many rules. Make sure the rules are necessary and can be enforced without hindering creativity.
  • Praise a child for good behavior and accomplishments.
    Ignore unwanted behavior unless it is destructive or annoying
  • Take time to listen to your child, especially if there is a problem.
  • Involve children in making family rules and decisions. Make sure the children understand the rules and the penalty for breaking them.
  • Develop an understanding in your family about consistent good discipline.
  • Respond when a child misbehaves instead of waiting until things get worse.
  • Be flexible. Rules can change to get the desired response as the child matures.
  • Help the child develop inner control.
  • Give children real responsibilities, like household chores, to help them feel like they are doing something important and to build independence and self-esteem.
  • Avoid personal criticism and focus on the unintended behavior.
  • Try not to nag but offer constructive ideas.
  • Avoid power struggles and allow your child to express some disagreements.
  • Treat your children with love, respect and courtesy.
  • Keep a sense of humor. It can work well with children and with you!


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