Parenting: Is Your Family Out of Control? (cont.)
When Is It Time for a New Approach to Discipline?
After the debut of her reality series on ABC, Supernanny Jo Frost told reporters, "I think this is a situation we got ourselves into ... that parents want to be their children's friends and they don't discipline." Frost is trying to change that one family at a time. In each episode of Supernanny she restores order to a chaotic household by showing parents the benefits of structure, consistency, and disciplinary techniques such as the "naughty step" -- also known as "time out." "At the end of the day, a parent is a parent and not a friend," she says.
Peters says programs like Supernanny and Fox's Nanny 911 are doing a public service by putting discipline back in vogue. "I think those shows offer quite a bit to parents who don't have a clue how to discipline."
Nicholas Long, PhD, co-author of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, agrees. "I think so many parents are struggling with how to best manage their children's behavior and these nannies are offering concrete advice."
So how do you know whether your own disciplinary style is in need of a makeover? Long, who is the director of the Center for Effective Parenting and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, says it's time to make a change if you feel your kids have control of you instead of vice versa, or if you're getting complaints about your children's behavior from other adults, such as teachers or caregivers. If this applies to your family -- and you can't hire a miracle nanny to come to the rescue -- you can still try some of the nannies' techniques to help get your children back on track.
Set Clear Limits
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers begin purposefully testing the limits of acceptable behavior at about 18 months of age. It's up to you to set and communicate those limits. You can't expect your children to behave if they have no idea what the rules are. Long suggests making the rules very clear and specific. "If we tell our kids, 'be good' or 'be careful' it can mean so many different things. Be concrete, such as 'be gentle with your sister.'"
Set Clear Consequences
Just as your children need to know the rules, they need to be aware of the consequences of breaking those rules. Whether you use the "time out" technique or take away a child's favorite toy, there must be something tangible at stake. It's fine to explain the reasoning behind your rules, but don't expect that to be enough to make your kids cooperate. "Nagging and lecturing are ridiculous," Peters says. "You're wasting your time. There must be clear consequences."
Be Consistent and Predictable
Once you make a rule and tell your kids what's at stake, you must follow through. If you don't, they won't take the rule seriously. And if the rules keep changing, your kids may end up confused and frustrated. "If they can jump on the furniture one day and the parents don't do anything, and the next day the parents yell about it, the children won't know what the limits are," Long tells WebMD. Some children will test the limits again and again just to figure out what they are.