Just-Right Discipline

Kids sure know how to push your buttons. But the way you respond when they act up determines whether you'll get better behavior next time.
child discipline

Anke Wenkmann

You've said no -- it's too close to dinnertime for a sweet. In fact, you've said no more than once. But when you come back into the kitchen, you find your preschooler hanging precariously off the freezer door with a box of Popsicles clutched in her hand.

Do you explode? Or give in and let her have the pop? Either reaction would be normal because your brain tends to operate on autopilot in stressful situations. "But if you respond in an overly harsh or wimpy way, you miss the opportunity to teach your child the skills she needs to do the right thing in the future," says Becky Bailey, Ph.D., author of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. It's tough to keep your cool, but it'll be easier to discipline thoughtfully if you've already considered smart responses like the ones for the following situations.

When crossing the street, your 4-year-old won't hold your hand.

  • Too Harsh "If you can't hold on, I'll pick you up and carry you!"
  • Too Wimpy "Fine. But please stay really close to me, okay?"
  • Just Right "When we get to the light, we will hold hands."

Holding hands when you cross the street is one of those non-negotiable safety issues. "This shouldn't be a debate. If she refuses, just take her hand," says Lynne Reeves Griffin, author of Negotiation Generation. Even when you threaten to carry her, you still make it sound like she has a choice.

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