Discipline Lessons That Last

Discipline with Praise

The true meaning of the word discipline is "to teach." If you discipline only through punishment, you'll miss a lot of opportunities to instruct your children. By offering a morsel of praise whenever your child picks up her toys, you remind her in a positive way how you expect her to behave.

Why Praise Works

Though at times this may be difficult to believe, children do want to be good. But they also crave attention. If they hear from you only when they're throwing Legos at the baby . . . well, you know where I'm headed.

A little applause for doing a job well "really does motivate children to do better," says Maurice Elias, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and coauthor of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting (Three Rivers Press, 2000). Jennifer Roberts makes sure that her 4- and 8-year-old hear about it even whenever other people catch them being good. "If someone comments that they're well-behaved, I'll say, 'Tell them,' " Roberts says. "It makes them proud, and the comment may make a bigger impression than if it came from me."

How To Do It

You don't need to gush just because your child says "please." But be specific. "Instead of saying 'Good job,' say, 'It's very helpful when you put your clothes away so neatly,' " Dr. Elias says. Your child will know what behavior you value and why.

Resist the urge to add conditional statements to your praise, he warns. A comment such as "You straightened your room beautifully; why can't you do that every night?" is a criticism loosely disguised as a compliment.

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