You walk in the door after a long workday and immediately feel tension in the house. Your wife is in tears because your two small children “wouldn’t behave” all day, which kept her from finishing that important business proposal. To make matters worse, your teenaged stepson decided to skip school… again.
Anger starts to build inside but you quickly realize that will only make the situation worse. Your mind flashes back to the excessive “spankings” you received as a child at the hands of your authoritarian father. No, I’m not going be that kind of dad.
Famous pediatrician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock stressed the fact that punishment is never the main component in discipline and that, above all, children need to feel loved by both parents. As a father, raising a well-behaved child starts with an effective discipline approach.
What is “Proactive Parenting”?
Child psychologists have identified two different techniques for parental discipline: proactive and reactive. Reactive discipline refers to “in-the-moment” responses to a child’s negative behaviors, like aggressively snatching a crayon out of their hand after it was used to “decorate” your living room wall.
On the other hand, proactive parenting involves the ongoing use of loving encouragement so that a child will behave appropriately most of the time. Simply put, the more proactive as a parent you are, the less reactive you’ll need to be as a disciplinarian.
What Effective Discipline Looks Like
As a father, the first step is providing your children with a safe, secure and consistent home environment in which they can learn and understand the importance of reasonable rules, boundaries and consequences.
Proactively teaching your child self-control and self-discipline is also important because it ultimately equips them to be more resilient when life’s inevitable frustrations surface. Start implementing proactive approaches during calm moments so that when times do get hectic, like getting heckled on the bus, their behavior will be better.
Here’s how fathers can be more proactive and effective disciplinarians:
Be an Authority Figure, Not a Dictator
Setting boundaries for children is healthy for their development, but demanding that they’re always followed or else teaches that child to be totally obedient without thinking for themselves. Oftentimes, living in a “dictatorship” promotes rebellious behavior.
As your child matures, allowing them to help establish rules teaches them goal setting, teamwork and compromise. Boundaries will also seem more fair-and-reasonable, making them easier to follow. However, never compromise your principles in the process.
For example, a middle-schooler needs to be told when to be home, while a high-school senior should have a say in setting a fair curfew unless they violate your trust.
Problem Solve when Possible
A teenager who keeps cutting school may be dealing with a learning disability. A preschooler who won’t sleep in their own bed could be having nightmares. Yelling and threatening will only make the situation worse.
Choose a quiet moment to sit down with your child and get to the root of the problem. Talking about the issue will validate your child’s feelings and show them how much they’re loved and appreciated. Once you’ve identified the problem, work on a solution together. That lets your child take ownership of the situation and encourages self-discipline later-on.
Be a Role Model
If your children see dad breaking the law, why would they follow your rules? Set a good example by respecting authority and accepting consequences for bad behaviors. If you got caught speeding in a construction zone, explain to your child why that was wrong and pay the ticket promptly.
Define the Consequences
Make it clear that when rules are broken there will be consequences, and then follow through, every time.
For example, before driving your children to the park, let them know that you won’t tolerate yelling and fighting in the back seat. Explain that the punishment will be pulling over until their inappropriate behavior stops, or returning home if it persists. If they disobey, stop the car and sit there without saying a word. Within minutes boredom will probably be all the punishment that’s needed to ensure better behavior once you’re underway again. But, if it happens again, make a U-turn and head home without compromise. This may cause you more heartache and stress in the moment, but sticking to your principles should limit problematic behaviors over the long-haul. Tough love can be effective without shaming or spanking.
You’re a Parent First
Sure, it’s fun to act like a kid while playing with yours. But don’t be a “Disneyland Dad” first, and parent second. It’s O.K. to be both a friend and father to your child, but the parenting side needs to consistently stay separate and at the forefront.
That allows your child to effectively learn the difference between right and wrong, and helps them respect you more as their loving parent. Don’t be afraid to say “no” because it’s sometimes what kids need to hear.
Encourage But Don’t Over-Reward
Studies involving preschoolers have found that rewarding a child in moderation motivates positive behaviors, while over-rewarding does the opposite. That’s because kids can become dependent on external incentives over a sense of accomplishment. One of the best rewards any child can receive is verbal encouragement.
If little Tommy just recited the alphabet for the first time, say something like, “Son, I am so proud of you for learning your ABCs!” When your eldest daughter gets accepted to college, heap some well-deserved praise on her by saying, “Honey, it takes a lot of hard work to get into that school and your mother and I appreciate your efforts.”
Rewarding your kids for good behavior is fine, but make sure your kids understand that you expect good behavior all-the-time.
Over-rewarding or over-praising kids for simple achievements, like taking out the trash, is unnecessary and can actually lead to more bad behavior whenever they don’t receive the kind of praise that they’re accustomed to. We should teach our kids that good behavior is expected and not to seek rewards for every little accomplishment.
Present a Unified Front
Children in a two-parent household respond better to discipline when the messages they’re receiving from mom and dad align. It’s a good idea to sit down periodically with your spouse and discuss the household rules and corresponding disciplinary actions so that you both are on the same page.
If you and your child’s mother are no longer together, meet at a neutral site to calmly work out how to raise your children with healthy rules, boundaries and consequences.
There’s Always More to Learn
Fatherhood doesn’t come with a set of blueprints, especially ones for developing effective discipline strategies. The Bible says that as fathers we should be “steadfast” in our correction towards our children, while giving them “encouragement and praise” where it’s due. If you’re a father who’s looking for ways to contribute more to your family, community and country, join our growing network of dads today and sign up for our newsletter.