Monday, July 13, 2009

Disciplining Siblings

We all know the value of consistency when it comes to disciplining children, especially little ones. But, as many parents have realized, staying consistent and following through with discipline gets harder when there is more than one child involved. With some creative thinking, patience, and permission to give yourself a break, you can do an excellent job of disciplining all of your kids as you enjoy their growth and development. Here are some tips to guide you when you may feel a bit unsure of yourself.

Don't Expect Your Little Ones to Think Like Big Kids

Preschoolers generally have not as yet developed the cognitive ability to consider others' perspectives or to always think ahead. Often they see things from their own little worlds. "Even though that's your toy, I want it. It's not fair that you won't share it with me!" is a normal viewpoint for a 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old. This is not a selfish, unnatural attitude — it's just reflective of the child's immature moral development. It's a start, and as the youngster grows and matures he'll begin to appreciate others' points of view.

Develop Realistic Expectations for Each Child

You know your kids — one may thrive on pleasing you and showing her cooperation but the other child may have more difficulty with the concept of cooperation. If that's the case with your children, try to set the bar of expectation differently for each youngster, but expect improvement over time for both. Depending upon their age and experience (nurture) as well as individual temperament (nature), children develop cooperation differently. For instance, if your particularly stubborn son surprises you one day by quickly turning off the TV and making it to the dinner table upon your first request, then that's deserving of praise even if his more compliant sib is always more amenable to your requests. Mr. "You're not the boss of me" made a good choice and the best way to motivate his continued compliance is praise from Mom or Dad! Most likely your more compliant child has challenges in other areas (such as sleeping in her own bed at night) that need your praise and attention.

Keep It Separate

All of us dislike being blamed unfairly, and it's important for kids to be able to trust their parents' emotions and reactions. If one child has pushed you close to the edge, make a concerted effort not to let your frustration flow onto others in the household. I know that this is easy to say and tough to do, but punishing an innocent bystander (even with a sharp tone of voice or negative attitude) confuses your children and can be quite frightening. Kids need to be able to count on the behavior/consequence connection — that if their individual behavior is appropriate so will be the consequence. When you feel yourself losing it, take a time-out in your bedroom, hit the treadmill, or listen to your iPod. Relax and gain control of your feelings before reacting inappropriately to either child.

Give Yourself a Break

It's important to acknowledge that you will not be perfect and you will be unfair at times. That's life and that's parenting. But when you've realized that one child has paid the price for the other's misbehavior, be sure to apologize and to explain your overreaction. This not only calms the child but is also a teachable moment: your children will observe that even Mom and Dad can make a mistake and that they will take responsibility, own up to it, and apologize for their misbehavior. Your children may never let you forget it, but you've done the right thing!

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