Creative Child

How to Discipline Your Child Without Criticism

by Deborah Song

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3. Have realistic expectations. The key to calm consistency in delivering constructive discipline is to have realistic expectations. Remember that tantrums, as unpleasant and inconvenient as they are, are totally normal for toddlers and kids even up to 6 years old. It’s normal for kids to rip holes in their pants and get dirty. It’s normal for kids to not want to share, for them to spill, for them to pout. The more you remind yourself of just how little they are, the more patience you’ll have.

In “Father Forgets,” a timeless editorial reprinted in hundreds of magazines, W. Livingston Larned writes a letter to his son one night after reflecting on a day filled with reprimands. But that night, he wrote a letter to his son and admitted his mistake of expecting too much.

“What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”

When we adjust our expectations, we gain patience and develop the ability to withhold criticism.

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4. Ask yourself whom you’re disappointed with. As parents, we become the most frustrated when we feel helpless. But in the heat of the moment, it’s important to step back and assess if we’re disappointed with the behavior of our kids, or we’re disappointed with ourselves. Anger often feels like one big cloudy mess, but it’s important to let time diffuse the situation so we can sift through it and see which feelings are the result of our own disappointment, and which have resulted from our kids. Then consider if we’re being realistic in our expectations of our kids – and of ourselves.

5. Separate mistakes from who your child is. While you need to tell your child what they did wrong, we don’t want to identify who they are with their mistakes. Avoid damaging remarks like, “Why do you always do that?” or “What’s wrong with you?” Effective discipline always targets the behavior and not the person.

6. Begin instruction with a positive comment. Before pointing out what your child has done wrong, reference something they’ve done right first. If your child has snatched a toy from a friend, for instance, you might start off by saying something like, “Remember how you shared your toy with your sister this morning…”

Then, follow up with the instruction. However, instead of saying “but,” try using the word “and” instead.

“Remember, how you shared your toy with your sister? But what you’re doing now isn’t very nice,” for instance, won’t be as encouraging and effective as, “Remember, how you shared your toy with your sister? And if you did that again right now, Brian would really appreciate it.”

Following up constructive feedback with a “but” often negates the former positive statement and makes it sound disingenuous. Using “and” provides a much more logical, encouraging flow.

Criticisms have a way of stifling and stirring resentment in all people. Remember that people in general are not creatures of logic but of emotion. How much more is this the case for our young children who too often have to hear criticism from the very people they crave the most acceptance from? Take it easy on your child. It’s not as easy to be a kid as you may remember it to be.

Deborah Song is a Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based writer, who obtained her master's in journalism from New York University. She is the founder of worklifeparent.com, and is passionate about helping parents find better work-life balance and proper support through community.

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