While punishment and discipline are words that seem to conjure up ideas of military-type behavioral modification, it is important to realize that correcting your children is less about securing their obedience and more about demonstrating the difference between right and wrong. As parents, we want the best for our children. We want to ensure that we are raising well-adjusted characters that are considerate and thoughtful.

Today's parents know there is no one right definition for punishment. Regardless of how bratty or misbehaved the child is, he or she can only benefit from expressions of love and support. A true understanding of discipline should be more about expressing self-control rather than for the child to be blindly obedient to adults who are bigger, stronger, and louder than they are.

Setting the standards for good behavior

The standards for good behavior are relative and will be vastly different between each family. What you may consider a display of improper conduct and poor manners may be completely acceptable within another family unit. How then do you set your own standards for behavior, while being aware of the fact that your child will be exposed to other forms of behavior that may be completely acceptable with another environment?

Keep in mind that your children cannot understand what is expected of them if you do not make it exceptionally clear. Without offering consistent forms of discipline or corrective words, you may find that you are confusing your children. Children who are not acutely aware of what is expected of them will continue to display behaviors that you may consider inappropriate.

Every word you say or action you take is an opportunity to teach your child. The lessons taught will be reinforced until your child reaches the point where he is taking responsibility for his own actions.

Consider the scenario of your toddler throwing a ball in the house and knocking down a lamp. You may tell him not to throw the ball, and you may put him in timeout or mete out another form of punishment. Your goal is not to demonstrate that you are charge, and you need to be obeyed without question. Your goal is not to prevent your child from throwing that ball. Your goal is to ultimately teach the child respect for personal property, and to respect the idea that knocking down lamps and other items is destructive and unacceptable behavior. Certainly you may need to reinforce the idea several times until your child recognizes and understands that with self-control balls do not get thrown, lamps do not get broken, and other destructive activities do not occur.

If you are not consistent with your expected standards of behavior from your child, your child simply will not respond in the way you are hoping. And if you are displaying anger, or losing your temper and breaking things yourself, you are not setting the appropriate behavior example that your little one needs.

Age-appropriate punishments

As a parent, you should recognize that age-appropriate punishments are also a key step to ensuring your children learn the difference between right and wrong. Younger children don't need punishment as much as they need guidance. When your child reaches 2 years of age, an understanding of the difference between right and wrong will start to form. You'll find it difficult to effectively mete out punishments to a defiant 2-year-old, when with a 1-year-old, a stern word was enough to get the message across.

The personalities of both you and your child can also play a role in the effectiveness of the punishment. You may find yourself with a 2-year-old that bursts into tears at the slightest of reprimands, yet her twin sister deliberately repeats the bad behavior as an act of defiance. Try to keep in mind that, despite how much your blood pressure is rising, your purpose in handing out punishments is not to harm the child or get even. It is the bad behavior that you dislike, not the child.

Punishment should not be delayed so that the children can "think about it." Certainly if you are filled with unhealthy anger toward your child, you should place her in her room until you have both calmed down. The longer you delay punishment the less of an impact it will actually have on the child. You may opt to delay meting out the consequences for bad behavior for an hour, but by that point, your 3-year-old may have completely forgotten about it.

Timeouts are effective methods of punishment for children of any age. It is just as appropriate for a frustrated and overtired toddler as it is for a preteen who is testing your limits and patience with rebellious behavior. The key difference is that while your toddler is to sit in the timeout space for a few age-appropriate minutes, your older child may spend as much time in his or her bedroom until they have accepted your terms or are ready to apologize for poor behavior.

The most important thing to remember about timeouts is that they provide an often much-needed period to cool off, for both the parent and the child.

Following up with logical consequences

One of the more reasonable forms of punishment would be to allow logical consequences to be the result of poor behavior. Even the youngest child can understand that throwing a toy results in the toy being confiscated and that hitting or biting results in being removed from the situation until the child has cooled off.

These logical consequences can be applied to situations that will evolve as your child grows. Forgetting to follow through on chores could result in not being allowed to go for a bike ride with friends. A rude attitude can result in time spent alone in a bedroom that does not contain a television, computer, or other forms of electronic escape. It makes little sense to banish a child to his or her bedroom to consider poor behavior and actions, only to have them seek solace and entertainment on the Internet, or with a movie.

Nature is driving your child to learn independence. Your little one is still trying to navigate this great big confusing world. Keep your expectations reasonable. Offer choices to your child and employ diplomacy. These are much more effective methods of getting acceptable behaviors.

Be firm but loving

Never withhold affection from your child as a form of punishment. When you are disciplining a young child it is important to follow up with a quick hug, kiss, and an "I love you" as soon as you can after the timeout or other punishment. Your child should always feel confident that they are loved and that they can come to you for a hug or a positive word of praise. Punishment can be one of the most difficult aspects of parenthood to face. Being aware of what it is that you expect from your children's behavior will allow you to better convey it to them so that they will understand what is expected of them as they learn to exercise self-control.

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