Healthy Kids    

Child Behavior: Reasoning to a perfect solution

With this discipline style, you use explanation, reasoning and verbal communication in order to develop appropriate behavior in your children. You explain to your child that rules aren’t established or imposed arbitrarily or to punish you. Rather they are in place with a particular goal in mind, mostly to keep you safe and healthy.

You can explain the moral implications or personal ramifications of a particular desired behavior. “Johnny, when you act in that manner (identify the behavior to be praised) and are helpful, it really makes me happy.”  Additional reasoning might be used to assist a child in the development of empathy, or to help him see how his behavior might effect a social situation. “How do you think your brother feels when you tease him?” Or, “Do you think other children will want to play with you when you act this way?”

The research is abundantly clear in this area of discipline. Parents who use induction and reasoning as the dominant style of behavior management have the children with the most adaptive social skills and the most internalized and internally directed behavior control system. However, these styles should be seen as colors that can be blended when necessary. Although induction and reasoning, when used frequently, will produce the desired responses with the least side effects, too much dialog and reasoning can produce what I call the ‘Monty Hall Syndrome.’

In this syndrome, ‘no’ has no superlative value. Every discussion about behavior results in “Let’s make a deal!” Discussions and negotiations essential to effective discipline. If you are an inductive and reasoning parent, don’t be afraid to use no as a superlative, or you may burden yourself with constant negotiation, even about non-negotiable situations.

Consistency is key

What disciplinary strategy you use significantly influences whether or not a child will internalize your family’s values and code of conduct or comply out of fear or out of a desire to garner some reward or avoid punishment. To make disciplinary tactics most effective, they need to be consistently and quickly applied.

Adaptive discipline doesn’t have to create excessive anxiety within your child. Instead, it can help children learn about the consequences of their actions, and helps them become socially adaptive in all social situations. Keep in mind that each child may need different shades of the disciplinary style that you use for the other children.

The parental use of a disciplinary style is an on-going process that begins early in life and lasts until you’re helping them pack their trunk for college, and sometimes even beyond that point.  Whatever permutations of the disciplinary styles discussed you use, it will have a significant impact on how your child develops as a person, in and out of your home.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.