Different Discipline Styles for Different Children

Did You Know There are Different Discipline Styles for Different Children?

expert parenting tips from parenting speakersWith only a verbal reminder, your nine year-old daughter starts cleaning her room or doing her homework. But when you tell her younger brother to put his toys away or get dressed for school, he ignores your repeated requests and stalls or argues until you get angry and over-react. Then, he accuses you of picking on him and favoring his sister. Why is one child more difficult to discipline than another?

Authored by Marianne Neifert, MD, MTS – Dr. Mom®
Professional Speaker on Topics such as Positive Parenting, Work Life Balance, Breastfeeding Promotion and Support, Personal Growth, and Family Spirituality

Each child is born with core personality traits that make up their unique temperament, which is further shaped by daily interactions with parents and others. Research has identified nine traits of temperament, which can be clustered into three main categories: easy (flexible); slow to warm up (cautious); and difficult (active or feisty). Common traits among children with a “difficult” or challenging temperament include: stubborn resistance to rules and limits, highly sensitive, extremely emotional, very active, and a predominantly negative mood.

Understanding each child’s individual temperament and learning effective ways to respond to their behavior can improve your relationship, promote family harmony, and boost your child’s self-esteem. The following insights can help:

  • Your own good example and positive reinforcement—by encouraging and complimenting effort and desired behavior–is the most effective way to inspire cooperation among children of all temperaments.
  • While an eager-to-please, “easy” child may need little more than a simple, polite request to gain her cooperation, a difficult or strong-willed child learns by testing the rules and experiencing–not just hearing about–consequences. Use a few clear words to state the limit, “Don’t throw the ball in the house.” When he disobeys, forego giving warnings or explanations, and let an immediate consequence do the teaching, as you calmly pick up the ball and put it away.
  • If your child’s temperament includes high distractibility and/or low persistence at a task, don’t expect him to be able to clean his room or complete his homework all at once. Instead, break assignments into step-by-step segments, such as picking up his dirty clothes or writing a single paragraph, to help him succeed. Set a kitchen timer to signal regular breaks, and periodically compliment his efforts and progress.
  • If your child’s temperament involves reacting intensely and dramatically to difficult emotions– such as anger, anxiety or fear—don’t rush in to calm and appease his emotional outbursts, as this only teaches him to manipulate others by his emotional intensity. Instead, help him learn to recognize strong feelings like anger, fear or frustration and use healthy coping skills, like self-talk and deep breathing, to moderate his reactions.
  • A loud, stern command may be necessary to prevent an energetic, impulsive child from hitting his playmate, while the slightest reprimand can be upsetting to a very shy, sensitive child. The first child needs help curbing impulsive behavior, while the other needs gentle encouragement to more assertively express her needs and wants.
  • Be patient with your “slow to warm up” child who’s apprehensive about starting a new preschool. Don’t convey that one temperament type is preferable to another by comparing her to her socially outgoing sibling who can’t wait to meet new friends.
  • Have realistic expectations about how long your highly active child can sit still without becoming fidgety or rambunctious. Reward him for increasing periods of time playing or working quietly. Don’t punish an energetic child by withdrawing privileges that involve physical activity, as this may only make his behavior worse.

When Children Exclaim, “No Fair!”

Your “difficult” child may accuse you of being unfair when you impose an immediate time-out for his disrespectful back talk, while giving your “easy” child a warning. Clarify that you deeply love and cherish each child and that:

  • Each has his or her own learning style. Some children learn rules and expectations just by hearing words, and others learn best by experiencing consequences. You use the most effective techniques to help each child learn to make good choices.
  • Each child has special strengths to be celebrated and areas where they need your encouragement and guidance to grow.

Copyright © 2012 Marianne Neifert, MD, MTS