Your toddler has grown into a child and suddenly the time outs at the fridge and taking away their favorite toy for 10 minutes are no longer an effective means of discipline. In fact, your old tactics pale to phase your budding 6 year old who knows just enough about your temperament and the rules of the house to draw the fine line right between them. Even worse, their attitude may have already changed from sweet and complacent to questionable and downright sassy and you are left holding the joker card, with no real way to discipline effectively.
What parents first need to understand is that discipline is not about punishment. On the contrary, discipline is about learning and teaching. In this case you are the teacher and they are the student. If you discipline your 6 year old by skirting them off to their room without dinner; never discussing the ripple effect of their behavior; the whole thing was a rather pointless waste of anger and frustration for the two of you. Chances are the behavior will happen again and again until you can truly make a break through with your student. That is where disciplining a 6 year old is vastly different than it was when they were 3 or 4 years of age.
Firstly, understand that your child need not be underestimated in what they can understand. If they are smart enough to manipulate or guilt you into things (which they are, admit it) they certainly can swallow and be made to comprehend the multi faceted wrong doings they are capable of. Explain things to your child. Just because a 6 year old understands a behavior is wrong; doesn’t mean they understand why. Explaining that hitting their younger sister is wrong because it causes pain and isn’t a productive way to deal with anger helps them to process that their actions have consequences that they may have not intended. Few people, even children want to be mean or inflict pain. If your child hits their younger sister and you react simply out of anger, ousting them to their room what they will understand is that you are angry.
Another important step in disciplining a 6 year old besides explaining things is to follow through on your discipline. At this age, the standard of sitting them in a corner for as many minutes as they are old is not quite enough. Form a well defined family plan of discipline that accurately approaches your individual child from their aspect of currency. In other words, take away, limit or restrict them from something that is valuable to them. For some kids this may be a dessert after dinner for 2 -3 days. For other children, taking away the television, a video game or sentencing them to their room for a prolonged period of time (suitable of course) will get your point across. If you set clear boundaries, remain consistent every time and ensure your children are aware of the consequences ahead of time you set the stage for understanding and adherence. Furthermore, by responding to undesirable behavior without anger and following through; your child learns that some things in life are not negotiable.
Many child psychologists also recommend a period of dialogue for children after discipline, especially around 6 years of age. Make sure they understand that your love is constant but that it is your job to enforce rules and teach them appropriate behavior. This means that your discipline cannot be dependent on your mood or the kind of day that YOU have had and that they realize it is their ACTIONS and not them that you disapprove of. When they have served their sentence, talk to them about what happened. Ask them how they feel. Also try to allow them to come up with a different, better approach to the problem they were facing that they could choose in the future. If they say things like ‘this is not fair’ or ‘you never listen to me’ or even the dreaded ‘you like Macy better than me because she is littler’ be sure to address their concerns from a place of compassion. You don’t have to defend yourself or your reactions especially if you are consistent; but it will make your child feel respected if you take the time to address their concerns. You will probably find that what they say out of anger or haste is true to how they feel inside, so it pays to pay attention. Just don’t over indulge it because a 6 year old will quickly realize that they can guilt you.
Disciplining a 6 year old is about setting the stage for the future. It is also about realizing that your child is growing up and is experiencing feelings and compulsions that they may not understand. Until this point, children feel very little control and become dependent upon mom and dad to fix things. Now, however they are in the real world with teachers and other children and they have to learn how to cope with their feelings in productive ways. By allowing them to talk about their feelings and helping them to label them you are giving them an opportunity to be in control. Obviously, praise them when they seem to learn from a discipline and witness their growth in following the rules.
Lastly, realize that there are millions of books and guides about child discipline. Your job is to gain ideas from outside sources but follow your inside source of heart to find methods that work for you, your family and most importantly your child. The objective in any form of discipline is for your child to move toward a better place of understanding, not strictly to serve as punishment. As they develop a sense of other people and boundaries, discipline will pay off and your child will be more equipped to cope with situations they are faced with.