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The 7 Biggest Discipline Mistakes:
A Primer for Puzzled Parents
You may be surprised to discover what you're doing wrong
by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

Author of No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them

So you’re trying to make your child quit bullying—or lying or cheating or defying you or "taking back"—and you’re having little success. You’ve tried threatening, scolding and even begging, but nothing seems to work. Frankly, you’re at your wit’s end. How can you ensure that your child stops his bad behavior for good? The first thing you must do is re-think your approach to discipline.

Behavior is learned, so it can be unlearned. Parents need a specific makeover plan designed to half their kids’ bad behavior. But before you can implement such a plan, you must first understand what you’re doing wrong—and why it’s wrong.

Common discipline mistakes:
1. Thinking "It’s just a phase."
Bad behaviors don’t go away. They almost always need parental intervention. The longer parents wait, the more likely the behavior will become a habit. So don’t call it a phase: stop the bad behavior as soon as it starts.

2. Being a poor behavior model. Our behavior has an enormous influence on our kids’ behavior. After all, what they see is what they copy. So before parents start planning to change their kid’s behavior, they need to take a serious look at their own.

3. Not targeting the bad behavior. It’s best to work on improving only one—and never more than two—behaviors at a time. And the more specific the plan the better. Don’t say, "He’s not behaving." Instead, narrow the focus to target the specific behavior you want to eliminate: "He’s talking back." And makeover will be more successful.

4. No plan to stop the bad behavior. Once parents have identified the bad behavior, they need a solid makeover plan to stop it. The plan must (1) address the kid’s bad behavior, (2) state exactly how to correct it, (3) identify the new behavior to replace it, and (4) have a set consequence if the bad behavior continues.

5. Not teaching a substitute behavior. No behavior will change permanently unless the child is taught a new behavior to replace it. Think about it: if you tell a kid to stop doing one behavior, what will he do instead? Without a substitute behavior, chances are the child will revert to using the old misbehavior.

6. Going alone. Big mistake! After all if your kid is using the bad behavior on other caregivers—be it spouse, grandparents, teachers, day care providers, coaches, scout leaders, babysitters—then use the same makeover plan together. The more you work together, the quicker you’ll be in stopping the problem behavior.

7. Not sticking to the plan long enough. Learning new behavior habits generally takes a minimum of twenty–one days of repetition. Parents need to commit to changing the bad behavior and then continue using the plan for at least three weeks. Only then will they see change.

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is the author of No More MisBehavin’; 39 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them now available in paperback from Jossey-Bass in bookstores and online. She publishes FREE E-newsletters for parents and educators. To get your free subscription and for information on seminars and other publications contact her at www.moralintelligence.com.ichele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned educational consultant and recipient of the National Educator Award. She is the author of 18 books including Building Moral Intelligence (Jossey-Bass) chosen by Publishers’ Weekly’s list of “most noteworthy for 2001.” She is a frequent guest expert on TV and NPR talk shows including Fox & Friends, The View, Jenny Jones, and serves on the honorary board to Parents Magazine. For more information about her work check out www.moralintelligence.com.

© 2004 by Michele Borba. Please contact for permission to reprint.

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