THE GOAL OF PARENTAL discipline is to help a child rely on his own motivation – to control his impulses, manage his emotions, respect the needs, feelings and rights of others, and “do the right thing” for its own sake.

A child who believes in himself can dare to face his mistakes. Gradually he must learn to accept them and feel satisfaction when he corrects them. Praise helps, but it must lead a child to find his own pride in his behavior.

A child who is dependent on a parent’s praise will feel threatened and defensive when it is unavailable or withheld. Over time, a parent will need to go from saying “I am so proud of you” to “Aren’t you proud of yourself?”

As a child grows, parents can leave more room for him to recognize his missteps and their consequences — and how to make amends.

This process begins when a parent notices a grateful look of relief on the child’s face after he has been reprimanded. He has begun to recognize he needs discipline and is on the way to disciplining himself.

Look for opportunities — especially in mid-event — for the child to examine and manage his behavior more independently. Substitute “Do you realize what you did?” for “You shouldn’t have done that.” Or “Do you know how that made him feel?” for “You are going to have to apologize.”

These subtle differences tell a child that you count on him and that he can count on himself to make up for his mistakes. You’re letting him know that you value his new strengths.

A child needs to know that to make mistakes is to be human. A mistake can be understood and forgiven, even though there will be a price to pay.

Mistakes can be seen as necessary for learning rather than as a reflection of self-worth. Parents’ faith in a child can encourage his capacity to believe in his own progress.


1. Observe your child’s nonverbal behavior to see how badly he feels about what he has done. If he already knows he’s done something wrong and feels guilty about it, then he’s begun to learn his lesson.

2. When guilty feelings are too hard to bear, a child may cover them over with denial. Don’t push the child so far that he can’t face what he has done. Instead, commend him for the bravery it takes to face one’s mistakes: “I can see you feel awful about what you did. You know I don’t want to make you feel worse than you do already.” He may be surprised by these words — and open to listening.

3. You can make sure he understands what he’s done by asking him to tell you. His words will be worth a lot more than yours, and you can clarify any misunderstanding you hear.

4. Decide upon a consequence that matches the misdeed and allows your child to make amends. “You’re going to have to make a nice card to say how sorry you are.”

5. Make sure that your child understands the importance of apologizing and making amends, and that he feels forgiven. “Do you need a hug?”

(This article is adapted from “Discipline: The Brazelton Way,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10018. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to:

[email protected]

— New York Times Syndicate


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