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How to Discipline Your Kids and Still Be Respectful

When it comes to parenting, there is a wide range of philosophies about how to do it best. One philosophy is RIE, which is pronounced "wry" and stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. This approach, according to its Web site, "honors infants and young children as equal members in relationships" and is "dedicated to creating a culture of people who are authentic, resourceful and respectful."

Wendy Kronick, a RIE facilitator and a featured expert on Hank Azaria's Fatherhood Web series, talks to us about discipline and how parents can set boundaries while being respectful of kids at the same time.

What is the RIE approach to parenting?

It’s an approach based on respect, and you want to really respect your child. And it’s not exactly only about respecting them, it’s modeling respect. You want to set standards for your children to respect you, too.

I think a rule of thumb is that infants are badly underestimated in their intelligence and abilities, whereas toddlers are way overestimated. With a toddler, you can see that the child understands what you want, but they don’t have the impulse control yet.

I had a parent saying a child at 2 years old is always pulling the dog’s tail or the cat’s tail. When they enter that stage, [parents say], “Oh my child’s terrible, a little demon." No. You have to understand age-appropriate behavior. We believe that discipline should always be instructive, not punitive. So, in the case of the child pulling a dog’s tail, you could ask them once, twice, “Can you stop by yourself? I see it’s hard for you. I’m going to put the dog where the dog is safe right now, and later when you’re able to not hurt the dog, I’ll bring him back out.”

So it’s more of a discussion-based philosophy vs. a "time-out" philosophy?

We don’t really believe in time-outs, yet when you say "open for discussion," we are very much believers in boundaries. No child feels safe unless there are boundaries. So I believe it’s our job as parents to give the child something to push up against, and it’s their job as children to push up against it.

What is key is that they never get to set the boundaries. This is not a democracy. I call it a benevolent dictatorship. If they’re setting the boundaries, then they’re not going to feel safe, and you’re going to see more acting out.

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How can parents respond when kids get really worked up or go into tantrum mode?

One of the things we use here is the 3 R's—reflect, respect, respond. I added another R, called relax. Try to breathe. So if you can pause and skip a beat, you evaluate the situation if you can skip a beat. But if a child is hurting another, you don’t skip a beat because safety is tantamount. You have to keep children safe.

When parents make a wrong turn with discipline—yelling too much, for example—how do we correct that?

Children are very, very forgiving, and I tell parents to please forgive themselves, too. I don’t think parenting is for wimps—not good parenting. Being a perfect parent would be doing your child a terrible disservice. That might sound odd, but we bring children into this world with all of our flaws, with all of the world’s flaws, so you’re modeling how you deal with your own flawed behavior. A perfect parent would be horrible parent because a child could never live up to it.

I feel that if you make a mistake, even discipline-wise, you tell your child later, "I shouldn’t have done that; I’m sorry.”

They don’t want a “no-pology”—when you say, “I’m sorry, but I did the best I can.” “I regret doing that, but you made me do it.” And you’d have to [apologize] in an age-appropriate way, because these are children. What you say, how you say it, does matter. It matters as we become adult. The sincerity matters.

What are some of the biggest mistakes parents can make when disciplining their children?

Violence. I don’t believe in hitting or spanking a child. [That happens when] we’re out of control, and we don’t know what to do. But disrespecting a child's individuality ranks way up there. Lack of boundaries can be child abuse, in my opinion. I see so many children who are terribly insecure and acting out because there are no firm boundaries within which they can safely negotiate their behavior.

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