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No need to raise your voice when disciplining

Making emotional connections throughout the day will prevent bad behavior later. Touching and hugging children is incredibly important. This can be done for 20 minutes or 20 seconds, as long as the child knows that you hear him and he’s safe. thinkstock.com

There's no perfect way to parent, nor is there a single way to discipline a child. But parenting experts have studied discipline methods, so we asked them what they wish parents knew about disciplining their children.

• Regulate rather than discipline: For a long time, we believed that children were misbehaving when they acted out, said Carrie Contey, a human development specialist based in Austin, Texas. "We now know that when children are misbehaving, they're actually stress behaving, and they aren't rational at all times," Contey said. When children are tired or hungry or excited, their brain is in a state of stress. When they are a state of stress, the last thing they want is for someone to tell them to use their words. "The stress brain doesn't process words," Contey said. "We need to say, 'Wow, you are really having a hard time. I'm going to help you calm down.' " Instead of yelling, parents should literally get down to their child's level, communicate that they're not a threat to them and hold them if they want to be held.

• Prevention is best: Making emotional connections throughout the day will prevent bad behavior later. Contey said that touching and hugging children is incredibly important. Her rule: Eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart. This can be done for 20 minutes or 20 seconds, as long as the child knows that you hear him and he's safe. "It helps them not slip into the part of the brain that feels like he needs to be disciplined," Contey said.

• Use an inductive statement: Instead of yelling when a child does something wrong, you should say, " 'I'm disappointed in that behavior because I know you're a caring person,'" said Michele Borba, a Palm Springs, Calif.-based educational psychologist and author of "UnSelfie." "The result is that the child is more likely to think about what he did, and more likely to be a caring person because he wants to please you."

• Problem-solve: Instead of putting a child into defense mode when he's done something wrong, it's more effective to problem-solve with him so he learns what he did wrong and doesn't do it again in the future, said Bonnie Harris, New Hampshire-based author of "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids." For example, instead of yelling at him, you should say, " 'You want this and I want that. How do we make this work for both of us?' " Harris said.

• Allow the child to experience the natural consequences: Parents get too involved and either fix the problem for their children or take on the problem as their own. If John hits Sam, the parent will typically yell at John or send him to his room. But the parent might not know what actually happened. John may have coped until he couldn't cope anymore, and he finally hit Sam. "If he is yelled at, he feels completely misunderstood, and nothing is learned," Harris said. The parent in that situation is simply setting the children up for their next fight. Instead, Harris said, allow John to experience what he did. He was impulsive and he hit Sam, but he probably didn't mean to do it. The parent can coach them by explaining that they both seem to be having a hard time. What do they both want to say to each other and how can they make amends?

• Be firm and kind: It's possible to do both, and this helps children see that you're being fair, said Vanessa Lapointe, Vancouver, British Columbia-based psychologist and author of "Discipline Without Damage." "For example, 'No, you can't go to that party,' and as the upset in the child sets in, you quickly move to, 'I know you are disappointed — I would be too if I were you,'" Lapointe said.

• Work with the children: Kids want to be part of the decision process, said John Duffy, Chicago-based psychologist and author of "The Available Parent." Duffy encourages parents to come up with three to five non-negotiable behavior issues, such as treating each other with respect, completing chores and finishing homework — and writing down the consequences for each infraction. "This way, there is precious little room for negotiation and manipulation, both of which kids today are experts with," Duffy said. "There is also little conflict, and the vast majority of the time spent between parent and child is positive, and does not involve discipline." Choosing too many behaviors to correct is anxiety-provoking for the entire family, and takes away from the emotional bank account that parents share with their children, Duffy said. So if your child's bedroom is a mess, but it doesn't really matter, then take a deep breath, close the door and walk away.

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