Parenting Issues: 4 Tips For Maintaining Discipline With Heart Kids

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Kids are still kids—even when they have a heart condition. Yet sometimes, parents hesitate to discipline heart kids like they would any other child. After all, they’ve been through so much in such a short amount of time.

But it’s important to continue to treat your child like the child that he actually is. That means staying away from drastic changes in routine and discipline simply because he has a heart condition. It also means giving him the security of rules and consistency. 

Here are 4 tips for overcoming parenting issues and maintaining discipline when your child has a heart condition.

1. Set Clear Expectations.

Structure, routine, and consistency are all really important parts of parenting. That’s where setting clear expectations comes in.

Make sure the rules—and the consequences for breaking them—are verbalized in front of your child in a way that she is able to understand.

Establishing a routine for activities like snack, playtime, and chores can make expectations for good behavior both clearer to understand and easier to follow.

Consequences for bad behavior should be both natural and logical, explains the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Natural consequences tend to happen on their own: If your kid breaks a toy, she can’t play with it anymore.

But logical consequences take some intervention on your part. So, if your child throws her toy across the room when she has been told not to, a logical consequence is to take that toy away from her for the day, says the AAP.

2. Stay Consistent.

Parenting Issues for parents with heart kids

Consistency requires both parents to be on the same page. If Mom and Dad have different rules or don’t follow through with consequences in the same way, it can work against their efforts to teach kids good behavior.

At times, it’s very easy for parents to fall out of their family’s normal routines—or feel bad about disciplining their heart kid. They might think, “He’s already going through so much. I shouldn’t be so hard on him.” But that’s usually not a good thing in the long run.

Kids need that consistency for their personal growth—and that means consequences have to stay the same from day to day, explains the AAP.

3. Hold Your Child Accountable.

As strange as this might sound, holding kids accountable for their actions might actually relieve some of the anxiety they have about their heart condition.

That’s because when parents totally change the way they do things, it can make a child scared. Drastic changes to routines and expectations might make her think, “Something must be really wrong, because everything is different now.”

Keeping up that accountability for their behavior is important because it makes it clear that there is still routine, structure, and normalcy in her life.

4. Praise Your Child.

Letting kids know when they’re doing well is important, too—especially for little kids. Simple things like sticker reward charts can be a huge boost for a child who might be struggling with confidence in himself.

In some cases, rewards can even help instill positive behaviors in children, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. But—as with discipline for misbehavior—setting clear expectations and maintaining consistency are important when setting up reward systems for kids.

Even older kids and teens can benefit from praise, adds the AAP. This is because they still crave approval and affection—even if they seem embarrassed when you pull them in for a hug and say, “I’m so proud of you.”


Sean Akers

Hi, I’m Dr. Sean Akers, and I’m a Licensed Clinical Pediatric Psychologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I serve as the primary psychologist for the heart transplant team as well as the coordinator of the Consult Liaison Service. My job is to provide heart kids and their families with support throughout their journey.

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