Discipline Tips for Every Parent

I attended a very informative panel on childhood discipline last week, and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you. This is such an important topic, yet many parents  do not have time to access the quality discipline resources that they need. So here it goes…another condensed, Cliffs Notes style peek… into DISCIPLINE.

What is the end goal for your child? (input your own answer)

  • To be an accountable, respectful, responsible adult with compassion for others
  • To be a responsible, caring, God-loving adult
  • To graduate from high school with a good balance of academic and emotional intelligence
  • To be a blessing to others

Overarching Discipline Principles

  • Model character. Remember that discipline starts with you and how you are modeling character to your children
  • Feed yourself morally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Your heart must be in the right place to properly discipline your children, so do everything that you need to do to prepare yourself for the task (spend time alone, exercise, do fun things with your girl friends or guy friends, take vacation time away from work, engage in a book club or bible study, pursue your favorite hobbies, etc.) Ask others to help you achieve this goal.
  • Discipline is not about control. You are not “controlling” your child like a puppet, so that others will think better of you at family gatherings and in the grocery store. You are modeling, teaching, and shaping your child toward your end goal.
  • Be consistent. Many parents complain that certain discipline practices “just don’t work” with their children… when in fact, it is often the parent’s inconsistency with applying disciplinary action that is the culprit.
  • Mean what you say.  One panelist told a story that during play dates, she would often tell her daughter “5 more minutes” and then proceed to talk with her friend for 20 more minutes. So, one day her daughter was overheard telling the same play mate “Oh, don’t worry. Mommy doesn’t really mean 5 minutes”. She realized that she was modeling bad behavior, inadvertently teaching her daughter that “I can say one thing and then do whatever I want”.
  • Try not to discipline in anger. Too often we discipline our children in anger.  We yell “No!”, “Stop that!”, and “1,2,3!”…or we scoop up our little ones with alarming haste, without teaching them the behavior, or action, that is desired. So though frustration is normal for parents; do not hesitate to take a “Mommy or Daddy Time-Out”… take a deep breath and collect your thoughts before correcting undesirable behavior.
  • Children often act out in public. Why do they do this? Well, typically they do not have your attention, they are in a foreign environment, and they are also pushing their boundaries to see what you will do in front of others. Thus, try your best to forget about “what other people are thinking”…and correct your child as you would at home. If they are having a temper tantrum, remove them from the situation and talk to them as calmly, and as privately as you can.
  • Children must learn self-control; they are not necessarily born with it. Children have all the bundled-up emotions that you do…yet they cannot control them as you do (and should not be expected to do so, especially at a very young age).
  • Discipline takes time and effort, however it is worth it. Applying consistent discipline early (during the pre-school years) will make the older years much better.

Temper Tantrums

  • Remove your child from the situation. Separate children from one another, from their toy, etc. and inspect for bodily injury (if required).
  • Talk to your child privately, if possible. Do not “shame them” in front of others, making it about your embarrassment.
  • Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and listen to them. Tell them to “respond to you in words”, not by whining or crying.
  • Try your best not to dismiss your child’s reaction, or label their feelings as silly, or insignificant. Most children take years to learn self-control, and remember…their world is still very small. Gaining proper perspective is a life-long process.
  • Applying different techniques to different children in the temper tantrum department is okay. One panelist mentioned that she “runs to” her oldest son during a meltdown because dramatic reactions are not typical for him. However, she noted that her response to her second eldest daughter is much different…she uses a more passive approach because her reactions are typically “explosive”. Often she will tell her daughter that she can go to her room to calm down before anyone will discuss a matter with her.

Using Time Outs

  • Remember that Mom, or Dad, may need a time out before anyone else involved.
  • Give proper warning prior to any time-out event (ie. We don’t hit in this house. If you hit your sister again, you are going into a time-out).
  • Countdown to the time-out. Don’t yell it from the other room. Get down to your child’s level, speak calmly, and let them know that a time-out is coming.
  • Consider one minute of time-out for each year of the child’s age. Time-outs are typically not effective before the age of two.
  • Time-outs should always take place in the same spot (if possible) and not in a child’s sleeping environment.
  • Use a timer in plain view of the child (a cooking timer or alarm clock works well).
  • Leaving the designated time-out spot re-starts the clock.
  • Parents should not interrupt the time-out, though let them know that you are present and watching.
  • Talk with your child after the time-out. What were they doing? What were they feeling? What is a better reaction? What are your expectations for them?

What do you do when your child is tired, or sick?

  • Who teaches their child this… Work hard, however it is okay to slack off when you are tired, or sick.
  • God doesn’t say “Do unto others, as you would have done to you…unless you are tired, or sick”.
  • So why do we make so many excuses for our children’s behavior when they are tired or sick?
  • Giving children too much slack for being tired, or sick, will encourage whining and will only make their excuse matrix more intricate down the road.
  • However, don’t set your child up for failure. Use preventative techniques to encourage good behavior during “high probability” bad behavior times (the 4 to 6pm hours, or before bedtime)
  • Set up play dates, crafts, special activities, or other distractions to help ward off whining during typical tired times.

Are you always on “Repeat”?

  • Are you constantly saying “No”, “Stop that”, or “Don’t do that”?  Are you inadvertently de-sensitizing your child to bad behavior? Instead of saying no, no, no…consider telling your child what they should be doing with their fork, or their food, etc.
  • Consider using certain words for different situations. One panelist, a Mother of 5, said that she “role plays” scenarios with her children. Therefore, when she says “STOP!!”…she means it. The children freeze, and she assesses. It could signal grave danger (a speeding car, impending doom, etc.)
  • Remember to consistently point out good behavior, as much, or more, as you do bad behavior. For example… “Thank you for saying please”, or “That is so nice of you to share your toy with Billy. Mommy and Daddy like it when you do that.”

Be grateful for “Learning Opportunities”… big and small

  • Big example:  Shortly after a trip to CVS, the panel Moderator discovered that her young son had stolen a chocolate bar. What a blessing it was to have the opportunity to teach him that stealing is wrong.
  • However, it also reminded her that she should view smaller (nuisance-type) discipline moments in the same way. Take every opportunity that you can to teach your children right from wrong.

Incentive Systems

  • You can create incentives for good behavior, while still avoiding carrot and stick bribery.
  • Let your children know that certain behaviors are expected in your household. However, good behavior that goes above and beyond can result in a fun “incentive”, or reward.
  • Consider using sticker charts, jars of marbles, or checklists to encourage good behavior. The “reward system” is up to you, however remember that the best incentives are free. So, don’t buy a bunch of toys and trinkets (that will eventually clutter your home). Consider “time rewards” like an afternoon at the park with one parent, or a trip to see your (local) Grandmother without their siblings.

Other Practical Tips

  • Set expectations. One panelist gave this example: Before a trip to Target…I tell my kids this….”We are going to Target to buy Bobby a birthday present and to buy groceries. So do not ask me for anything else. No toys, no candy, no balloons… nothing else”. Now they know what to expect.
  • Be creative. If a discipline practice is “running its course” or is not working as desired, then try something else.
  • Follow through with consequences (ie. remove your child from the grocery store during a temper tantrum if you have indicated that you would do so. Leave the cart, and come back later.)
  • Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill; pick your battles.
  • Don’t make meal times, or bed time, a battlefield.
  • Physical touch is often effective in getting your child to focus on a certain behavior, rather than yelling from upstairs, or from the kitchen, etc. If you want them to put away their toys…go into the playroom, pat them on the back, sing a song… and get them started on their way to a clean floor.
  • For the highly opinionated child, offer choices….you may wear one of two outfits tomorrow. Or pick one of these lunch options. Give them a feeling of  control.
  • Work hard to be on the same page as your spouse, and other care givers, when it comes to discipline.
  • Be flexible with your discipline. When taking away privileges for older children, hit them where it hurts (rather than worrying about equal punishments for siblings). For your son, it may require restricting use of the Wii, or their Nintendo DS…while your daughter may value something else more, like a cell phone.
  • Often discipline issues can be better managed if you are more organized (and thus, less frustrated). Plan ahead as much as you can.  Pack lunches and school supplies the night before. Consolidate your laundry days. Prepare meals on the weekend and put them in the freezer. Prepare a checklist (with pictures) for your child, in the early years, to help them get ready on their own.
  • Establish “House Rules” so that behavioral expectations are very clear (Examples: No biting, no hitting, no lying, no stealing, no throwing, no yelling, no jumping on furniture, etc.). Enforce the “House Rules” with consistency, and teach your children that bad behavior has consequences. Bad behavior will not be tolerated. End of discussion.

Hope you found some of this information helpful….I know that I did!


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