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Effective Discipline Strategies

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Raising and educating kids can be extremely fun and rewarding. It can also be very challenging, especially at those times in which we must deliver consequences. I try to remind my kids often that regardless of the choices we make, there are always consequences. Sometimes those are positive, sometimes…not so much. The point is that our behavior impacts others - for better or worse. And when our kids' behavior falls under the "worse" category, we need to discipline them effectively. I never really understood the old saying, “It’s going to hurt me more than it hurts you” until I had kids! Disciplining kids when they do something they shouldn’t have done is never easy, and sometimes it does hurt. But if we are to raise kids to be leaders, givers, and problem solvers, it’s a necessary part of life.

When our children make wrong choices or choose to disobey, consequences should follow. Why? Because we are charged with, at the least, teaching them how to be productive citizens who contribute to society in a positive way. It would be even better if we could raise them to be the kind of people who think about others and work to make their world a better place. But they’ll never think beyond themselves if we don’t discipline them when necessary.

When is It Appropriate to Give Consequences?

I used to struggle to figure out when to deliver consequences to my kids. Then I read a book written by a popular child psychologist who suggested that for accidents, mistakes, and general child-like behaviors, that parents simply redirect and use teachable moments to shape their children’s behavior. Deliberate disobedience, on the other hand, requires consequences, some perhaps beyond the natural consequences they might experience.

What might some general childlike behaviors be?

  • Spilled drinks

  • Stained clothes

  • Accidentally breaking a special dish

  • Spewing toothpaste spit all over a clean mirror (ugh!)

An instance of deliberate disobedience might be something along the lines of:

  • Lying

  • Hitting a sibling

  • Talking back

  • Refusal to obey

  • Using profanity

When I’m dealing with deliberate disobedience, I try to be creative and make those consequences "fit the crime". I want the consequences I deliver to change the behavior, not just punish the child. I'm not saying consequences shouldn't hurt, because sometimes they do. Like, if I speed and have to pay an expensive speeding ticket, that hurts my wallet! It may even hurt my pride if my friends drive by and see me getting pulled over! Consequences be appropriate for the situation and should help shape an undesirable behavior into acceptable behavior.

Sidenote: I'm not talking about disciplining kids who can't fully communicate yet. Toddlers and younger children who can't fully reason or understand need somewhat different strategies for shaping behavior. Those kids are silly and crazy sometimes!

Timing Matters

I never deliver consequences to an escalated child. I always give my kids time to cool down before talking through a situation. I may need to send them to their room or a quiet place away from others to calm down because a child who is escalated will not be able to "hear" what I am saying. I don't get in their face, yell, nag, or taunt. I want to give them the time they need to calm down – because no one likes to be upset. It just makes matters worse. Allowing my kids time to cool down allows us to have a better, more productive conversation.

Start With a Conversation

I almost always start by having a conversation with the child. This allows me to gain some insight into his or her frame of mind. Why did he do what he did? Were her actions out of immaturity? Self-preservation? Anger? Heartache? Ignorance of the rules? Deliberate disobedience? I don't necessarily ask them why, but I give them an opportunity to tell me what they were thinking, their side of the story, and what is on their heart. I listen closely to try to figure out where they are coming from. Because the consequences I decide on will vary depending on that conversation.

If the behavior is coming out of a place of immaturity, then I need to re-teach a skill either I failed to teach effectively in the first place, or that my child has not yet mastered and needs to continue to practice. For example: kids are playing a game. One child loses the game, throws the dice, and storms out of the room in anger. Obviously, that is not acceptable behavior and is something that needs to be addressed.

Initially, I would send the child somewhere to calm down. Once he has calmed down, I’ll have a conversation with him. We'd talk about what he did and why it was not acceptable. Sometimes these conversations are quick and simple, sometimes they are exhausting. Together, we'd come up with an alternate more acceptable behavior. After apologizing to the other players and cleaning up the game that was destroyed in anger, we’d practice the acceptable behavior.

If the behavior is coming from a place of hurt, we talk through that as well. Once we establish that the behavior came from a place of hurt, we talk through those feelings. I don't tell kids how they should feel, but I do tell them how they should react. When an apology is in order, I seldom require it be done immediately because I don't want it to be something I have spoon-fed to them. I want the apology to be sincere. So I usually give them a time frame - maybe 24 hours – in which to apologize. Sometimes I may even require a "time out" from certain individuals. This gives the child some time to think through and process those emotions. This also gives us some time for conversations to develop a plan of action for dealing with difficult people.

Consequences Should Change Behavior

We should never allow our children to choose not to follow the rules we have established in our homes. If your child steals something, make him return it to the owner. If she plays her video game longer than the allotted time, take that much time away from her allotted time the following day. If she didn't clean her room when asked, require her to do so before she does anything else. Just remember that we want consequences to change behavior. A change in behavior may not happen immediately, but the consequences should steer our kids in the right direction. Then, after the consequence has been delivered, go back to business as usual. Don't keep bringing the situation up. It’s best to move forward with grace and love. Kids always appreciate second chances. (So do I).

Kids have driven their parents crazy since the beginning of time with all kinds of behaviors. As parents, we always need to be on our toes, making sure we are raising our kids in the way they should go. If we love them and truly want to raise them to be leaders, givers, and problem solvers, we need to teach them that there are consequences to their behavior through loving, effective discipline.

Posted by Heather Hiple

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