How should you discipline your child (it isn’t what you think!)?

July 10, 2022

You don’t. You read that right. You don’t discipline or punish your child. Here is what you do instead. 

You TEACH your kids. You are your child’s first teacher. And the definition of discipline is actually the “practice of training someone” (this is why university subjects are called “disciplines” they are training students in science or art or math).  Only in parenting have we morphed and distorted the definition of discipline to mean punishment. So let’s throw out the term discipline and focus on the teaching and training part of the equation :)

First, remember that kids learn by doing. That’s why they learn their letters most effectively through play, their colors as they paint, and why we have ALL the great play ideas for you in the Activity Library. The same goes for social-emotional things. Kids will learn where the boundaries are by pushing them. They will make mistakes and mess up, and that provides the learning opportunity for them to learn what TO DO instead. 

So any time you face a big parenting challenge, instead of feeling defeated or annoyed try to remind yourself that this is a learning opportunity. This challenging moment, right now, this one that makes you want to pull your hair out, is actually helping your little one have fewer and fewer of these moments moving forward.

If we just yell, shame, embarrass, take things away, or send them to their room, kids won't learn how to handle their big feelings or navigate tricky social situations. And we aren’t making our lives as parents any easier in the future.

Note: We do use time-outs. Learn how we use them here.

So, let’s dig into an example. Say your kid hit you in a fit of anger, how would you tackle that? 

First, you make your child feel heard seen, and connect with them: 

“I can see you’re feeling mad. It’s okay to feel mad. I feel that way a lot too.”

Then you hold the boundary *and* explain the why:

“But we don’t hit. It could hurt you or someone around you.”

Then you teach by telling them what they could do to replace the behavior:

“You could try saying “I feel MAD” instead or even stomping your foot hard on the ground.”

This helps REPLACE the behavior you want to see less of, with one that is totally acceptable. You’re adding tools to your child’s toolbox so they have different means of expressing themselves moving forward.

But what do you do when you HAVE to provide a consequence?

Well, you find a related or natural consequence, meaning a consequence that is connected to the behavior you want to see less of. And we want the consequence to be in the moment. 

Saying “you don’t get the iPad all week because you bit your sister” doesn’t help change the biting behavior and the consequence isn’t in the moment. So an hour later when they don’t get the iPad because they bit their sister they aren’t going to be self-reflecting on their biting behavior (they are probably just going to give you BIGGER behavior because they’re confused about why you took away the iPad).

Instead, a related consequence would be that if they can’t control their biting they won’t be able to stay and play because the behavior isn’t safe for their sister. You would then take the child away from the game or activity they’re playing, and explain to them the expected behavior they need to have (aka. no biting) to be able to rejoin the play. The loss of playing *because* the behavior was unsafe is a related consequence, and it was immediate and in the moment. You also took the time to teach them the expected behavior, and you gave them a second chance to rejoin and practice what they learned. That is some grade-A parenting right there :)

Here are some other common examples of related and natural consequences:

  • Your child is being a little silly and spills their milk. They must clean it up before going to play
  • Your child refuses their jacket. They get cold (and you can have the jacket on hand for them to make a different choice)
  • Your child refuses to eat. They feel hungry (and you can offer them the same lunch again to eat)
  • Your child is struggling to share at playgroup. They have to take a break from playing with their friends until they’re ready to rejoin
  • Your child is having trouble behaving at the restaurant. You have to leave because they didn’t follow the expected behaviors of a restaurant
  • Your child is having trouble listening on the walk to the park. They have to hold your hand rather than walk independently because it would be unsafe for them with moving cars around

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