Discipline: 5 More Ways to Do It Right

Making change from the outside in

Posted May 05, 2011

We finish our list of discipline tips and ways to put them into action

#6. Don't pull rank. While you're probably tempted to say (oh, 20 times a day) "Because I said so, that's why!" Resist. This pulling rank is about your frustration and anger and your attempt to gain control.  While you may momentarily feel better, your child misses the point about what you're asking. Instead help your child better understand you and how you think by making one-sentence, no-emotion comments about your concerns or worries: "I want you to come home at 6:00 because I'm worried that if you get too tired, you'll have a hard time getting all your homework done." He doesn't have to agree and might even argue, but that's okay and you can still stand by your guns.

Understanding your motivation and intentions makes you seem less like a bully. By modeling good communication and self-responsibility, she has an opportunity to better understand what makes you tick. Over time your words will come inside and she will better understand what makes her tick.

#7. Words matter. This is tied to consistency. Do what you say, say what you mean. If you tell your child that you are all leaving the house at 8:00 am, set the timer and leave at 8:00. If they are half-dressed, bring the clothes and let them get dressed in the car. If they missed their breakfast, grab a banana and some cereal, and they can eat it on the way to school. If you don't be consistent and match words and actions, your child learns that words don't matter. Again this is part of creating a feeling of stability and reliability. Without it they get confused, they test. 

#8. Use logic. Or rather logical consequences to shape behavior. This is how we learn as adults. You don't pay your electric bill, your lights get turned off. You come to work late 2 weeks in a row and your boss sits you down for a serious talk, writes you up, or fires you from your job. It's an effective way to learn, it's real life and it teaches children responsibility by showing them the consequences of their actions. "I'm sorry it took you a long time to finish cleaning your room. We don't have time to read a story (or watch TV or go swimming)." Again, matter-of-fact, don't nag, don't scold; it's not about you. This approach can keep you from railing on. It side-steps your kids just seeing you as being mean and missing the bigger point. It teaches your child how life really works.

#9. One positive deserves another. Research tells us that positives shape behavior much more effectively an negatives. The famous studies by John Gottman on marriage and relationships shows that couples need a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative comments in their relationship in order for the other person to hear anything positive. Less than that and the other person feels like you are always being critical or on their back.

Kids are no different. They move towards the positive, especially when there is emotion behind it - excitement, real appreciation -- and when it is specific - You are doing such a good job sharing your toys with your brother; I really like the way you helped carry the dishes into the kitchen when grandma came over - rather than just a generic Good job guys. Look for what's good, rather than always zeroing in on the bad.

#10. Get on the same page. This is for you and your partner. While you both have different personalities and hence, different styles, you shouldn't have different rules or different priorities. If routines fall apart because Dad is in charge instead of Mom or visa versa, kids lose their stability, get confused, start testing, squeeze through the cracks between you both, or quickly learn to play one of you off against the other - ask easy-going Mom instead of mean Dad.

It's easy for parents to polarized - one tough, the other easy-going - as a way of balancing the other guy out. Often underneath it all is a relationship problem that is being played out through the children. This parental split is a relationship issue between you both that needs to be solved. If you suspect that is the case, get the kids out of the middle, talk about your differences and if needed, get professional help.

These do's and don'ts apply to all kids regardless of their age. What you do need to sensitive to is updating and refining them to fit your childrens' changing developmental needs. With a younger child the language will be simpler, the amount of direction may be more. As children get older, you can explain more, can give them more options, get their input in solving problems, give them more room to establish their own routines. By teenage years, your job moves towards being more that consultant, and you save you power for really important issues like health and safety. The principles stay the same, the fine-print changes.

A Plan of Action

If you are seeing a need to make changes in your family, the best place to start is by making a change in yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you get going:

Pick one area. Don't try and do the big make-over. As you look at the list, review your family life, pick on area that you want to work on first. It may be setting good bedtime routines, it may be controlling your own emotions, it may be increasing the positives or talking with your partner about a workable game-plan. Start small so you can build up your self-confidence while not overwhelming your kids.

Come up with a plan. So you decide, for example, that you want to get a handle on bedtime routine, map out the changes in advance when you're not stressed and are clear-headed. Envision how you would like it to be. Think in terms of behaviors - what do you want to do differently, what do you want your children to do - rather than worrying about emotions - how you want them to feel. Change behaviors first and emotions will follow. Be as specific as possible, and build into your planning anticipated obstacles (sharing of the bathroom, individual times for reading stories) and ways around them.

Let you kids know what's coming. Again, it's about prep and warnings: "Tomorrow, I want us to change how we do bedtime. Because I want us to have time to read together, I want you get ready for bed a little bit earlier, take a bath, and pack up your stuff for school. I'll give you a warning and set the timer to let you know when it's time to shut off the TV.

Expect resistance. Some kids handle change better than others, but it's human nature to want no change at all. Be like Mary Poppins - clear, matter-of-fact, no drama, lots of positive comments - good job getting your pajamas on. Empathize with emotions but stick to behaviors.

Get support. If you have a partner, work together as a team, either backing you up, sharing the responsibilities (I'll handle Tom if you get Kathy in bed). Talk about first aide if you find yourself getting frustrated (come stand next me or just give me a quick hug) in order to help you stay on track. If you are alone, work out a plan to call someone for support while the kids are taking a bath. Figure out in advance what you need to be successful.

Evaluate, fine-tune. See how it goes, make minor adjustments (still too rushed, need another 10 minutes) but don't scrape the idea if it doesn't go as smoothly as you hoped. You're not just changing behaviors, or literally rewiring brains - your kids as well as your own. It takes some repetition and time.

Pat yourself on the back. It isn't about doing it Right, it's about doing it different. That's what counts.

Bring in the reinforcements. Finally, don't hesitate to get additional help if you need it - online information, a parenting skills group, a couple of sessions with a counselor. Don't discourage yourself by thinking you have some intractable personality defect; it's about learning skills, pure and simple. Recognizing a problem and being willing to tackle it is 50% towards fixing it.

Treat yourself the way you wish to treat your kids. With determination, support, patience, and a positive attitude.

You'll discover that you can do it.