How to discipline your child – part 1

How to discipline your child – part 1

For most parents, there is nothing so tiring or so challenging as discipline. We know we must do it, we know our children need and deserve boundaries, but the act of enforcing discipline often leaves parents feeling bad, frustrated, insecure and unsure.

As with many things in life, there are “different strokes for different folks” and “what works for one child may not work for another”. Consequently, there are many opinions and various discipline styles to choose from. What works in a specific household seems to be influenced by a number of factors, including the culture, lifestyle and routines of the family, the unique temperaments of all the individuals in the equation and the ages of the children. No wonder parents are apprehensive to commit to certain “methods”!

However, developing a disciplinary style is not something that can be done at a parent’s leisure. Hopping from one method to the next can only serve to confuse and unnerve everybody involved. Talk about pressure…

Consequently, we are very cautious as we tackle this topic. We most certainly don’t want to add to the confusion by offering more information about various methods, or a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, we believe that we will serve you better by giving you a better understanding of what discipline is all about – by sharing fundamental truths with you that will make it easier for you to make informed decisions and move forward with the conviction needed to see your discipline routine through.

This is the first of several posts on discipline, a “mini-workshop” if you like, offering you an in-depth look at discipline over the coming few weeks. That way you will have enough time to get a new concept under your skin before moving to the next.

Just so you know what to expect, here’s our first little pearl of wisdom:


Pearl of Wisdom #1:
Discipline is about training – not about passing a judgement

“But he doesn’t know what he’s doing…” is a common response from parents who struggle to discipline their child. Many parents believe that they should only discipline a child when they are sure that he is “guilty”. They view their discipline as a “judgement” in response to a “transgression”.

Consequently, they don’t feel comfortable with discipline while a child is still too young to understand that a certain way of behaving is unacceptable. They have a constant nagging feeling in the pit of their stomachs that they’re being unfair and unreasonable.

The problem with this very common (and understandable) way of thinking is that a child who is not disciplined consistently and confidently from the last quarter of the first year of life onwards, is not likely to have a well-developed sense of right and wrong by the time he will be expected to have that foundation of understanding. And it is far more difficult to back-track and try to re-train an older child.

A better way:

Instead of viewing discipline as “passing a judgement”, rather think of it as “training a child in the way that he should go”. Young children live in the moment. They don’t think in words, they don’t form or understand abstract ideas or have “pictures” in their minds of the way that things should be, and they sure don’t understand the concepts of “intent” or “guilt”.

We train little children by simply creating positive or negative associations in their minds: when a certain way of behaving consistently brings about a positive consequence, the child learns to repeat that behaviour, and conversely – when a specific action or behaviour consistently leads to some or other negative consequence – the child learns to refrain from repeating that action. It’s that simple.

So, when a ten-month-old baby hurts you by pulling your hair, it’s not unfair to react in a negative way with a clear and stern “No, that hurts Mommy!”. Then switch back to being your old friendly self and divert the child’s attention to something else by saying something like, “Let’s go see if the washing machine is spinning.” It’s a simple matter of training by creating associations. And you need to make peace with the fact that it takes time: you will need to repeat your tactics over and over again and be consistent – without getting upset or personal – until your child reaches the point where he or she will naturally start to feel uncomfortable with acting in certain ways.

Discipline is never about passing judgement – not even when dealing with older children, who naturally DO understand when they’re doing something wrong. The training element is always on the forefront. In fact, the word ‘discipline’ actually stems from the word ‘disciple’ (which has connotations of teaching and learning), so it’s always a method of guidance.

When you discipline an older child correctly he should be getting an empathetic message from your tone of voice and your expression that says: ‘what you are doing is not going to serve you over the long haul, rather do it this way.’

If this post speaks to you, changing your way of thinking may make a huge difference in your quality of life as a parent. When a parent stops feeling torn between the responsibility to discipline and the feelings of guilt that go along with “being the judge and jury”, it suddenly becomes much easier to stay calm and be consistent. And children of all ages respond much better to discipline when their parents feel good about what’s happening. No loving parent likes to judge – and no child likes to be judged. The good news is that we don’t have to go that route.

So, try the concept of non-judgemental discipline on for the next few days and see if it makes a difference to you. Good luck!

when we know better… we do better

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One thought on “How to discipline your child – part 1

  1. Madelyn Palm says:

    Dear Practica.

    Wow! This article is so helpful!!! We have a todler (3years) and discipline is something my husband and I highly value. I look around at school and church and notice that parents do not know how to discipline their children. I am looking forward to future posts on this subject.

    Kind regards

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