How to discipline your child – part 6

Understanding how to follow a calm, collected and effective discipline routine is one (very important) thing, but actually deciding which behaviours are deemed unacceptable is another. This leaves some parents with a lax approach, allowing their children to explore (and conquer) at will. While other parents swing to the opposite end of the pendulum, and discipline their children for every conceivable ‘offence’, leaving their home feeling like Bosnia in the 1980’s.

It is obvious that both approaches are extreme, and ‘somewhere in the middle’ is a whole lot easier, for both parents and their young children. One of the most important factors to consider when deciding which behaviours will require discipline, is the need for consistency. The more rules you have, the bigger the challenge to remain consistent. So, it is sometimes more effective to have a handful of ‘true north principles’ rather than countless codes of conduct.


Pearl of Wisdom #6

Pick your battles – less is more

When it comes to parenting, and life in general, it is always easier to keep things simple and straightforward. Having a million things to remember is difficult enough – especially when it comes to discipline. We suggest the following list of discipline-worthy behaviours:

1. When your child is disobedient and defiantly ignores you when you give him a direct instruction.

2. When your child behaves arrogantly, for example slamming doors, spitting or hitting at you when he is angry, screaming at people and being generally disrespectful towards other people.

3. When your child breaks well-known obvious and well-known rules such as climbing on the table in a restaurant, throwing stones at a window, hanging out the window of a moving vehicle, and the like.

Obviously, every parent and every child is different, and so each discipline routine will be unique. However, it is sometimes best to not sweat the small stuff and rather focus on the important principles with the conviction and consistency that is required to make a real change in behaviour.

Present a united front to your child:

As children develop morally, they go through various stages during which they learn to think differently about right and wrong. (Academically inclined parents can have a look at Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development on

Morally, all children start off at a place where they assume that rules are fixed and handed down by powerful authorities. A child who functions on this level believes that rules should be obeyed unquestioningly. Their reason for obeying is “because it’s WRONG to break the rules” and “because you’ll get PUNISHED if you do that!”. They still have to learn that an action may be “right” in one situation and “wrong” in another, that different people may have different perspectives about right and wrong and that one may decide to stick to the rules to uphold social order and not necessarily to avoid punishment. And children who function on the first level of moral development are most definitely not yet thinking about whether or not their actions align with their inner rudder or conscience.

Naturally, some people make it all the way to level six with regards to moral development, while others don’t. That’s a topic for another article. The point that we’re trying to make here is that every child starts at the same place. In other words, the very foundation of moral development is where a child views rules as “unquestionable”, “the same for everyone” and “applicable in all circumstances”.

With this in mind, one can imagine how disturbing and confusing it is to a young child when he is often confronted with two parents who openly disagree about what the rules should be, whether or not the child should be punished, and exactly what the punishment should involve.  Disunity amongst parents clearly has the potential to rock the very foundation of a child’s moral development!

Why do parents typically disagree about discipline?

The most common conflict occurs between parenting couples who have opposing parenting styles. By the time we’re old enough to have children all of us have developed an individual belief system and an ingrained idea of what it means to be an effective parent. The greatest polarization and conflict typically arises when one parent is very authoritarian, while the other is very indulgent.

An authoritarian parent is more parent-centred and more committed to control and direct a child’s behaviour. An indulgent parent, on the other hand, is more child-centred. They are nontraditional and lenient; they do not require mature behaviour and they generally avoid confrontation.

Practical advice:

As an Authoritarian Parent you can:

1) Make an effort to be clear about rules and guidelines so that your child can have the security of knowing that he can predict how you’re going to react in different situations. Explain the reasoning behind the rules that you lay down. “Because I said so” doesn’t build bridges between you and your child.

2) Deliberately make an effort to become more child-centred by taking time out to listen to your child and answer his or her questions. Older children can also be invited to give input into family activities and decision making.

3) Use your knowledge of normal child development as a framework to better understand your child’s perspective in a given situation. If needed, deliberately learn more.

4) Spend more time with your child in mutually pleasurable pastimes. Making memories and simply having fun together will help to strengthen your bond.

As an Indulgent Parent you can:


1) Learn to see discipline as ‘training’ and an opportunity to shape a child’s character and develop self-control. Consider what the outcome will be for your children if you don’t help them to mature and develop the social skills they need to be respected and succeed in life.

2) Practice saying ‘no’ to your child without trying to avoid confrontation and protecting him or her from frustration. Some of the most valuable lessons are learnt at the feet of pain and discomfort.

3) Model by what you say and what you do that you expect of your child to respect the authority of adults and authority figures in his world.

4) Be a parent to your child. He will have many friends in his life. He needs you to fulfil your special role as his parent and ‘trainer’. Remind yourself constantly that ‘parent’ is a verb.

The only way to resolve conflict between authoritarian and indulgent parents will be for both adults to make the effort to learn from each other. It’s not so much about compromise as it is about learning new skills.

Parenthood is clearly a journey that has the potential to shape us in profound ways when we let it. We have to agree with Queen Rania of Jordan when she said:

Children keep us in check. Their laughter prevents our hearts from hardening. Their dreams ensure we never lose our drive to make ours a better world. They are the greatest disciplinarians known to mankind.

When we know better… we do better.

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