My Top Ten List for Discipline

In my last blog, When Did Discipline Become a Dirty Word?, I promised my top ten list of discipline principles we have used when working with families over the past 30 years. We know these principles work, and we are intentional about applying them in our own home. Yes, they are very common sense, but I think as parents we have made this discipline thing too complicated. Keep it simple. Trust me; my wife and I blow it on a regular basis.  But when things get tough in our home, it’s usually because we are not following one of these ten principles. So here’s our Top Ten:

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Top Ten List of Discipline Practices:

  1. Be An Authoritative Parent Not An Authoritarian One -Did you even know there was a difference?  Authoritative parenting simply means your children know who’s in charge and they trust and respect your leadership.  The authoritative parent demonstrates what the family values through a consistent example. Authoritative parents model things like hard work, strong academics, faith, manners, respect, honesty, integrity, etc. You determine your home’s environment, educate, and then reinforce those values in your children. Think of yourself as the captain of the team.  The captain leads, and the team follows because they trust the captain. There is peace and order in the home, because the kids know mom and dad have a plan and know how to carry it out. Many parents confuse this with being an authoritarian where there is super high expectation and little freedom and communication. That’s not what we are talking about. That’s more like being a dictator. Remember... Rules without relationship equal rebellion.  

  2. Model and Teach Them To Serve Others- You may already be shaking your head because as good as that sounds on paper, your children are still not following your lead. Hang with me. Children come into this world as selfish beings. This selfishness usually begins to rear its ugly head between the ages of 2-3 years old, which is why they call it the “Terrible Twos”  If our kids have any chance at all at being well adjusted, successful adults, they must learn how to serve others. When children learn to serve and help others, they learn to live for something bigger than themselves, whether it be their family, team, community, business, etc. When they don’t learn to be good servants, they become selfish individuals that range from being annoying to being dangerous and self-destructive.

  3. Model and Teach Good Character -Often, we think of good character as just having good manners, but it goes far beyond manners.  Good character includes: honesty, trust, integrity, work ethic, responsibility, self-control, and resourcefulness just to name a few.  Yes, parents should expect these attributes to be enforced at school, but first and foremost, they start in the home. This is best done by modeling it to your children, and then expecting it from them in return.

  4. Model And Teach Respect and Obedience for Authority - Respect for authority is essential in in developing your child’s gifts, talents, skills, and aptitude. If your child is left to think they are in charge and know what’s best, they will fall short of all God has planned for their life. Adults like teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, police, firemen, etc. have a tremendous opportunity to influence and help our children grow to their fullest potential.  That’s only if the child is raised to honor, listen, and learn. The fastest way to lose this positive influence and growth opportunity in your child is for YOU to argue with the authority figures in your child’s life. Disagreeing with teachers, coaches, referees, police, etc. only shows your child disrespect for authority. This is not to say authority figures don’t make mistakes, but it’s still important to always treat them with respect and the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Set Reasonable And Clear Expectations -As a parent, it’s important to let your children know what you expect up front.  At the age of two or so, you can begin to let your child know what you expect in your home.  Whether it’s to say “please and thank you” or to return a toy back to its proper place. These are things that you must make clear.  Otherwise, you will find yourself frustrated when your child doesn’t behave like you think they should. You often will take it as misbehaving, when in fact, you simply have made your expectations clear.

  6. Enforce And Follow Up on Expectations -So often I am asked, what is the best technique for discipline. Is it rewards, spankings, timeouts, remove privileges, chores, etc? Let me be clear, it is not about the technique or consequence you use.  The best form of discipline is the one that is effective, safe, and implemented consistently in an age-appropriate way. I have seen positive rewards work and fail. I have seen spankings work and fail. I have seen raising your voice work and fail.  My point is this; come to an agreement with your partner on what you are going to enforce. Let your child know what your expectations are, and then enforce those expectations using an effective, safe, and age-appropriate discipline. Most parents believe they are disciplining their child when they are yelling all the time, or telling their child to do something over and over again.  If you have to constantly yell or repeat yourself multiple times, you are not using an effective approach to discipline. You may have to change a consequence depending on it’s effectiveness, but your values and expectations should be consistent. Believe it or not, those consistent values and expectations are what gives your child emotional peace and security. Even when they don’t like the consequences.

  7. Talk Less; Act More -We can all fall guilty with this.  I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in my office with a student and talked way too much about how to solve a problem.  The student would nod as if he understood what I was saying, and I would think “yes, he’s getting it”! Only to have the student walk out of my office and commit the same offense 20 minutes later.  Ugh! Bottom line - talk is cheap when it comes to discipline.  Lay out your expectations, let the child know what the consequences will be, both good and bad, and then carry them out!  If you are telling your child five times to pick up their shoes with no consequences, then you are sending a loud message that you really don’t mean what you say.  Mean what you say and say what you mean. Your expectation should be- when I ask you to do something I mean it! Yes, they may not do it the first time, but make sure they experience a consequence if they don’t. This creates a clear expectation, which creates predictability and ultimately results in security for the child.

  8. Follow Up with Love and Encouragement- So often when discipline is taking place, emotions are usually running high. There is often a storm brewing inside the mind of the child, and quite often, inside the mind of the parent.  There is anger, fear, anxiety, frustration- you name it. Humans have a difficult time using both the emotional side and the logical side of the brain at the same time. For this reason, when the parent is disciplining, he or she needs to refrain from using too many words.  I have been guilty of thinking that the more I talk and explain myself, the more they will understand. WRONG! When the child’s brain is emotionally charged, they are hearing very little of what you are saying. They are just thinking, “oh no, what’s going to happen next?”.  So, be of few words, say what needs to be said, then allow a time for emotions to settle. This may be 30 - 60 minutes. Once you have seen the emotions calm, then it is essential for you to follow up with your child. This is when you briefly recap what the discipline was for, and what your expectations will be in the future. This is when you let your child know that you were upset with a specific behavior, but your love for them is unwavering. Once this conversation is finished, do not continue to rehash or throw it back into their face. Let it go and move on! 

  9. Encourage And Praise Often - You are your child’s number one fan! You are their first mentor, provider, and encourager. Most every word that comes out of your mouth carries incredible influence in the life of your child.  More than buying gifts and material rewards, your child thrives on your honest praise and encouragement.  I say honest, because false praise and encouragement can be more detrimental than good. Don’t falsely inflate your child’s self-concept.  Yes, they need to be effectively corrected and told when they have done something wrong and ways to improve. Please refrain from giving gifts and rewards for expected behaviors.  Your words are so valuable, they mean so much more in the long run than any gift you could give. Make sure to encourage the things you value like their effort, attitude, or sportsmanship.  

  10. Never Argue With Your Child -Yes, I said NEVER.  When you argue with your child, you send the message that they have the ability to change who you are as the parent and what you stand for.  If they feel like they won you over once, you can guarantee they will push back over and over again. Think back for a moment, would you ever even imagined arguing with your parents?  As a kid, I was frequently annoyed and upset with my parents, but the idea of arguing with them, especially as a young child, never crossed my mind. I clearly understood they were in charge, and I lived in THEIR house.  As a parent, don’t argue or negotiate with your child, until you can trust their value system. Once you trust that they are operating with a similar set of values, then you can allow more back and forth conversation and let them weigh in on different decisions.   

In the end, your child needs you to be their leader and encourager.  They need to learn from your example. More is caught than ever taught. This top ten list is what we use in our home to develop mental, physical, social, and emotional tools in our children. Research has shown these tools to be essential in growing to be a well-adjusted successful adult.  So set the values, goals, and expectations you want for your family, model them in your home, and don’t look back. Our kids are counting on us!