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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 6
- learn what typical kids need as they grow, and how to fill their needs
effectively over two decades without neglecting yourself. The range and
scope of major social problems suggests that U.S. parents are failing at
this. Successfully implementing the
concepts in this Lesson depend on your integrating and practicing the ideas
1 thru 5.
This article provides a framework to help improve child discipline in
any type of family. The framework proposes...
six long-tem goals of child discipline,
a definition of
"Discipline" comes from disciple, which meant
learner to ancient
Latin-speakers. In a family context,
child discipline is a process which
generally aims to (a) promote household and family order and harmony,
and (b) teach young people how to conduct themselves in society when
they live on their own.
The child-discipline process is composed of...
A set of
(a) adult values and (b) related behavioral
rules (shoulds, ought
to's, have to's, and musts), and...
stated or implied
consequences for minor children;
which may be
enforced or not;
respectfully or not; by one or more
Each factor can
promote family harmony or stress. To
understand effective discipline, consider these...
I've met many harried caregivers who
couldn't clearly describe why they "did" child
discipline.Answer this out loud:
"Why do parents
discipline their kids?" Then compare your answer to these
each minor child that their actions have
which they're responsible for and can control;
to help maintain
order, harmony, and security in the home and family;
to enhance the
self and mutual
respect of children and parents;
to protectthe inexperienced child,
property, and other
people from harm;
to modelhow parents lovingly guide,
protect, and care for minor children, and...
to showthe child (vs.
tell)that healthy people have limits
to what they'll tolerate
(boundaries) and what happens when these limits
Would you change this
list? Notice that these factors aim at long-term child development, notjust on correcting a current attitude or behavioral problem.
Did the adults who raised you have a steady long-term goals to guide
How would each
caregiving adult in
your family rank these six goals in importance? Would your child/ren be surprised at any of these ideas? Notice that the
bold words above have a positive flavor, vs. possible child
discipline goals like "... to punish my child..." or
"...to make my child..."
Now let's use these goals to define...
Effective Child Discipline?
Often, busy or distracted parents don't
clarify their own values and goals for setting behavioral limits and consequences
with their kids - specially if their parents weren't clear on those. So
settle for just "Maintain order in our home."
They may get this objective,
but at the high cost of their kids' self- esteem, mutual respect, and/or family
harmony. The wry title of David Campbell's
book paraphrases your child-discipline possibilities: "If you don't know where
you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."
How do you know if the child discipline in your
family is "working well?" The answer varies by national, local, and
family cultures, and adults' personalities.
Your answer depends on your definition of the aims of
discipline. If you accept the six goals above, then effective child
discipline is "When we meet these
goals enough of the time." Another definition: "When
each affected family member consistently feels their main
primary needs are filled well
Option: reflect, and say your definition of "effective child
discipline" out loud now. Then keep it in mind as you read...
Do you think limit-and-consequence setting with kids is the same in all
families? See what you think after exploring these guidelines.
Option: use the
following checklist to note your family's child-discipline strengths and
things to improve. See how the following compares with what your family adults believe...
I propose that the following points apply in
any family with minor children.
Adults usually guided by their
true Selves are most likely to
provide consistently-effective child discipline.
Co-parents unaware of
wounds risk providing ineffective or
harmful child guidance. See
who are clear and consistent on...
responsibilities as a parent,
what their specific long-range parenting
goals are, and...
they want to achieve these goals...
...are more likely to provide
for kids in their
care. These three factors promote parenting by objective, rather than
by goal-less daily "fire-fighting."
who view kids' "disobedience," "defiance," and "rebellion" as
and bad would do better to recognize that often, those attitudes
are normal instinctive testing. Kids need to
reassure them-selves that they're not more powerful than their adults,
that the adults are in reliably charge, and that they aresafe.
As kids become teens, they test to gain experience and
confidence at independent living,
4) Adults who use these seven
communication skills to set limits and consequences with their kids are more likely to be effective,
short and long term. One key is each adult consistently believing each
child to be a person worthy of equal respect and dignity to themselves
- i.e. holding a mutual-respect attitude. Do
your family adults have this attitude?
5) Adults who usually discipline to punish (i.e. to inflict
pain and fear),
shaming their child (core belief: "I'm a
bad person") and growing
guilt ("I always do bad things.") Also, punish-ment-baseddiscipline usually increases a child's anxiety ("I'm not really
safe here"). That fosters
false-self formation over time.
Disciplining to teach, guide,
and protect instills positive self-worth and security over
The child perceives "You careenough to endure my protests respectfully, and you - who know more than I do - will
guard me against my hurting myself. Someone
wise and caring is in charge of my home, and
I am safe."
Guideline 6) Avoid trying to be
totally fair. It's
inevitable that (a) you will favor one child a little or a lot, (b) you'll sometimes be
inconsistent (even with your wonderchild), and that (c) your judgment will not always mimic
Solomon's. It's also inevitable that your standards will vary from your spouse's and
your parents. Shoot for...
being as consistent as you can,...
giving yourself permission to be "perfectly
acknowledging your child's complaints
honestly - when
you don't match his/her standard of perfection - without launching a guilt trip.
If you're unsure about
the degree of favoritism or
inconsistency you show in your discipline,
ask for feed-back from adults you trust to be honest and unbiased.
to distinguish between
requests that you make of your children ("no,"
"maybe," or "later" are OK responses),
are not OK responses). You can reduce misunderstandings and
squabbling if you firmly assert a limit like "This is
More general guidelines for
effective child discipline...
With "significant" rules and consequences,ask
your child to demonstrate that they understand (a) specifically what you expect of them, and
(b) the specific consequence you'll provide if they choose to do otherwise.
For example, specificfeedback sounds like: "So I have to be home by 10:30, or I'll get grounded
for next weekend - or I should call you if I'm going to be late because of an
emergency." Non-specific feed-back sounds like: "OK, OK, I gotta be home
on time, or else..." It's hard on parents and kids if the rules or
the consequences are fuzzy, ambivalent, or assumed.
9) Consequences defined in
advance promote the
least resentment, resistance, and defiance than those
created on the spot. Do you agree? What did you experience as a child?
you define a consequence to a child for breaking a household or family rule, make sure the
consequence happens promptly if it's earned. Kids can get frightened of their own power,
and lose respect for their caregivers, if they feel they can often con the
adult into withholding a justified consequence. A rel-evant motto is "Say
what you mean, and mean what you say."
11) Discipline consequences can be
natural("When you leave your bike outside, I worry that it may get stolen."),
and parental("I sure hope that doesn't happen. If it does, don't expect me to buy you another
one.") Which option do you feel is more effective, short and long-term? Do
you know what's best for the child if parents
disagree on which type to
Fit the consequence to the situation. "You forgot to take out the trash again,
and I had to do it. You're grounded for the rest of the summer." may win the battle,
but lose the war. Timid or overly-harsh consequences are probable signs
of false-self control in the adult/s.
13) In defining limits and
consequences, explain factually
how your child's behavior affects you. For instance: "When you leave the
back door unlocked or standing wide open, I get scared that someone may come into our
house and take something" is more "hearable" than "I don't like it
when you're a total jerk and leave the whole house wide open - so don't, you
moron!" Build the habit of using clear, respectful
More general guidelines for
setting effective limits and consequences...
prepared for the
child's "That's not fair!" test. If you get hooked
into (a) explaining why your limit or consequence is "fair," or "pulling
rank" ("I don't need to be fair, because I'm the adult here!"), you've
lost. A better option is to calmly reflect back what the child says
without comment or explanation ("You feel I have to be fair."), and then
repeat the limit or consequence. Do this as many times as you need,
until you feel heard.
discussing rules and consequences literally on the child's (eye) level. A kid's
ability to hear you may shrink if you tower over them, with an angry
voice and face (remember?). With younger kids, squat, sit, or kneel to reduce the chance they'll feel intimidated.
If you're really frustrated, weary,
distracted, let intense emotions, abate before confron-ting a child
("We'll talk more about this after I take a walk.") Kids' (and adult's) ears often stop working when they're
significantly scared, guilty, and/or
the chance that a disobeying child feels
shamed by a (parental, vs. natural)
conse-quence by telling them "I love you, and (not "but"!) I
really don't like what you did, just now. I'm feeling frustrated and angry!"
In other words, teach kids to distinguish between their self-hood and their
("You're so thoughtless / wimpy / yellow / stupid / lazy /
dumb / weird / inconsiderate..." etc.)
and labels ("you're a nerd / bitch /
whore / tramp / liar / sorry excuse / joke / mistake / creep / jackass / jerk / idiot /..."). Using such
disrespectful words breeds
anxiety, resent-ment, defiance, distrust, and life-crippling
psychjological wounds. You can protect kids' self-image and
your point across by (a) getting good eye contact, and (b) firmly saying
some version of this...
"When you (factually describe their specificbehavior,
like a news reporter)...
"I feel... (describe your emotions without exaggerating and/or guilt-tripping),...
"because... (factually describe the
of the child's behavior on
your life). An optional ending is...
"...and I need you to (take some specific action). If you choose not
to, then (describe a specific consequence you intend to enforce.)"
Communication coaches call this kind of
assertion an "I" message, because you focus on yourself, not
the other person. (a) Expect resistance to your
assertion ("You're so mean! / "You're never
fair!"), (b) demonstrate that you hear
the child by respectfulempathic listening, and then (c)calmly re-assert.
Do you need a stretch break?
We're almost done with these general guidelines...
behavioral disputes as soon as you can. Enforcing a
consequence two weeks after an incident is far less effective than doing it right away.
Among other things, it maximizes the chance that the circumstances blur, letting your
child try the "You never said that!" defense. Difficulty doing
this usually implies a false self controls the adult.
kids who have broken a rule or agreement to be defensive!
When anyone feels criticized, embarrassed, or "wrong," a normal
reaction is to explain, divert, rationalize,
counterattack, whine pitifully, deny, and so on.
Ridiculing or criticizing your child for
attempting to protect themselves will promote their being sneaky, guilty,
confused, withdrawn, rebellious (or depressed), and ashamed, over time.
Respecting their feelings consistently and sticking firmly to the current consequence will help them...
feel safe and accepted,
be more open to learning the results of their actions, and...
Do you agree?
21) If you
feel a child should learn when and how to apologize,
do so yourself.
If you never take responsibility for your mistakes and say (and mean)
"I'm sorry" - yet you insist that the child do this - you may get what you
want, along with confusion, sullenness, disrespect, and resistance. Did your
parents apologize sincerely for their blunders and shortcomings?
discipline by praising compliance and cooperation
- if you genuinely feel like
doing so. A false compliment is a
double message, and is worse than none.
Over-praising will dull the
effect also. Since most shame-based people are embarrassed by praise, it can help to be as specific as
possible to reduce the chance they'll discount or minimize your appreciation. For
"Jackie, when you cleaned up the kitchen tonight
after your friends were over, it saved me from doing it. You were really thoughtful and
considerate. Thanks a lot!"
is much harder to shrug off than...
"Well, your mess in the kitchen was smaller than
usual, last night. Maybe there's hope for you after all." (an insulting or "negative" compliment).
discipline "works" (you and your child each get your needs met well
enough), affirm yourself! If it doesn't work (per your
definition), review these guidelines alone or with a trusted neutral
partner and look for a way do better next time.
+ + +
how you feel after reviewing these general child-discipline guidelines.Have you
ever seen a set of ideas like this? Did you
realize how manyfactors affect the out-come of setting rules and
conse-quences? If you had listed your own guidelines, would they look like these? How
would your parents' list have compared to this? Your present and/or former partner's'
Do nothing with these guidelines, or...
Print and edit these guidelines to better fit who you are as a unique
set of general discipline guidelines with your
partner, your other co-parenting partner/s, and possibly your kids. See where you
all agree and where you don't. Consider coming up with a joint list that everyone accepts, and
Compare these premises with how your parents or caregivers (including key
teachers) disciplined you. Are your present standards about effective child discipline
own, or your parents'? And/or you may...
Use these to add to your and other family-members' awareness...
for communicating effectively with typical
Hilight guidelines above that you feel are specially important, and include them in your
job descriptions; and/or...
If you've drafted a family
review it, and see if your child-discipline guidelines are
consistent with it. If your family adults haven't
drafted a mission statement yet, what's in the way of doing do?
This article exists because of the millions of psychologically-wounded adults and kids
our society. Their wounds come mostly from inadequate parenting. The
article proposes six typical long-term goals for normal child
discipline, based on a definition of a high-nurturance family, and common
child-development tasks. It uses these goals to define effective
child discipline in typical intact biofamilies, and to provide 23
specific guidelines for effective child discipline..
Note - Lesson 7 includes perspective and guidelines for effective
child-discipline in typical multi-home stepfamilies.
They build on these
- learn more about
your child-discipline values, and/or
return to Lesson 6.