by Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family
Discipline. It’s definitely one of the most often recurring topics that I’m asked about in various family coaching situations.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth: many common discipline problems with kids are really rooted in parental behavior. Problems result from parents not being consistent with rules and consequences. When we don’t consistently follow through with the discipline that we promise, we are ultimately doing a disservice to our kids.
Let’s start with pre-school kiddos. You ask, beg, plead, cajole, and sometimes resort to hollering at them to pick up their toys. In a moment of frustration, you threaten to throw away anything that’s left out on the floor overnight. Morning comes, and guess what? The toys are still there. You start the process of picking up the toys and putting them in a garbage bag, when the tears and pleading promises begin, so you capitulate and say, “Ok, but this is your last chance.”
You’ve just taken the easy way out, and the collateral damage is that you’ve shown your child that you don’t REALLY mean business when you make rules or threaten consequences for breaking them.
Fast forward 10 years, and now you have a teenager whose bedroom floor is assumed to still exist, but is not readily visible under the mountains of laundry, papers, and –ew—empty pizza boxes and chip bags.
And you’re still just as frustrated and irritated, if not more so. But whose fault is that?
Following through with the discipline you promise is absolutely essential to creating healthy boundaries for your children. They are always going to test limits, so those limits need to be firm and fair – and consistently enforced.
At the root of the problem is that, in general, many parents are just not motivated to do the tough job of enforcing the rules and enacting the consequences. Too many of us would rather avoid the drama, the conflict, and all of the associated general messiness, just letting the misbehavior slip under the rug one more time.
As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?”
The reality is that we too often make up rules that we simply don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to see through. If that’s the case, it would be better to not make the rule in the first place.
Take the example above. If you really care whether or not your child keeps his toys off the floor or her bedroom picked up, then you would enforce the consequences for not doing so.
When you let the behavior slide again, and again, and again, you’re essentially making it clear that such behavior is not actually all that important to you. The problem is that by having a rule you’re not enforcing, you’re setting yourself up for big problems when a rule that truly is important to you, like no alcohol or drugs, gets broken.
Would you respect your boss at work if he or she let all sorts of broken company policies and rules slip by unchallenged — dress code, break times, workplace language etc. — but then came unglued if you left an hour early on a Friday? Of course you wouldn’t.
So why would you expect it to be any different for your kids?
Here’s the bottom line: if a desired behavior is truly important to you, as parents, then you have to step up, be the adult, and enforce the rules and consequences, no matter how much hassle is involved.
In his book The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens, Douglas Haddad suggests that parents remember effective discipline occurs in three different forms:
- in a loving, positive, supportive way that strengthens the parent-child relationship
- using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors; and
- using punishment only when necessary to decrease the frequency or eliminate undesired behaviors.
In a previous blog post I discussed the use of contracts with children to help them remain accountable for their behavior. It’s definitely one of the best tools we’ve ever used in my family, and is still our go-to way of managing expectations.
When it’s time to use punishment for consequences, however, I agree with three different approaches that Mr. Haddad suggests:
- Using time-out — especially effective with younger children, with a general rule of thumb being one minute per year of age. The children should be ignored while they are in a place free from any built-in rewards, such as television. When time is up, briefly explain to your child the desired and appropriate way to behave next time.
- Taking away privileges — this will be unique for every child, depending on what he or she values most. Most tweens and teens respond to losing access to their phone, video games, computer, or television. Once they are driving, losing that privilege carries a big impact! When the privileges are returned, make sure to discuss what led to the loss of privileges in the first place and how they might make a different decision next time they are in a similar situation.
- Grounding — this is essentially restricting your child’s activities for a certain time frame, such as visiting friends, shopping, or attending a special event. When you implement this consequence, be mindful of the duration. Don’t assign it for a week and then forget about it after a day or two. If a short grounding is all that is needed, then that’s all you should assign.
The next time your child makes the choice to behave in a way that pushes all of your buttons, take a moment. Stop and consider whether or not that behavior is worth your time and energy to correct. If it isn’t, let it go. But if it is, you’ll want to take a moment to think through your response and consider the appropriate disciplinary tactic. And then above all, see it through — not just this time, but next time, and the next, and the next…
I’d love to hear your thoughts about consistent discipline with children. Leave a comment below to share your experience!