The Secret to Frustration-Free Discipline

by Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family

When you think of the word discipline, what comes to mind?

Do you immediately think of a parent/child interaction in some punitive, uncomfortable, or just generally negative way?

Or maybe you tune-in more to the root “disciple” and call to mind a kinder, gentler image of a leader/follower relationship.

Whichever way you relate to the word, the fact is that discipline is key to family life.

John Rosemond, a leading parenting expert, said this:

Expecting children to obey involves having a plan for what you’re going to do if they don’t. In fact, the secret to virtually frustration-free discipline is, first, have a plan; then, carry it through consistently.

Let’s say that your teen is spending too much time on her smartphone (hard to imagine, I know!) and you’ve had a report from her teacher that homework has been coming in late or not at all. Your first reaction is threatening to take the phone away if it happens again. It does, but you don’t follow through. Oh, I need her to get in touch with me after school activities. Or, I want to be able to use the GPS tracker to see her location. 

 Here’s what often happens: because it is going to inconvenience YOU for her to lose her phone privileges, you waffle on your decision.  This is where your own discipline comes in. Any rules/consequences that you set up in your home must be followed through consistently, every time, no matter how inconvenient it may be for you to do so.

I used to struggle with this, too.  As you can imagine, with six teenaged children, my wife and I live in that tension between needing to give our children consistent boundaries while at the same time giving them the freedom to grow.

What we finally concluded was this: if it’s a discipline issue important enough to make sure there is no misunderstanding, then why not use a tool everyone knows — and kids will eventually need to understand — a contract.

How Contracts Help Parents and Kids

Using contracts has taken the heartache out of implementing family discipline and accountability in our home. We’ve created win-win scenarios where you’re not having to constantly say no. Instead of regularly being on the defensive as parents, we now have the confidence to go on offense and turn battles of will into teachable moments.

When it’s time to implement a new agreement of some sort, we all preview the terms, we all agree to the consequences, and discipline is spelled out in advance.

When we establish clear expectations by using contracts, we are free to focus on helping our children learn from the consequences of their mistakes instead of having to decide the consequences in the heat of the moment. When they do something wrong, I love being able to say, “Hey, look—I feel for you.  This really stinks.  But we had an agreement; we’ve lived up to our end, and you haven’t lived up to your end.”

I can put my arm around them, and walk back through it, without shaming or yelling at them, and just say, “I’m really sorry, but this is part of life. We both made this agreement, and unfortunately your end hasn’t held up, so you need to give me your phone. I’m really pulling for you to get it back, but this is where we’re at.” No fight. No fuss. No chaos. And—to our surprise—no pushback from the kids.

As an added bonus, using contracts in our family has given our children valuable life experience in making binding, written agreements. We adults deal with contracts every day. Yet, how many kids are prepared for what that looks like and what that means? Why not prepare them for the future by making contracts part of their present?

Here are a few ways contracts benefit our family:

  • Give clear expectations of consequences and rewards.
  • Eliminate arguing over who said what. The contract is always available for review in case of confusion or forgotten commitments.
  • Expose children to the real-world consequences of making binding agreements.
  • Minimize the potential for drama over misunderstandings.
  • Reduce the number of times you must say no. Now you can say yes more often — provided they are willing to abide by the terms.
  • Keep us from having to repeat instructions and expectations.

Our kids have so embraced the use of contracts now that they bring us contracts when they want something to demonstrate they can be responsible.

What parent wouldn’t want to create teachable moments like that?

Question: Do you spend your valuable parenting time arguing over who said what? How might contracts help you end the confusion at home and get clarity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!






  1. Crystal February 28, 2017 at 9:05 am - Reply

    How old would you start this? Or maybe give us signs your child is ready for this, as all children develop individually.

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 10:25 am - Reply

      Crystal, introducing behavior charts is a great way to start. You can make it very simple and fun. Ask yourself: Does my child understand simple instructions? Do they understand the concept of consequences? Will they know what the pictures on the chart mean? Do they have enough fine motor skills to place their sticker on the chart. If your answers are yes, it may be time to start.

  2. Charity Wenger February 28, 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

    do you offer templates of contracts?

    • Ken Ostrye February 28, 2017 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      It is a simple bilateral contract; We’ll do this, if you do this – and if you don’t we’ll do this.

      If you can maintain a straight ‘A’ average, we’ll let you keep the TV in your room; and if it drops below ‘A’ we’ll remove the TV for one month (or until you progress reports indicate you are maintaining an ‘A’.) Whatever you decide is appropriate in your household.

      • Jen March 1, 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

        Ken, so true! thanks so much for your comments.

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Charity, stay tuned and they will be available soon. We will have contracts available in our Families That Win community – launching very soon!

    • Mandy March 4, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

      That would be great!!

  3. Stephanie February 28, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I am also wondering at what age this would be a good idea. My oldest daughter will be 9 in a few months and I feel she would be ready for something like this. What about younger kids though? Do you have any modifications to be used for younger kids?

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Stephanie, it starts early. Younger elementary children can understand simple contracts (2nd grade and up). As for the little ones, I would suggest behavior charts. It is a great creative and visual way to help them learn and stay on track.

  4. Michele Rorie February 28, 2017 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love this. My children were reared the way I believe children should be – with Gods’ Help & by living an example before them. Being an example – you touched on one of the crucial points: consistency! Many parents do not realize the importance of following through on “anything” promised to a child, punishment or reward, you must follow through. Teaching starts when they are born. They begin as babes watching us, soaking in all of the knowledge they can receive as they grow. Every fiber of their being is tuned to what is happening surrounding them since they left the protection of the womb. How your child(ren) grow to know and deal with their parents and others will be a great deal by example. Like I said, I absolutely love this! Especially for those who are looking for ‘a new way to deal’ or ‘somewhere to start’! I’ll be sharing! Oh, sorry my comment was so long. Thank you!

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Michele, great points! Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Ken Ostrye February 28, 2017 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I agree the age can vary. Our oldest daughter was 10 when we started a similar process. Her 6 year old sister liked what was going on and wanted the same opportunity. The older helped the younger … We allowed them to decide the disciplinary consequences of their actions and we determined the rewards. They were almost always harder on themselves than we would have been, but we didn’t mention that until a consequence needed to be enacted.

    It is a good general rule that the “Leader” needs to share their needs and expectations with the subordinates in order to accomplish the goals. We need to lead our children into life, not boss them.

  6. Dianne Klabechek February 28, 2017 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    I’m looking for your response for a plan for younger kids. 3 -5 yo.

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 9:46 am - Reply

      Dianne, thank you! This is a great question and perfect timing to start! I would suggest using behavior charts. You can get really creative and make them yourself or purchase them. They usually come with a set of stickers for desired behaviors. It is a great visual way to help them know where they are and also where they need to be.  

  7. Emily March 1, 2017 at 12:29 am - Reply

    When we changed to a new school our Principal sat down with our 8 year old and went through the ‘behavior contract’ of the school. It had items about handing in homework on time, arriving at school on time, making an effort to attend school everyday. I was thoroughly impressed. The student, the parents and the Principal all sign the bottom so that everyone understands what is expected. The same thing happened with the music program, the children had to nominate on the contract the days they agreed would be their practice days at home, if any student wants to pull out of the program they have to have a meeting with the Principal. I think it’s awesome, we’ve had many conversations with our child about the ‘commitment’ it’s contracting you to.

    • Jen March 1, 2017 at 9:37 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! this is so true. Learning responsibility and accountability early on is key to how they see and appreciate things later on in life.

  8. Hellen March 2, 2017 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Am so inspired by this post. Been doing this with my 6 years old son but I haven’t been disciplined enough myself to follow through on the consequences agreed upon.
    I will from now on be serious and disciplined on this.
    Thank you.

  9. Shannon March 2, 2017 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    I know this is personal to each and every family, but how does a parent determine how long to take something away (for example, their phone or X-Box) when they’ve broken their end of the deal? That’s always been my struggle, knowing what and how long a reasonable consequence is for the due crime. Of course, some disobedience is worse than others. So, say not doing their homework in the alotted time/goofing off while their supposed to be doing school work? Or just general not listening to what their parents tell them the 1st time? Or not getting their chores done? And how about something more severe, like staying out past curfew or hanging out with kids they’re not allowed to?

    Thanks so much for the post on this! I love the advice and will be implementing it!

    • Jen March 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Shannon! This is Jen, and I’m on the Ziglar Family team. Thanks for your comment! So, yes, determining the duration of a consequence is going to vary depending on the situation. I’ll share what I do in my family. I use a parent control app called “Our Pact” that allows me to shut off my girls apps on their phone so all they can use it for is talk or text. (This is awesome, by the way!) So, for example, if their room isn’t clean or if they are not doing homework, I will take away their apps for a day. Same with something like not doing what I’ve asked them to do the first time. My girls LOVE their apps, so this is a great motivator for them. In fact, sometimes they will try to pre-empt my taking them away by saying, “I know my room isn’t clean right now, but it will be!” Now, my older one is driving. So she knows that if she goes over a set speed limit (and I have an app to monitor that too, called Life 360 teen safe) then she loses her car for a week. End of story and no discussion. I’ve taken her phone completely away for a week for a bigger discipline issue, but I haven’t had to take her car away yet. So, bottom line: it’s going to vary case by case. If you have a specific situation and you’d like to continue the chat, feel free to email me at !

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