Effectively Discipline Your Children without Force or Punishment
A quick disclaimer before jumping into today’s topic. My method of disciplining is not a popular one, but it is 100% research based. It’s positive, appropriate, and effective.
I have to admit, that this has been a topic that I have wanted to talk about, but I’ve put it off for a while now because it’s such a loaded topic. There is so much controversy about discipline types, and I kind of put it on the back burner for a while. But since this is a topic you have requested, and you want to learn more about it, I’m going to do my absolute best to give you a brief version of all of the knowledge that I have compiled over the past 15 years, both as a parent and as a childcare provider.
Before I get into it, there are three people who have had the biggest influence in my parenting journey. And they are Daniel Siegel, Dr. Laura Markham and finally Amy McCready. Daniel Siegel authors two incredible books “No Drama Discipline” and “The Whole Brainchild”. The No Drama Discipline book, I refer to a lot throughout this blog post, as a lot of the things I say, I have learned from Daniel Siegel.
I love Dr. Laura Markham and she has an amazing website called AhaParenting.com and like Daniel, I refer to a lot of her teachings and principles as well. And then third and finally, Amy McCready, who is with Positive Parenting Solutions. She has an incredible online course that she created that I love, and she has several books as well.
So, keep in mind when you’re reading this, pretty much every single thing that I say is from those three people, and obviously my personal experience with my own kids. I hope that you all will enjoy this, and some of the things that I will talk about may be new to you, but I definitely want you to give them a try and think about the long-term benefits of using them.
Discipline to me, means guiding a child on a path of discovery, teaching them how their actions and their behaviors can positively or negatively affect their health, relationships, and the world around them. I teach my children to not only think of themselves, but also of others and care for their needs as well.
Effective disciplining and positive discipline aims for two primary goals: firstly, we want our kids to cooperate and do the right thing and secondly, we want to help our children to develop self-control and integrity, which means that they actually begin to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Now I want to explain to you a little bit about what punishment is, because I feel like as a parent, we all think that we have to punish our children when they do something wrong or they will never learn their lesson. I’m here to enlighten you and share with you a different idea around punishment and what that does and how that negatively affects your child. Punishment inflicts blame, shame or pain on a child in response to an undesired behavior. Now, fear and punishment can be effective in the moment, but they do not work long term. Keep in mind that the goal of disciplining children is to guide them on a path of discovery and teach them right from wrong, and teach them how to be selfless members of society.
Some common punishments that I see and that I have used include shaming, yelling, spanking, timeouts, loss of privilege unrelated to the misbehavior and grounding.
Now, spanking is very controversial, and there are many people who believe its effective on one hand, and on the other hand, there are people who believe it’s ineffective. Personally, I believe that spanking is effective in the wrong way, but I also believe that it’s ineffective to teach emotional long-term intelligence.
So, spanking is counterproductive when it comes to building trust and respect in a relationship. Spanking triggers a reaction with the amygdala in your brain, which is the fight or flight response that we all experience. Simply speaking, if you have ever been hit by your child, and you want to hit them back or you actually hit them back in return without even thinking, this is the fight or flight response in action.
Your brain literally tells you someone is going to battle with me, so you turn around and you fight back. This is why spanking is counterproductive and not effective. Spanking also teaches your child to fear the punishment instead of making a good choice because it’s the right choice. It also turns your child against you, so instead of being mad at their behavior, they’re mad at you. This is also the same response that happens when you shame your child or when you take away a privilege that’s unrelated to their misbehavior or when you ground them. They no longer understand the purpose of the lesson you were trying to teach and guide them through, as they are only focusing on how unfair and mean you are.
On the topic of timeouts, I feel like this is extremely common for younger children. And if you are a parent of young children, you probably realize that timeouts don’t work. Typically, they turn a small problem into a bigger power struggle, the reason being you can’t force a child to stay in timeout without physical force. A child doesn’t understand why they’re going to timeout; what a time out does is put your child in isolation, when they may need you the most. Parents usually think that during timeout their child is thinking about the lesson and gaining an amazing insight into the situation and that they will come out a new, better behaving child.
Mama, I’m here to tell you that this does not happen in a timeout. Your child will go to their room and be compliant in timeout as they are afraid of further consequences. You might think it’s working, but in reality, it is teaching them to be sneaky or maybe lie so that they can avoid the timeout or avoid the punishment. We don’t want this for our children, we want them to understand how their actions affect themselves and others around them.
One of the best compliments that I have ever received was from my daughter. During a Mothers’ Day activity, my daughter was asked the following question “What’s your favorite thing about your mom?”
And she said, I love that my mom loves me even when I’m angry. I reflect on this and I remember this often when I am angry, and I’m fed up with my children, and I just want to yell at them, or I want to punish them. This is our natural response to want to just make the whining stop, to make the bad behavior stop. But we need to keep in mind that our children child need us the most, when they are feeling frustrated and defeated, and when they’re melting down.
When children misbehave, it is a red flag that they need something from us. When our children are not behaving properly, we need to ask ourselves these three questions. Why is my child acting this way? What do I want to teach them? And how can I best teach this lesson? So even when your children are at their absolute worst, they need to know that you are there for them and that they are so loved, even when they’re angry.
Now sometimes your child is not going to be able to verbalize why they are behaving the way they are. But if you give them the opportunity, you will become a detective and you seek out the reason behind the misbehavior, it will soon become evident of what the problem is. You might be able to do the detective work yourself like asking questions like, are they hungry? Are they tired? Do they need more control? How can I learn to say yes, more often? Do they need more attention? These are all ways that we can identify unmet needs of our child.
Now in a previous podcast episode, [Name of Episode], I talked about the four things that your kids needed the most. The podcast talked about two different buckets that your children have, one is an attention bucket and the other is a control bucket. If their buckets are not filled positively, and you are not staying on top of filling those buckets and preventing some of those meltdowns by making sure that their basic needs are met, then you can expect more misbehaviors from your children. Because a child will act out in defiance or for attention, because negative attention is better than no attention. Negative control is better than no control. And so, think about that the next time that your child is misbehaving, be a detective and start to figure out why. Are they just bored, and they miss you and they just want to connect with you? This can be easily fixed with one-on-one attention for each of your children.
So, if you’re giving them that positive attention, they’re less likely to act out in other ways and the same thing goes for the positive control. If you are giving your children an outlet to be in control, where they have choices, and their wants and desires are heard and acknowledged, there is no reason for them to be defiant if you make a request of them.
I want to refer you to another podcast episode, which is the 10 Mistakes Every Parent Should Avoid. And it walks you through a lot of common things that we get caught up in, that really don’t matter.
As an adult and as a parent, we are so quick to say no to our kids, when really, we need to rephrase how we’re saying the no. We need to give them something to look forward to in the future, or an alternative.
By doing this, it gives your child reassurance that you care about what they say, but that they don’t always get what they want.
Now effective discipline means that we’re not only stopping bad behavior, or promoting a good one. But we’re also teaching skills and nurturing the connections in our child’s brain that will help them make better decisions and handle themselves well in the future. We need to avoid downplaying their feelings (for example, “you’re okay, stop crying it’s not the end of the world). And so, if you are finding yourself reacting instead of redirecting when your children are melting down or having a hard time or being disobedient at all, I challenge you to start taking care of your needs first. Also, make sure that you are setting healthy boundaries in your family, so that you are getting your needs met as well.
We must remember that even though we’re saying no to their behavior, we must always validate and say yes to their feelings. One way we can easily do this to communicate comfort is by getting below their eye level. Think back to when you were a child and you were being scolded or reprimanded by your parents and they stood over you like towering giants. You felt so small, powerless and helpless, and the only power you had was your defiance through your yelling, stamping or kicking. Imagine what that feels like to our children when we get frustrated and angry at them. So, if we come down on their level and we soften our voices, we comfort them with a touch on their arm or shoulder and say to them, I understand what you’re feeling. I can see that you’re angry, Mommy’s here for you. The soft tone in your voice signals to your child that you care, and they can trust you and even when they’re angry, you still love them. Biologically, this extinguishes the emergency inside their brain and the amygdala stops firing as they are no longer upset and flipping their lid.
There will be times when they will be angry at us, their parents, and they’re not going to want to talk to you or want you to touch them. You can still use the same strategy and get down below to eye level. You can stay at a safe distance away from them and you can say the same exact things and share your own similar experience as a child with them.
So now that we have talked about discipline versus punishment, and the need to become detectives of our child when they’re not behaving properly. We understand what effective discipline looks like and how to emotionally support our children through difficult times. I want to share with you some of the strategies that I use and some of the most common things that I deal with in my house and give you some tips of how you can handle those. One of my favorite parenting techniques that I learned from Amy McCready, was the “when-then” statement. Basically, what that means is instead of arguing with your child over and over and over again, you just simply say a statement that says this; When you have cleaned up your room, then you can come out and play. When you are finished eating dinner, then you can watch the TV show. So instead of getting into a complete argument or discussion with your child, you’re just very clear; when you do this, then you can do this, or when you do this, I will do this.
Another thing that I love to do is asked and answered. So, if my child asks me a question, and they don’t like the answer, and they keep asking me again and again, all I say is asked and answered. And if they can keep repeating themselves, I will say my answer will not change; You’ve asked me, and I’ve answered you and that’s that. I keep repeating that again and again until they realize I am not going to change my answer. Sometimes I may be open to work out a compromise that we both agree on. So my advice to you is to be quick to compromise and slow to say no all of the time.
It’s possible sometimes that your child is misbehaving because they don’t understand the expectation or they’re not sure of what you want from them. This may require more time for more training from you. It is important to understand that if a misbehavior keeps happening over and over and over again, there might need to be some expectations put in place. I recommend a checklist, which could be a useful tool in that regard to solving this problem. I invite you to join us in our Facebook Group [insert link] where we can continue the conversation on training, because I feel like there are so many specific scenarios that I know that you guys have questions about. And through this group we can share our experiences and parenting solutions in a safe space.
The topic of consequences is a big one that comes up in parenting and you maybe of the mindset that there has to be a consequence for their action. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree to a certain extent, but if there is a consequence for everything, you’re just going to create constant power struggles.
So, I 100% believe that a consequence has to be related to the offense; It has to be respectful, and it has to be repeated for it to be effective. This strategy is something I learnt from Amy McCready, and it’s really amazing because what it does is it gives your child an opportunity to redeem themselves.
Say for instance, you recite to your child the family rule for playing video games; if you don’t turn your video game off when the timer goes off, you will lose your video game privileges for the next day. You then ask them to repeat the consequence back to you. In the event this rule has to be enforced, you know for a fact that they heard the rule as they repeated it to you. So, consequences always needs to be related to the offense, respectful and repeated back so you know that they heard you.
I hope today’s post helped you to understand and get my viewpoint on discipline and how it can be most effective. As well as how we can start listening more to our children and getting to their level to understand how they are truly feeling, so that we can guide them on this path of discovery and teach them how their actions can positively and negatively affect them as well as others around them.
Again, I know so many of you have more questions pertaining to discipline and I think I would love to do a podcast episode, to answer all of your questions and really share practical examples, our experiences as well as solutions.
So please send me all of your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’m going to compile all of your questions. I will do a follow up episode on this in the future, that way, we can really dig deep, and you can get as much tangible information as possible.
As always, I’m here rooting for you and you are not alone on this journey.