Disciplining Our Kids: The Basics

sisters, siblings hugging, girl in yellow dress, sisters as friends, big sister little sister, smiling sisters, Disciplining our kids is not easy. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Disciplining our kids can create feelings of sadness, guilt, anger, impatience and helplessness in the best of parents. But that’s no reason not to take charge and do it.

Discipline has two sides – negative consequences for negative behaviors and positive consequences for good behaviors. I love being able to reward my kids’ good choices in life. Praising and acknowledging the behaviors you want to encourage is the best way to influence and guide your child. However, kids do misbehave. I find in working with and being a parent, it’s dealing with the not-listening, rule-breaking behaviors that’s more challenging so that’s the focus of this post.

As parents, it’s our job to keep our kids safe, to set limits for them, to communicate those limits and to give them reasonable and swift consequences when they break a rule.

The point is learning. Discipline is all about teaching our children how to behave and interact with the world, beginning in our homes.

It can be uncomfortable and flat out not fun to execute time outs or to take away an iPod. It requires endless energy to mold kids behaviors, to determine adequate consequences, then to stick it out and deliver them in a timely way. If our goal is teaching them, it’s wise to follow through on a logical consequence right away so they connect the discomfort with the undesirable behavior.

Knowing exactly what motivates a child gives us a perfect immediate consequence; but that can punish the parent. A long car ride without a gadget may be tough, but if it’s educating our child on the importance of proper conduct, well, then as the parent, we need to see it through however hard it is on us.

It’s difficult to see our kids crying and upset, but we’re the adults and need to bear that discomfort and manage our personal feelings. We need to be the grown-ups and carry that weight for the long term good of our children.

If we back down to relieve our uncomfortable emotions, we are ineffective in parenting. We have only taught our children that they can cry, fuss or tantrum their way out of a sanction. They have not learned to choose the appropriate behavior and the next time, it will be exponentially harder for that parent.

In “rescuing” a child after we’ve given a consequence because we feel guilty or unhappy, we transfer difficult feelings to them, they experience uncertainty and imbalance from inconsistent messages and lack of boundaries.

We must follow through and do what we say we’ll do if a rule is breached. Leave the playground if you’ve threatened, “The next time you do that, we’re leaving!” Pick your child up and leave the birthday party if that’s what you warned would happen.

Years ago, when our son was around four, we had been looking forward to our annual strawberry picking trip. I haven’t the vaguest idea what offense he committed but he had received a warning and I told him that if he did it again, he would not come strawberry picking. holding a strawberry, strawberry picking, natural consequences, missing out on a fun activity, perfect strawberry, strawberry picking traditions,

Well, you know what happened, he did it again. Inside, I was miserable, I wanted him to come. Instead, now I had to call and PAY for a babysitter that I really shouldn’t have needed, my heart felt sad that he would miss out on a fun family tradition in its infancy and I was angry that he didn’t just listen. But I found a sitter, said good bye and my daughters and I left the house. It was tough. Really tough.

Years and years later, he still remembers that he missed out on strawberry picking that year. I suspect he doesn’t remember why either, but the lesson he learned is that I will do what I say I will do. He learned that he needs to listen or he’ll miss out on something he cares about and those were meaningful messages. Taking away one strawberry farm trip paid off in significant ways.

Each time a child connects his naughty behavior with a negative consequence that is age-appropriate and delivered quickly, that experience builds upon the last. Nothing happens overnight so consistency matters (consistency: that 100% true term always associated with disciplining our kids and parenting.)

Disciplining our kids doesn’t have to be negative, deliver your consequence calmly and steadily. I always find I’m most effective when I simply state the problem, state the consequence and do it. (Of course, we’re human and yelling sometimes happens, but when I can refrain, it always works better. Obviously a model of control is preferable to a screaming lunatic!)

In the heat of these moments, it’s common to have mixed and conflicting feelings. So think and plan ahead. What are the key behaviors you’re trying to work on in your home right now? Pick the top one or two to focus on for the next month. Assign specific consequences to each infraction, write them down for yourself if you need to for reference, (that can be helpful for older children, too.) Kids must be able to predict what the result of their actions will be.

Next, communicate succinctly and definitively to your child: 1. What you expect 2. What will happen if they don’t do what you expect.

And then, do it.

watching swans, swans in Mystic River, kids on dock, kids laying on dock, siblings on dock, boy in striped shirtIf you find yourself over explaining, talking instead of acting, wavering, giving in or being wishy-washy on following through, evaluate your own actions, intentions and emotional needs.

Realize that the “prize” of well-behaved, polite and well-adjusted children comes from this tiresome and joyful work called parenthood.

Parenting requires us to take charge, to create a predictable, safe environment where children can experiment, test and figure things out under our guiding eyes.

Disciplining our kids takes ongoing creativity (coming up with appropriate consequences can be challenging) and boundless strength, patience and time. Our kids are worth it and it pays off in both the present and the future.

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32 Responses to Disciplining Our Kids: The Basics

  1. Kristie says:

    Great message. I think our society has too many children that have not received discipline because parents did want to hurt the child’s feelings. Society is now paying the price for the lack of discipline.
    Children crave rules even though they claim to hate them. If you are growing up or in a workplace setting, knowing the rules makes all of us feel safe. Thank you for your insight and follow through. Great job, Mom!

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Thanks, Kristie! It seems the younger generations of parents have become much more “loose” with their kids than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. I believe that discipline really does matter!

  2. This is a fabulous post Leah! My kids do so much better with the positive reinforcements. I am pinning this! And your site looks GREAT! I love it!!!

    • ldecesare says:

      Thanks, Kristin!! I love positive reinforcements so much, too, because it helps us look out for and find the things they’re doing RIGHT instead of noticing only the wrong stuff!

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Thanks, Kristin! I love positive reinforcements, too, because it helps us look out for and find the things they’re doing RIGHT instead of noticing only the wrong stuff!

  3. Michele C. says:

    Great post – thank you for this! Discipline is very hard for parents, but it pays off in the form of good-listening children and eventually adults who understand there are consequences for their actions.

  4. Jennifer says:

    We have recently changed from taking away privileges to now earning privileges. So far, so good.

  5. Tera Norberg says:

    My parents were very strict! I had a list of chores and if they weren’t done I had consequences, plain and simple. My son will be 5 in March and he has to clean up every mess he makes, if he acts out he does receive time out and so on…. he is also on the Autism Spectrum and I treat him just as if he was a” typical” almost 5 year old. Great post and I agree with you 100%!!

  6. Really great post…I was the horrifying screaming lunatic this morning after trying to be the patient smooth-talking parent when someone was testing to see how far he could go. I’m disappointed in both he and myself right now.

    • ldecesare says:

      Completely get it! Be kind to yourself. Deep breath and start fresh. Sometimes I’ve found an apology helps heal things: “I’m sorry I got so angry, I shouldn’t have yelled, but the behavior you were doing is still not allowed in our home.”

  7. Melissa_FillingOurBucket says:

    I have the hardest time disciplinig our toddler. Overall, he is VERY well behaved. But he has 2 things that he constantly does that so far, no amount of “punishment” has reduced. This is a really good post and gives me a lot to think about.

  8. Candice says:

    Disciplining our toddler is so difficult sometimes, but I find it most important to stay calm, focused and to stay strong in my word. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Shell says:

    Discipling can be so hard, especially when both parents have different styles. Great post!

  10. Jessica says:

    Your timing couldn’t have been better because we’ve been having discipline issues with our oldest. It’s such a comfort knowing others are struggling too and it’s so helpful to hear the strategies and tactics that have worked with other kids. But I totally agree: discipline requires strength, patience and time. Great post :)

  11. Discipline is so hard for you! They are so cute and that is why I have that hardest time, but it is so important!

  12. Heather @ Kraus House Mom says:

    I always try to say things I can back up instead of telling my kids they’ll stay in their rooms forever . Being a teacher I know the importance of following through.

  13. I am not looking forward to the day when I have to discipline my daughter. I’m worried that I’ll be a push-over, but I need to be strong!!! Thanks for the great post!

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you, Sarah, you’ll be able to do it, start right when she starts to crawl and grab for a plant … you can begin with baby steps and you’ll grow as she grows.

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