Well, Stacey was writing about this the other day and then today an episode of Gilmore girls addressed the same topic, so I’m going to write down as much as I can about discipline. I need to be clear–this does not come from disciplining my child, but rather from my experience as a classroom teacher. I’ve taught many ages either as a full-time teacher or as a substitute and I’ve worked with all types of students as well. I can’t promise that these things will work for everyone, but I can say that they’ve worked for me and I learned from some of the best.

First and foremost I want to say that all children want discipline. This sounds ridiculous, right? I clearly remember getting into fights with my mother about her rules. Kids do want discipline, though. In my years as a teacher I worked with a lot of kids whose parents had little or no rules and these kids are literally thirsty for someone to care about them and what they’re doing.

There are keys to discipline, though. Discipline should always be fair, consistent, and respectful.

In order for discipline to be fair, the expectations need to be stated up-front. The age of the child plays a part here. If you’re talking teenagers, then contracts or written rules are fine. If you’re talking about a young child then “mommy said don’t do that” should suffice. With younger children, warnings are OK, but don’t get into the habit while where you threaten, but never follow through. A great way to handle this is to say, “Peyton, I’m warning you to stop screaming. If you keep screaming then you’re going to end up in time out. This is the only warning I’m going to give you.” It’s up to you how many warnings you want to give, but keep it consistent.

Which leads to consistency. Follow through and discipline consistently. Letting things slide today will lead to a major meltdown in the future.

The final component to discipline involves respect. You have to do everything in your power to eliminate emotion on your end. If your child colors on the walls or even breaks curfew, they’re not doing it because they hate you–they’re experimenting. If you respond with anger, then it changes the dynamic. Try to think of it as a business transaction–you colored on the walls, so you sit in time-out for a certain number of minutes. It’s not about hatred or anger or disrespect. Children are testing boundaries and your job is show them where they are. Don’t make things personal. If your child stays out all night and gets drunk or accidentally cuts down your prized Jade bush, that doesn’t make them stupid, or lazy, or arrogant, so don’t say that they are. Criticize the action and not your child.

Some final thoughts in no particular order:
  • Don’t discuss something while you’re administering discipline. It’s a transaction–you need to complete it and keep going. If you spend time talking about it, examining what happened, etc. then you are awarding them with attention. These kinds of things can happen after, but not at the time of a problem.
  • Eye contact is huge. If your child is begging you for something then say no and look away–this effectively ends the conversation.
  • If you do lose your cool and yell and scream then make it a point not to hold a grudge. Move on. Your children need to know that they are loved above all.

I feel like a complete ass writing about discipline, but this stuff has worked for me time and time again, and maybe there’s something in here for someone else. Please ignore me if you need to!

But. . . if I didn’t do a good job at explaining then please leave me a question–I’ll answer as best I can.

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  1. what a helpful post, thanks! i recently wrote about disciplining the twins now that they are able to get into each other’s business. it’s hard to know how to discipline 17 month olds, as i feel they are too young for time outs and wouldn’t sit anywhere i put them. but i am trying to practice the fairness thing and scold drake just as i scold lucy. and be consistent, too. so hard not to laugh when they are being naughty, thought. sometimes naughty is soooo cute. :)

  2. I like this post and NEED this post right now. I like summing it up with three words; I can remember three basic words even in the midst of maddening frustration.

    It's the taking it personal part that I have SUCH a hard time with. The rational part of me knows all of what you said is true. It's the irrational, emotional part that I struggle to keep under control. Also, my Calum is a fiery, emotional (and a bit of a rough & tumble) child as well, so we can make a volitile combination.

  3. Swistle says:

    I agree! I have the most trouble with being consistent: I do think it’s important, but it’s not part of my personality. So I try to work harder with my other strengths, one of which is explaining to children that I’m not very consistent. Ha ha!

  4. Anonymous says:

    The toughest part is keeping your cool…my parents yelled and screamed and whacked me a few too…(just the way things were back then). I find it really hard NOT to repeat those same behaviors, especially if its something they’ve been punished for 10000 times before…

  5. Sometimes I have a hard time keeping my cool. Mostly I do… but every now and again when I am tired and frazzled and the kids have yet again done something they KNEW they weren’t supposed to do… I yell. Like last night when Kylie ate in the living room and left her partially opened pudding on the table which slid off onto the carpet when they were rough-housing. They aren’t supposed to eat in the living room so why didn’t Eduardo notice and ban her to the dining room?

    I just wish I could get Eduardo to be calmer around his son. He is always yelling at him for things which just makes him cry and feel bad about himself and his papa.

    I think I am fairly consistent, I think I treat the kids with respect and I am pretty certain I keep the punishments fair and age appropriate. Often times, the same actions will get the same punishment.

    Always a work in progress so it is nice to get reminders about what the best way to go about it.

  6. desperate housewife says:

    I totally agree about keeping calm and keeping your own emotions out of it. This is something Jim has to remind me about a lot because I take Adelay’s behavior personally. I’ve heard myself say things like, “What are you thinking?!” and then realized belatedly that she’s THREE and probably wasn’t thinking at ALL, much less thinking about intentionally doing something to make me crazy. It’s not about me at all.
    One of the things I’ve hated most about all this hormonal up and down the last six weeks with Clomid, progesterone supplements, then the pill, is that I have had a very short fuse before I raise my voice. I’m not usually like this, and I HATE hearing myself talk like that.

  7. This was good; don’t feel like too much of an ass. I’m trying to discipline both a teenager and a preschooler and now an almost toddler…I need all the advice I can get, and it helps when it comes from someone who really knows what they’re talking about.

  8. Desperate Housewife:
    It took me a solid three months to get off the crazy train when I was pregnant. I could feel myself over-reacting, but it took me quite awhile to get good control with all the crazy hormones coursing through my veins.

  9. Kelly: I completely agree that disciplining a child that it that young is extremely difficult. My main form of “time out” for him is to put him in his bed for a few minutes and let him get whatever it is out of his system.

    Naughty can be cute when you’re a teacher and they’re thirteen too. Sometimes I’d just have to turn my back so I could smile.

  10. therextras says:

    Thanks for the photos! :)

    Very good article, Bird. Can you sell it somewhere?


  11. PrayforNathan.org says:

    Ok my question – how do you discipline a non-verbal, non-mobile child who may or may not understand what you’re saying to him?

    I think Nathan has enough intelligence to know what he does or doesn’t want.

    He knows that he doesn’t want to do therpay and wants to watch TV. But when I tell him, Nathan, you need finish therapy, THEN you get to watch TV, he still throws a tantrum by crying and whining.

    So my question is – is there a way to adapt your principles to a child like Nate, who can only react by crying and whining, who can’t move or talk but who can still manipulate?

  12. Well, Marcella, Charlie is non-verbal, but can crawl and roll.

    Whether or not he understands your exact words isn’t really an issue. He does understand that crying/whining will eventually get him to the television.

    Now, therapy is tricky because i really don’t believe in forcing kids to do therapy if it’s painful for them in any way. For this kind of stuff I like to throw in positive reinforcement. For Charlie, he only plays with his favorite toy when he’s in therapy. When we stretched him (less of that now) I would sing him songs, which he loves. Maybe with Nathan you could try TV during PT only and the rest of the time leave it off.

    Charlie isn’t big on the tantrums, but like most moms of medically-needy children it physically hurts me to hear him cry. It was life or death for about six months there and it’s hard to re-set your brain and realize that now the crying isn’t the sign of something really dire. When Charlie does start with something I do one of two things: first I try to just go ahead and keep doing what we’re doing. If that doesn’t work then I say, “Charlie if you keep screaming I’m going to put you in your bed.” Then, when the screaming continues, I put him in his bed and walk away for a few minutes. I’m typically hiding around the corner, but i just let him cry/scream it out and then I come back. The bed is a good place because I know he can’t hurt himself in there.

    I guess as a final thought I’d say that it’s important to remember the children really do crave discipline. They want to know that their world has things they can depend on. Without it, they are adrift and that’s a terrible feeling.

  13. PrayforNathan.org says:

    Wow, thanks for the advice Katy, I really appreciate it! This is something I know NOTHING about and really appreciate some guidance. I’m going to think about and try some of your techniques! We really have no discipline or consistency with Nathan, so maybe this is one of the things that causes him problems. My only problem is I just dont’ know how much language he understands. If I tell him I’m going to put him to bed if he doesnt’ stop whining, does he actually understand what I’m saying? I’ll have to play around with some reinforcements that are more pavlovian conditioning based which don’t require a high level understanding of language. THANKS AGAIN!

  14. Excellent and very needed post! Many, many thanks! I will be sharing this with the husband! :)