Disciplining Children

SO many parents start talking about discipline right off the bat when parenting topics arise. It almost doesn’t matter what someone is talking about, if it’s a parenting topic, just hold your breath and the topic of discipline will come up before you turn blue!

When the topic of discipline comes up, it’s a HOT topic! There’s whether the parents could have prevented it, if they are addressing why the child is misbehaving, are they punishing the child too harshly, etc.

Usually, these conversations are really black-and-white, all-or-nothing, like if one parent suggests they avoid a tactic like spanking, there’s bound to be someone who claims that if you don’t use that one technique it equates with letting your child get away with murder!

People usually feel very defensive about their parenting choices. So talking about discipline usually leads to high stress and hurt feelings…so let’s see if we can take a different approach.

Let’s start by talking about BALANCED parenting? When I first coined that term in The Parents Toolshop® book in 1992, it was really just to help parents get beyond their confusion around the names of the parenting styles that had been identified at that time. I also wanted to speak about parenting in terms of a continuum, which people often forget about when thinking all-or-nothing, black-and-white. In between the extremes, there is a HUGE area where Balanced parenting can occur — and it is not a “gray” area!

To acquaint yourself with the different parenting styles and what Balanced parenting actually is, read:

Next, I gotta say that you can’t really just jump into discipline from square one, because it’s more of a “last resort” kind of tool. So let’s look at what actually happens BEFORE there is a need for discipline. This article will give you the shortest, quickest tips and then refer you to where you can get more info, if you want it.

First, you can prevent misbehavior by:

  • Teaching children proper behavior. Describe this behavior and show them how to do it.
  • Explaining the value behind your rules, instead of wanting blind obedience. This way, children will become self-disciplined.
  • For more specifics on prevention, read more articles from The Prevention Toolbox. Be sure to read this article on Why Kids do what you just told them NOT to do.)

When children misbehave, you may choose to discipline, but be sure you break the misbehavior cycle first, by identifying WHY they are misbehaving. Is it unintentional or on purpose? If it’s intentional, what purpose is it serving? If you don’t know how to answer these questions, read this article: Why children misbehave and what to do to prevent and stop it.

It’s vitally important to break these misbehavior cycles before you discipline, or it can turn your discipline into punishment. IF you don’t know the difference between these terms, read this article: Discipline vs Punishment and Abuse

In a nutshell, disciplining children is different from punishing them, because it teaches children to learn from their mistakes, rather than making them suffer for them. In fact, imposing suffering actually shifts the focus from the lesson that needs to be learned to who is in control. As a result, punishment focuses on the parent being responsible for controlling a child’s behavior, rather than the child controlling his/her own behavior, which is the focus of discipline.

Here are the top four-star tools I suggest in my book, The Parent’s Toolshop: The Universal Blueprint® for Building a Healthy Family (© 2000.)

  • Show children how to make amends. For example, if they spill it, they clean it up.
  • Offer choices. Alter the focus of the choices as issues shift. First choice, the kids can settle down and keep shopping or you may need to leave and skip any fun activities already planned for that outing. If they continue to fuss, tell them their behavior is telling you they have decided to leave. That choice has been made. New choice is when or how you leave. They can walk out or you may need to carry them (if they are small enough).
  • Take action. Decide what you will do, not what you will make children do. Respectfully follow through, with or without words, with reasonable, related actions.
  • Allow natural consequences. They happen if parents do nothing to rescue. Only use if they are quick and safe. Ask, “What did you learn?”
  • Use Problem Solving to prevent, reveal, or decide discipline. “I am concerned about (misbehavior). What can we do about that?”

All of these tools are easy to use and avoid misusing. Other discipline tools that are actually more commonly used are quite easy to misuse, including restrictions/groundings, removing privileges (by not making sure they fit “The 4 R’s of Discipline“) and time-outs. See the articles those links go to for more information about how to use them effectively.

As you can see, discipline is really the last-resort or last step of addressing misbehavior. You can prevent it and redirect it before you discipline.

That’s what the Parents Toolshop® Universal Blueprint® for Parenting Success does: it teaches you what to do from building the foundation, which involves your parenting style beliefs, to step-by-step decision-making process such as why children misbehave, to exactly what to say and do in your response, to how to follow through!

Get an introductory preview or take one of our courses so you can prevent more misbehavior and know what to do, in seconds, to discipline your child lovingly and effectively. See the parenting program choices here.



Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30+ years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop® and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds and needs, and other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.

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