Establishing Consequences with Bite

Think back on a time when you were disciplined as a child and it was effective. Chances are, it’s hard to do because disciplining is hard work.

Studio 5 Relationship Coach Dr. Matt Townsend shares some ways to make our disciplining actually have some meaning and effectiveness.

Recognize Who Is the Real Discipline Problem

Most of us that struggle disciplining our children, lack discipline ourselves. By not having the discipline to discipline, we don’t allow our children to suffer their own consequences. We become too protective and actually incubate our child from the real trials and realities of life. Most of us as parents feel like we’re helping the child by protecting them from life, but in reality we’re only making them softer until they have to learn the lesson at another part of their life. There is a fine balance between mercy and justice that must learn to be walked by every parent in order to create healthier children.

Discipline for Growth, Not for “Gotcha”

In order for discipline to be truly effective, we should always remember the reason we are disciplining our child in the first place. Is our discipline designed to punish your child for their past behavior or prepare them for a healthier future? When it comes to your discipline, do you do it more with a spirit of growth or “gotcha”? When our children sense that our purpose for disciplining them is out of our love and desire for them to live a healthier more productive life, then our discipline doesn’t need to seem personal. We really can just let the consequences of their actions be the teacher, instead of your punitive punishments. This spirit eliminates the competition that can arise between parent and child and open the child up to being more teachable and willing to see that their discipline is good for them.

Lead with the Principle Not the Punishment

We have gotten away from the “law of the harvest” that every farmer on earth had to learn to survive. The idea that you “reap what you sow” or that you can really only expect to harvest in fall what you planted in the spring. Inherent in every moment of discipline are principles that will govern the process. One key to creating healthy consequences is to make sure that you personally understand the principle behind the lesson you are trying to teach. For example, let’s say that after your child returns from school, you hear he had been calling another child names and disrespecting her on the way home from school. That child’s mother has called you to inform you of his behavior. So when your child walks in the house, what do you do? If all of our consequences should flow from our principles, then don’t we need to first establish what principles have been violated? Instead of taking all of your negative energy from being humiliated about your son’s behavior and starting the punishment process, I would suggest we clearly Identify one principle that we would want to work on. Is your problem with your son’s behavior that he was disrespectful, and you want to help him be more respectful? Or was it that he was too reactive and you want him to be more in control of his emotions? You must first figure that out in order to know how you would like to discipline the boy. By clearly seeing that it was a violation of respect and control, you would probably want to choose consequences that are more likely to grow respect and control. Instead however, when we don’t know the principle we’re trying to improve, we usually end up losing our own control and being disrespectful to our own child by yelling, spanking and grounding them for their behavior.

Let Your Child Pick Their Poison

Once we’ve decided what principles were violated by your child, and we really want to create more growth than “Gotcha”, then we can brainstorm with our child about how they can learn to improve the principle they have violated. For example, when we understand that our child violated the principle of respect and control, then you can begin to brainstorm ways with your child to improve their ability to better respect others and grow their self-control. The most valuable part of this part of setting the consequences is the actual conversation and negotiation that will take place between the two of you. Invite your child to come up with some ways that they can now go and show respect for the girl and the family that he had offended. Offer your suggestions and invite suggestions from him. For example, you could suggest that he go over to the family and apologize to the girl and her parents. Perhaps he could write a letter of apology to the girl and could spend some time alone learning about the impact of respecting other people. In the end, the forms of discipline are not as critical as the fact that you and your child are actually focusing on the principle that was violated. Continue with your list until you have enough options that would create real growth for your child in the principle. This process can also prove valuable for preventative discipline on issues that have been problems in the past and you are trying to set consequences proactively. Once the possible solutions are listed, then let your child pick which of the approaches they most want to complete. Interestingly, when you are creating consequences for potential or future problems, your child will usually pick consequences that are more severe or strict than you ever would. That is how you put the teeth in the consequence, simply by letting them set the bar for themselves. They also are much more inclined to follow a consequence that they created than one you created.

Reinforce Your Relationship With Love

In the end, we must remember that our primary purpose for disciplining our children is because we love them. To discipline our children without them feeling some sense of love will leave the message only partially delivered. Our children want to please us and they want to improve their lives. The best conditions for growth and discipline in children will be to have a loving family who is by their side, no matter how they perform. Our unconditional love in the end is nothing more than us modeling a principle and consequence. Our love ends up being a lesson that they will never forget.

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