A New Way to Think About Discipline

Posted on Feb 21, 2015

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A New Way To Think About Discipline


Discipline.  Just the word has parents and children alike on edge.


  1. Did your precocious toddler bite a friend at a playdate?

  2. Perhaps your lovely pre-schooler dumped a bottle of fingernail polish on the bathroom floor even though she knew the bottles of polish were off-limits?
  3. Or maybe your teenager broke curfew for the third time in a row?


Most parents will at one time or another experience an act of disobedience as listed here or any numerous,  various scenarios. Those same parents may wonder if they should discipline their children, and if so, how?  


Let’s look at discipline in a new way.  Let’s compare it to pruning ~


Defining Discipline


First, what is discipline?  In reality, discipline is defined as teaching or training.  We want to teach our children the appropriate way to behave.  To train them to think of the impact their behavior has on those around them.  Then to correct their thinking, attitude or behavior as warranted.

This Article Is Not About Specific Forms Of Discipline ~ You Can Click Here To See A Sampling Of Methods Used By Some

  1. time-out;
  2. time-in; 
  3. removing privileges; 
  4. taking away toys; 
  5. missing outings; 
  6. leaving outings; 
  7. extra chores; 
  8. removal from a situation; 
  9. forced apology; 
  10. role-play; 
  11. alternative behavior offer; 
  12. counting;
  13. natural consequences;
  14. the controversial spanking


Remember, though, we are not just parents, but teachers.  A teacher will train through reinforcement of positive behavior as well as correcting inappropriate behavior.


So whatever form(s) our discipline takes, for success it should teach them important lessons.   We need to remove ourselves from automatically thinking discipline = punishment.  Instead, think discipline = problem-solving.


I recently read an article likening discipline to pruning. Just as a person will prune plants in a garden to train and encourage healthy growth, a parent will discipline their child to train and encourage healthy development. However, a good gardener knows that pruning without care and thought can damage a plant. So too, a good parent recognizes that discipline without care and thought can damage their child.


Let our methods for course correction be based on 3 crucial elements to avoid ineffectiveness or even harm.


Element One: Love


element one- love

Our children need love demonstrated.  We find it so easy to demonstrate love when our children are babies.  It gets more difficult when they start talking back to us, right?  They never outgrow the need for that love though, and if we discipline in anger we aren’t demonstrating love. Our discipline is harsh, and counter-productive if carried out in anger. However, if said with love, our message will likely find a listening ear.


Really, if we discipline in anger, are we not displaying our own lack of self-discipline? Let’s take the time to calm ourselves first.   Verbal, physical or psychological abuse is never loving!


In the words of John Boyes ~

“Violence in the voice is often only the death rattle of reason in the throat.”


Element Two: Reason


element two- reason (1)

To act with reason, the punishment should fit the crime, so to speak.  We must assess the situation calmly, from a quiet place emotionally, to correct reasonably. There are a series of questions we as parents can utilize to help us consider the circumstances surrounding our child’s misbehavior.


  1. Is it a first-time offense or repetitive?
  2. Is this an accident or intentional?
  3. Does my child understand they’ve broken a house rule?
  4. Were the house rules clear?
  5. Can my child reason on their behavior?


Our answers to these thoughtful questions take into consideration the abilities and limitations of our child and enable us to show balance or reason in our response.


Yes, our children are people too, but they are not miniature adults! Research has shown that until the age of 25 the brain’s processing ability has not reached full maturity. (source)  Note this quote on the subject by Laurence Steinberg in the New York Times:


“Significant changes in brain anatomy and activity are still taking place during young adulthood, especially in prefrontal regions that are important for planning ahead, anticipating the future consequences of one’s decisions, controlling impulses, and comparing risk and reward“.


We simply can’t expect our children to reason on their behavior, and our expectations for their behavior, in the same way as our fellow adults.


To gain insight, get on their level physically, and emotionally.  Listen to the reason for their behavior.  Try to remember how we felt and acted as children under similar circumstances.


Element Three: Consistency


element three- consistent

Consistency seems so straight forward; in actuality, it can get tricky.  We get tired of repeating the same instructions, sometimes it’s easier to let misbehavior slide.  And you know what?  It is sometimes an act of love or reason to overlook minor offenses. That’s not the same as changing our standards! Our children gain a feeling of security in knowing our expectations.


If we said they couldn’t jump on our bed today, and we discipline them for it, but tomorrow we let them perform minor feats of acrobatics on our bed, without saying a word against it, we aren’t consistent.


And whatever form of discipline we take, if it’s punitive, we need to make sure we can and do intend to carry out.  Are we fully prepared to take away TV viewing privileges for the afternoon? Or is it an empty threat once we realize that no TV means a sibling can’t watch it either, seeing as how our only TV is in the family room?  Think it through so there are no empty threats.


Consistency also means don’t cave to whining; our yes must mean yes, and our no must mean no. This rule requires unity in a two parent family. Both parents should hold a united front and support the decisions of the other.  If not, it can erode the authority of both parents.


Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will our children become mature, balanced and self-disciplined people in a day.  But whatever our house rules, whatever our method of discipline, if we remember the crucial elements of love, reason, and consistency in our training, and correction (or pruning, if you will) it can happen!


Questions to Ask Before Discipline

Quick Reference Guide: Questions to Ask Before Discipline






A New Way To Think About Discipline




P.S. What do you find helpful in discipline?  Please share your method in the comment section below!


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