When you think of discipline, you might imagine punishment and time outs. Learn what discipline for kids REALLY means and improve your relationship with your children.
You have the two-year-old who throws tantrums every day, for the silliest reasons too. Kids who seem determined to fight over the same Lego, no matter how many of the blocks litter your living room floor. And we lose our patience, willing the clock to go faster and call it a day. No wonder we’re always looking for ways to better discipline our kids.
We’ve got discipline for kids all wrong
Because what’s the typical response when our kids misbehave? Maybe we’ve sent them to time out, telling them they can’t come out until they stop crying. Or we yank the coveted toys out of their hands and yell, “Stop fighting already!” Maybe we wonder which punishment would be most effective for their poor behavior.
We learn these behaviors from how we grew up. Others from talking to other moms about how they handle their kids. And many times, we feel like we have no control—we react with anger on more days than we care to admit.
We’ve grown used to seeing discipline as punishment and assume it’s what we do when kids misbehave. We rely on authority and power to force our kids to comply. We see discipline as a power struggle.
Let’s switch that around and look at discipline in a whole new way:
Discipline is teaching.
Forget punishments, time outs, counting to three. Don’t think “me versus you” when trying to discipline your child. Instead, think about what you can teach your child. What can she learn from this situation? For instance, she can learn how to:
- Manage her emotions
- Establish boundaries
- Behave in acceptable ways
- Interact with other children and adults
These are prime lessons she can learn from challenging situations. A scuffle with her brother is an opportunity to teach them how to communicate politely and take turns. A tantrum will show her how to take deep breaths and use her special blanket for comfort. Rather than nagging, give your child responsibilities to encourage him to take initiative.
Look at each challenge not as a battle between you and your child, but as a teachable moment. What gems can you unearth?
With so much to gain and learn, how can you discipline and teach your child?
Understand that her behavior is normal
We forget we’re dealing with children sometimes. I’ll get frustrated when my three-year-old takes forever to wash his hands. Or I shake my head when my twins fight and whine. I don’t understand why they insist on wearing a particular shirt or cry when I say it’s time to leave.
But then I remember they’re kids. They don’t act like adults or have our sense of efficiency and “it’s no big deal” attitude. Their problems wrap around not getting to wear a favorite shirt. It seems silly to us, but these issues are just as real to them as our grown up problems are to us.
Knowing her behavior is normal, though frustrating, will give you the patience you need. You won’t hold the same expectations from her as you would another adult.
You feel reassured that these constant tantrums are actually normal for her age. And that she’s still learning how to manage her emotions.
Don’t take things personally
Parenting isn’t always about you. Sometimes we hold on to what we imagine parenting to be, or how our kids should behave. We take it personally when things don’t go as planned.
I can’t tell you how many outings we went to that were supposed to be fun but ended in a foul mood. Maybe we went to the beach, or a hike, or a family party. I had high hopes for these events, thinking we’d come home with pleasant memories.
Instead, my kids cried the whole time at the beach. Or they argued about which way to go on our hike. They have a meltdown in front of all my relatives.
Thing is, discipline happens even on beautiful days, too. Being on the beach doesn’t mean my kids won’t experience challenges. Or that they won’t need my help toward better behavior. Shift your focus back to your kids and what they can learn from this moment.
We’re on the same side
How do you feel when your kids misbehave? If you’re like many parents, you launch into full-on battle mode. Your eyebrows furrow, you raise your voice, your hands are on your hips. You’ve lined up your arguments and feel all patience draining.
It’s you vs the kids. And if we’re being honest, it’s sort of an unfair battle when we know who’s going to dominate (hint: you).
What if, instead, you switched from “me vs you” to “we”?
When you discipline as a way to teach, you’re not out to win or lose. Instead, you’re on the same side.
Imagine a teacher and a student gearing up for a big test. The teacher isn’t trying to best the student by taking the test and “winning.” Instead, she’s giving the student the tools she’ll need to take the test and succeed.
Teacher and student are on the same side, just as parent and child should be.
I began 31 Days to Better Parenting with discipline because it’s one of the most misunderstood parts of parenthood. Let’s start this series off with the right frame of mind: We’re here to help and teach our kids, not win battles.
The best part? Switching to this mindset will lessen the outbursts and the behavior you don’t want to see in your kids.
Think about it. If you spend your time teaching your child to manage her emotions, she won’t resort to tantrums. She’ll learn to say “I’m mad” or grab a favorite toy for comfort.
Discipline as teaching becomes a win-win for both you and your child. You’re not battling for who comes out on top, but rather holding hands as you both reach new heights.
FREE 5-Day Challenge
Looking for actionable steps and quick wins in parenting? The Better Parenting 5-Day Challenge is for parents who know they want to improve but need that little nudge and supportive guidance to do so.
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Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a Child: The Ultimate List of Resources
- One Question You Should Always Ask before You Discipline Your Child
- 7 Techniques to Discipline Children
- Tell Your Kids You Love Them, Even when It’s Hard To
- One Unusual Way to Stop Kids Whining
Tell me in the comments: How do you respond when your child misbehaves? How can you show your child you’re on the same side?
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