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Ten Do's of Discipline

May 7, 2014

I didn’t like to leave you last week with all the things that you cannot do to discipline your child, so this week we’ll address what may help you as you ‘do’ the discipline.

1. Choose your rules carefully.

Pick your battles. Do you really want to fight at the dinner table over whether your child is going to eat his green beans? If you're sure, Then enforce it.

I never had problems making our boys eat, except with one. He would complain or give that look of disgust. I’d take his plate away. He’d watch us eat. Suddenly he found that what we were eating was all that he wanted.

Another tactic (this is warfare, remember) is to have dessert. Without dessert to anticipate, he’s ‘too full’ or would dawdle. But bring dessert out, and he gobbles his food in record time. Find what works for your child and for your family. (I don’t have dessert most of the time.)

I do not allow the younger boys to eat anything two hours prior to dinner so that they do eat what I serve. I also limit the junk available anytime, so even if they don’t eat all their green beans, they are still eating healthy.

I do not like using food as motivation. Dinner should be pleasant.

But I do reward, bribe, motivate (whatever you want to call it), with treats. When I potty-trained our boys, I couldn’t always get them to the bathroom in time when I was in the middle of a test with another child. If another boy helped, both would get a ‘potty treat.’ It evolved into every boy running to the bathroom cheering him on---so that we’d all get Smarties, that worked for me. The result: he made it to the bathroom, and the test was finished. And all got treats. (My advice: get cheap treats. You need a lot.)

2. Be consistent. Follow through.

If you say this is a rule, enforce it. Remember, is it worth fighting over?

It’s not a magic formula where one time does it all. In fact, for years, I felt like all that I did was discipline. It’s every day, all day (and so exhausting.) It is a battle of wills—yours against his. You must win.

My boys, intentional or not, play tag team. One will ask. I say, “No.” A few minutes later another will ask. “No.” By the third time, I’ve rationalized and thought, “Why not?”

Try to say “yes” as much as you can. Then the "no" isn’t such a fight.

3. Allow your husband to discipline.

Some wives interfere with the discipline process. “My husband’s too harsh…” Maybe you are too soft and your child needs the strong hand of his father to remind him that what you say is important. He is your back-up when your efforts are struggling. He is also your re-enforcement when you need different tactics. Boys do think differently. Your husband can reach your child on his level.

When your child treats you poorly, it should be corrected. If not, this is how they will someday treat their spouse. Allowing my husband to correct the boys reinforces the idea that my husband is my protector—outside and inside the home.

 I don’t like to be present when my husband disciplines. I want to interfere, so I take a shower or leave the room.

4. Discipline immediately.

Especially when correcting a toddler, discipline should be swift. Their concept of time isn’t developed. If you wait, they don’t understand the cause and effect.

Try not to leave all the discipline for Dad when he comes home from work. Those famous words, “Wait until your dad gets home,” should be reserved for special cases. Dad’s presence should not be dreaded.

 

5. Start early.

When that two-year-old begins to show that his way is the only way…that is the time to start flicking his fingers so that he will let go of that thing that he wants but can’t have. He will look at you with surprise that you just hurt him, but he will hang on. Flick him again. Repeat until he obeys. (I have repeated the process for 20 minute sessions---they are loooong sessions, when you are waiting for your child to obey.) Continue until he obeys. (Do not change the rule, bribe, soften, just continue to enforce the rule that you started.) When he lets go, then assure him that you love him. (And then you can cry.)

You, as a parent, will know when it is rebellion. He will look you in the eye and you will see the fight. That is when you start. Welcome to rebellion.

Just a side note: It is NEVER cute when your child disobeys. Encouraging sassiness in toddlers will bring heartache and pain down the road. Soap is a good cleaner for many things.

 6. Make the consequence of disobeying not worth it.

If the consequence doesn’t hurt enough, why should your child listen?

Time-outs for toddlers do not work. They can be very busy in their chair without anything in their hands. (Where this may be helpful is to give you time to get control of yourself before administering some form of consequence.)

Know your child. For some children, you look at them sternly and they’re in tears and repentant. (I've never had one of these kind of children, but I’ve heard they do exist.) Other children have strong wills that must be channeled. My husband reminds me that our boys will be strong leaders. (If their wills as children are any indication, we will rule the world.)

Even Christ, who did not sin, laid aside his will, ‘not my will but the will of my Father.’ This reminds me that the will should be broken, but not the spirit. The will must be conformed to His. (It is a process with our sin nature---not an overnight fix.)

Sometimes, the consequence of disobedience must be unpredictable. If your child evaluates whether or not he chooses to obey, because he knows that the consequence isn’t that bad, then you change your discipline. Be creative.

The consequence should reflect the broken rule. If he wants to complain about dinner, have him make dinner or write ten things for which he can be thankful. If he won’t take out the trash, then when the trash day is missed, keep the overflowing trash in his room (maybe he won’t notice?).

 Think beyond the obvious--your child is. That’s why he disobeys. It’s worth it to him.

7. Evaluate rules for age-appropriateness.

Eating and drinking only at the table is mandatory for my sanity. If fire ants appear in my child's room because of some dirty dish that they left out, it effects more than their lives. When messes are contained, life is better. As they get older, the rules have swayed and adapted to the needs of the boys. The younger ones still are required to eat and drink at the table. When messes aren’t cleaned up---the law comes down on all.

I have stopped asking my boys “Why did they do this?” I have learned that they have no idea why they did something. It popped into their head and they just did it. By asking them ‘why’ I do not get an answer, I just get frustrated because they do not know. Not asking in the first place eliminates my frustration.

 

8. Are exceptions worth it? Reward obedience.

If you have a rule, there may be exceptions, but is it worth allowing an exception? After working so hard to enforce a rule, it is never easy to say this is an exception and then expect the younger ones remember the original rule. It is easier (although tiring) to enforce the rule all the time, rather than have to explain the exception.

For example, all the boys have chores after dinner. If I tell them to just sweep and not mop the floor on a particular night because we ate late, the next night, instead of doing their job, they ask if they could just sweep...? Sometimes exceptions aren’t worth it. It’s almost like I have to start at the beginning and enforce the rule again.

 9. Have a standard.

One parent has told me, children do what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT.

When you have a clear picture in mind, then it is much easier to strive for it.

The boys have cleaning chores on Saturday. When I get sloppy about inspecting their work, they get sloppy about doing it. Sometimes as I inspect, I show them how to make it look like what I have in mind. Sometimes by doing this, I realize a particular cleaner doesn’t work well, so I adapt my expectations. Other times, I’m surprised by what my encouragement and instruction can accomplish with young boys.

 10. Be strong.

Keep in mind that an obedient child is your goal. If disobedience is hated, strongly, then you will not allow it to creep under the door in various forms. The consequence is too devastating not to take the time and energy to make the discipline happen.

Disobedience is rebellion against God. I want my son to know God and love Him. If he won’t listen to me (whom he can see), then he cannot listen to God (Whom he can’t see).

Your child should know the rules and expect you to enforce them with your husband, immediately and appropriately. Your child will know that you value his obedience not just because it is convenient, but because it is right.

An obedient child is a happy child. And so are his parents.



I'd love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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