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Eight Don'ts of Discipline

 April 30, 2014

If you are a parent, you know that nothing can ruin those warm fuzzy feelings of parenthood faster than asking your child to do something in public, and he gives a temper tantrum before the watching world. You are on display and have no control.

Before any learning, you must have control. You cannot teach a child who does not listen. Listening is key to learning. Discipline is key to listening. So how do you obtain that discipline?

1. Don't discipline when you are out of control.
Your child asks and you tell him “no.” He waits three minutes and asks again. You tell him, “no.” He asks again. You are busy and now you are angry (maybe this is the 15th time he’s asked, not the third). Now you threaten and lash out in anger. You are out of control. You overreact and the discipline is not in love but harsh and out of proportion.

How do you prevent yourself from losing control? When he asks that first time, mean it. Know that you will not change your mind. Convince him. In the above example, he asked once. That is fine. Now he asks the second time. You tell him that you already answered that question. What did you tell him? If he asks again, this….will happen. (It could be withholding a privilege.) When he asks again (and he will, because he has to test to see if you mean what you say) then you withhold the privilege or send him to bed ten minutes early or give him a job or whatever you choose that will remind him that you keep your word. Remember the issue here is not the privilege withheld, but that you mean what you say and he can trust your word.

The time to discipline is always when you are the busiest. He knows when to ask for something. But if you let it go for when it is convenient for you---he will be a teenager and you will have no control. You will be trying to put the tiger in the cage when he is roaring for his own territory.

It’s a power struggle--will he win or you? If he wins, he is insecure. The child wants boundaries. He needs to know that if he pushes, you will be the wall that keeps him from harm. If you win, he learns obedience. With each testing of the wills, remind yourself that you must win for his good. Be a warrior, because it is a fight.

I remember reading a book illustrating this point. The mom promised to throw her son out the window if he continued to do whatever he was doing. He knew that she wouldn’t do that. So he disobeyed. She threw him out the window. You may think that is extreme. Well, the mom had the foresight to check out the window, before her promise and saw the snow pile outside was high enough to break his fall and protect him from danger. That lesson taught him that she meant what she said. I have never thrown my children out any windows. But the principle of meaning what you say, holds true.

In this way, you are not waiting until you are angry. You have control. It won’t be the choicest of times, but it will be the right time.

2. Do not reason with your child.
When you tell your child who is running across the street in front of the car, “Stop!” you want instant obedience. If he doesn’t obey, he will be hurt. The child should not ask why before he obeys. You present the rule and expect him to obey, now. If he would like to know why, he may ask after he has obeyed. This is called obey first FOR HIS SAFETY.

Reasoning with any child under eight years of age is, well--reasoning with a toddler…. Can they really give you the valid proofs of why this rule is not necessary? When they mature and are obedient, then we can explain the justification of the rule--after they obey or when we present the rule. Children want to know the whys of everything. That is good. But obey first, then explain. Remember the running across the street, “stop.” It is for their own safety.

3. Do not argue with your child.
This follows reasoning with your child. You have told them to do a chore. They want to tell you why they cannot do the job. They are arguing. You can tell them to stop and do the job. They want to continue to argue. You find that you are losing control…over taking out the trash.

Instead, you only give a job that they are physically capable of doing. Allow time for the job to be completed. Discipline by withholding privileges or whatever your form of discipline. If they argue, start counting out loud, “that’s one.” What does that mean? You could make it another job that he must do, 10 minutes sooner to bed, 15 minutes less with a game (or tv or whatever), every time he starts to say anything, you continue to count. Then follow through with the additional consequence. 

4. Do not allow excuses.
But I need to do…. Or I was doing this…. Or I forgot… Or I didn’t hear you.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

Remember, you give rules for their safety. You only give jobs that they are capable of doing. They have no excuse. Do the job, or start counting. 

(Just an interjection here: We make our boys say, “Yes, Mom or Dad," after giving a job. We know that they heard and understood the job. This avoids the ‘I didn’t hear you’ excuse.) 

Counting may continue for days. They test to see if you will forget---and you can’t.

5. Don’t discipline for mistakes.
Mistakes are spilled milk, accidents, unintentional blunders…. This is normal childhood. We went several years having one child spill his water every night at the dinner table. I just learned to have an extra towel on hand to collect the spill quickly, so we could enjoy the meal. Did he do it intentionally? No. He was in a hurry and did not pay attention.

Now if he was flaying his arms around, and I told him to settle down and eat properly, then he spilled his milk, that is disobedience, not an accident. I would discipline him, maybe by having him mop the entire floor not just the mess. But childhood brings accidents. They are learning, offer grace for their mishaps.

6. Don’t listen to the world.
Do you see what the world is producing? Is that what you want? If you listen to them, you get the same fruit.

God’s way of discipline is not a democracy. You are given the authority and responsibility by God. We’ve learned much from To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. They explain and illustrate verses on disciplining children. I don’t agree with everything, but they start you thinking Biblically about child rearing. Be careful what you do in public. The watching world does not listen to God.

 Some parents hesitate to discipline because of their abusive childhood. That is why number one says do not discipline in anger. Control is necessary. I have been known to wait discipline as they sat on a chair until I counted to 1000?…gulped down a pepsi? Ran for the mail? … so that the discipline would instruct them to remember the rule and their consequence, not remember that I was angry with them. Your aim is correction, not abuse.

7. Don’t discuss differences of discipline with your spouse in front of the children.
Be a unified front before the children. If the child senses division, he will seek to divide and conquer. Who wins? Not the child. And nor will you. 

8. Do not give up.
Your child would love nothing more than for you not to follow through with your word. But in the long term, he would see that no one keeps his word, not even his parents. They don’t care enough to stop what they are doing to deal with his needs. He will know that obedience isn’t as important as making dinner, watching tv, or talking on the phone. It is never convenient. He will know that obedience doesn’t matter.

 So, do not confront your child with instruction when you are not in control. Do not reason, argue or allow excuses. Make sure you disciple over rebellion not mistakes. Don’t listen to the world’s way. Don’t have a divided front with your husband. And most importantly, do not give up. You must win. When you look from the child’s perspective, if you don’t win, every time---the child doesn’t win in the long run. He will be a spoiled brat who can not learn, does not have the discipline to do a job and runs over anyone that gets in his way. Is that what we want for him and the world?



I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please share in the comments below.

This is excellent. I'm beyond all this, but want my daughter Katrina to read it as they are getting foster children soon. (A whole different story!! I don't envy them.)

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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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