Discipline. Something every parent loves to hate. But one of the most important roles parents play is to prepare children to thrive in a world of rules and expectations. Like it or not, children need to learn how to behave at home, school, and eventually, in the workplace. What’s a key strategy in accomplishing this? You guessed it … discipline.
Sure, this aspect of parenting can be challenging. But that’s in part because it’s often misunderstood! Many people mistakenly believe discipline is about punishment or control. It’s time to re-think your approach. Because discipline done wrong can backfire and make your job ever harder, potentially leading your children towards the very actions or behaviors you want them to avoid.
What Does Discipline Mean . . . Really!?
Discipline does NOT mean to punish or control someone. Rather, discipline shares a root with the word “disciple”, meaning “to teach” or “to guide.” (Didn’t realize you’d be getting a Latin lesson, too, did you?) When done right, discipline helps children understand that their actions result in real consequences. They learn.
How Discipline Works
Discipline shapes behavior. It shows young people how you hope they’ll navigate the world. It makes your expectations clear. And it allows them to develop motivations to do the right thing, no matter who is -- or isn’t! -- watching.
For discipline to work, you must establish clear consequences. Ones that make sense. That your children understand. “I did that. Therefore, I lost this privilege.” These kinds of consequences are effective because the privilege lost is connected to what they did (or didn’t) do. For example, your child breaks curfew. There’s no logical connection between that and taking away their phone. But it would make sense to move curfew earlier until they prove themselves capable of being on time again.
This kind of discipline teaches lessons. Whereas punishment makes children feel ashamed for what they’ve done. Remember, your goal is to teach. If discipline leaves teens feeling controlled, it’s unlikely they’ll learn lessons that will stick in the long-run. More likely, they’ll feel like victims and may be too angry to absorb your intended message.
5 Tips to Easier Discipline
Consider these tips when making rules and establishing consequences.
Make Rules Reachable.
Teens value rules they can understand. Set your children up for success with rules that are reasonable and attainable. Children tend to follow rules made by parents who express love. They’re also respected when they understand the rules are in place to ensure safety and success. On the other hand, they tend to reject rules related to their “personal territory” (think clothing choice, friends, music).
Set Clear Limits.
There should be no questions about established limits when it comes to safety. Be clear about issues you’ll never consider acceptable. By stating rules that will never change (e.g. no texting and driving, no getting into a car with an impaired driver, no attending parties with alcohol or drugs) you’ll help ensure safe behavior and encourage values. If your teens break these rules they face immediate consequences. With other limits, allow them to push some boundaries and make mistakes. When they demonstrate responsible behavior, offer new privileges one step at a time.
Take a One-Question Test
First a Latin lesson, now a test?! Don’t worry. This is a one-question test you’ll know the answer to. When the need for discipline arises, ask yourself, “Am I teaching something?” If your answer is no, step back. Reframe your words. Or consider an alternative way to handle the issue.
Develop an Adolescent Responsibility Contract
Young people appreciate being given a chance to see how rules fit into a bigger plan – one that helps them gain more responsibility. Work together to create an “Adolescent Responsibility Contract.” With a plan in place, they’ll know what’s expected. No surprises! That makes your job easier. Be sure they understand you create rules because you care. And while you’ll listen to their requests, the final say about what’s safe and reasonable lies with you. Give them a chance to discuss their wants. (They’re best-off making suggestions in which they can actually follow through.) Then, establish boundaries you both agree on. Need more help creating a plan? Check out the Center for Parent and Teen Communication for guidance. Our teen board even gets your teen prepared to partner with you!
Create Flexible Rules
If your teens behave in a way that isn’t covered on your established list of “non-negotiables” or in an Adolescent Responsibility Contract, be flexible. Maybe they didn’t realize they crossed a line. Or they just made a mistake. Use these missteps as “teachable moments.” Help them understand how their actions impacted others. Explain your higher expectations. Hold them to those expectations if the behavior is repeated.
The End Game
Your work for today is done. You’ve learned to dread discipline a bit less. By following these tips, you’ll strengthen bonds now and prepare your children with the skill-sets and self-control to ensure successful connections with family, friends, and in the workplace in the future.