Breaking Bad Discipline Habits

By Barb Grady MC, NCC

I can help you replace tactics that don’t work with ones that do.

Nagging—We all nag and know how fruitless it is. Either your child resorts to fibbing (I did wash my hands! Really!) or he/she learns to tune you out.

Try this instead: Use eye contact and state your expectations as calmly as possible. Fewer words are better. Instead of saying, “How many times do I have to tell you not to eat in the living room?” say, “No eating in the living room.” Try not to load up commands. It’s better for him/her to do one thing (put on his shoes) rather than hear a whole string of orders.

Yelling—What’s true of nagging is doubly true of yelling. We all do it and feel guilty every time we do. Even if it occasionally gets results, it teaches your child that it’s OK to raise her voice when he/she’s angry.

Try this instead: Proper discipline names the misbehavior at hand. Your child really does need to know what she/he’s done wrong, as long as you don’t raise your voice or lose your temper.

Give your child choices—both of which work for you. For example, “Do you want to get your jammies on first or brush your teeth first?” Choice empowers children.

Turning requests into questions—It’s a hard habit to break, especially after years of asking your young child rhetorical questions as a way of making conversation—“How about some breakfast now? Doesn’t that sound good?”

Try this instead: State, don’t ask. Remember to frame your expectations in a polite, respectful manner by adding “please” and “thank you.” I need you to turn off the TV now and start getting ready, please.”

Issuing empty warnings—A good warning is an effective discipline strategy. “In five minutes it’s time to clean up.” The problem comes when you threaten in anger, grossly exaggerate (If you do that again, I’m not taking you outside all day.”), or fail to be specific (You’ll be sorry!”).

Try this instead: Make your warnings more specific, immediate, and include choice. (“If you don’t give that toy back to your baby sister, you are choosing to go to time out.”).

Apologizing too much—Saying you are sorry when you’ve made a mistake is an act that strengthens your bond with your kids. But even a young child can sense when your apology isn’t heartfelt and constantly saying sorry for the same mistake wears thin.
Try this instead: Make a genuine effort to say what you did that was wrong and then work to change that in the future. (I’m so sorry for any hurt I caused you when I yelled instead of telling you how I felt in calm words. Next time I’ll tell you how I feel respectfully.”) There are two parts to an apology—your words and your actions.

Giving the cold shoulder—While removing a privilege can be an effective consequence, turning away from your child when she wants to kiss and make up or giving him/her the silent treatment after he/she’s misbehaved can make him/her feel unworthy of your love and affection.

Try this instead: Tell your child how upset you are. Do it calmly without making her/him feel rejected. Your aim is to make it clear that it’s the behavior that’s driving you crazy, not him/her. Separate the behavior from your child’s self.

Four Steps for Winning Cooperation

  1. Get into your child’s world.
  2. Show understanding.
  3. Share your feelings
  4. Find a solution together.