How to Discipline a Child

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Techniques for Effective Discipline

by Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.

1. Are there communication techniques that will prevent power struggles?

Communication Skills – In a discipline situation, DO NOT use commands or questions.

  1. Commands: Do the thinking for the child. Sit down. Be quiet. Commands don’t invite a conversation so that win/win problem solving can occur. It makes it seem like the adult is the only one that knows the answers.
  2. Questions: Most people use questions so automatically that it is like breathing. Questions have the effect of handing over too much power to the child. Children can easily say yes or no, which invites unproductive arguing.
  3. Statement Sentences: When you use “I statements,” you equalize the power between yourself and your child. In order to promote win/win problem solving, you need to use the principle of participation in order to get a “buy in” so that you end up with an agreement. The goal is to invite a conversation with your child – not an “I don’t know” response. The very best way to do this is with I statements. “I would like to know”… “I understand that” … “I’m wondering how”… “I’m not sure that I have it right” … “I’m confused” … “I statements” are magical because they give the impression that “I” am the one with the problem and it appeals to a person’s desire to help. It takes the pressure off of “YOU” haven’t done something right and thus diminishes defensiveness. Furthermore, a statement is a fact, a fact is the truth. It is hard to argue with the truth.

2.What is the best way to get a child to stop playing and get down to business?

Yes, nevertheless – When you get resistance, nod your head and state the child’s point of view. “Yes, I know you are busy,” “You want to watch TV,” “You are having fun playing with your friends,” “You don’t feel well.” “NEVERTHELESS,” then tell them what needs to be done. This is a powerful technique once you’ve mastered it. Be sure to use other words such as “but”, “however, there is a problem.” What needs to happen now is ______.”

For example: “You would like to finish playing with your friends because you are having a lot of fun, nevertheless it is time to wrap it up and get ready for bed.” This technique works because it uses receptive listening. A child doesn’t feel controlled or manipulated if you make it clear that you understand his or her point of view.

3. What is the single most important parenting technique that is a sure fire way to be successful?

Catch Them Being Good! – Be prolific with this technique by using it over and over again. Notice how your child helped, even if it is picking up a piece of paper off the floor. It makes children feel good and most of all it promotes rational thinking.

4. My teenage son is a master at changing the subject when we are trying to solve a problem that it is maddening. I fall for it every time.

Diversionary Tactics – When a child changes the subject with diversionary tactic to take your attention off of what you are talking about, say, “What we are talking about is ___.” Be a broken record if you need to. Say it until they stay focused. If diversionary tactics (DT’s) are chronic, call to the child’s attention what they are doing and ask them to stop. Changing the subject is a diversionary tactic that is frequently used when a person (child or adult) feels uncomfortable or defensive about the subject being discussed. It is easy to lose track of the problem that you really want to solve when people manipulate this way.

5. How can I make agreements with my child that they will actually accept that it is important for them to follow though?

The Principle of Participation: First, identify the problem; second get a “buy in” to what each person will do; third, end up with an agreement. Let the child know the facts of the situation, by identifying a problem to be solved and turn it over to your child to participate in solving it. Stop, listen, and let them think about it. Have a conversation with the child. Don’t merely state your solution without using their participation. Use discipline (teaching), not punishment. This means letting your child talk. Thinking takes time. Don’t turn off all the good you want to do by lecturing. Children don’t listen to lectures as much as parents think that they ought to. You may also have them write down their agreement and post it in the kitchen.

Set the rules and boundaries WITH the person’s participation as to what the agreements are. If someone falls down, go back to, “I understood that we had an agreement that you would _____.” EXPECT compliance by getting agreements using the communication techniques described in #3 as soon as is developmentally able to do so.

6. Why does my daughter tune me out? As soon as I start explaining something to her she gets a glazed look in her eyes and isn’t paying attention any more.

Don’t Talk Too Much: Lecturing should be avoided. Most parents enjoy hearing themselves talk, enjoy hearing themselves solve problems for the child, enjoy being the grown up with all the answers, but their enjoyment comes at a substantial cost to the child. When there is a problem to be solved, engage your child in a solution right away. For example, “Jimmy, I see that your grades have slipped and the teacher says that it is mostly due to homework not being handed in or being unfinished.” (The fact) Your silence is golden. Your statement of the facts and silence are more likely to get a conversation going where together you can come up with solutions that your child will buy into and agree to.

7. It is painfully easy to turn the least little thing into high drama. What can I do to stop this?

Drama vs. Logic – In high drama situations, back off. Don’t try to be logical with a person who is illogical – especially if it is YOU. When a person flies into a tantrum or drama, ease the person out of the situation by changing the subject. Take a time out. When the angry person calms down, say, “I’d like to know what you think we should do about the problem now.” And WAIT for an answer. Use the principle of participation to get the child to buy into an agreement. Once you have an agreement, have the child repeat it, such as: “We agreed that I will do the dishes right after dinner unless there is a good reason not to.” Logic always wins over drama.

Logic has six simple steps to it:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Analyze the problem
  3. Look at possible solutions to the problem
  4. Make a plan
  5. Do it
  6. Evaluate

If you have not solved the problem, go back to step one.

8. My son lies entirely too much. What makes him lie?

Child Lies – Children who are unafraid of their parents will have an easier time telling the truth because they aren’t afraid that they will be in trouble and get punished. If you think that your child is lying, do not confront directly. Instead, use an “I” statement such as, “I don’t understand your explanation.” “I am only interested in the truth.” “I’d like you to tell me what really happened.” If a child trusts you they will feel safe in telling the truth. If the child doesn’t trust you, he or she will be afraid to tell you the truth. This is a good indicator of your parenting skills. Never punish a child for telling the truth. A lie is a problem to be solved; solve the problem and the lying goes away.

9. My wife and I were spanked when we were children and we turned out okay. People nowadays seem to frown on spanking. What is wrong with giving a child a belt or two when they are being bad?

Hiam Ginot, the great- Grand daddy of parent education was asked this question and his answer was, “You don’t know how well you would have turned out if your parents had known how to raise children without spanking.”

Do not spank because:

It is easy to go overboard into anger and get excessive. It is legal to spank children; but what is legal doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. If a parent causes bruises and welts they may get into serious trouble. The psychological damage to the child due to the spanking is likely to go unnoticed. When children are hit and not reasoned with, it dulls their intelligence. Children become afraid of their parent. Fearful children withdraw from the parent they are afraid of. “This hurts me more than it hurts you” is nonsense. Spanking doesn’t teach what to do, it only teaches what not to do. Spanking lowers self-esteem and makes a child feel unworthy of being treated better. There is a strong correlation between hitting young children and a poor adjustment to school later on. Spanking lowers self esteem. Children will believe that they deserve to be spanked when another method would have been superior. Spare the rod and spoil the child is not in the Bible.

If the act of men hitting women and women hitting men is battering or domestic violence why isn’t it domestic violence for adults to hit children? Children are far less able to defend themselves than an adult. It is hypocritical and a double standard; children aren’t allowed to hit back.

10. I am confused by what people mean by loving your children unconditionally. Won’t these children get by with too much if they are loved unconditionally?

Unconditional Love – We need to start with some definitions. Unconditional love means that I love you so much that no matter what you do, I will always love you. That doesn’t mean that I can’t get angry when I don’t like what you do, but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped loving you. When children know they are loved no matter what they do, it creates a secure feeling that even when I mess up I am safe. Compare that to conditional love. When children are loved conditionally the parent shows affection and love only when their child obeys them. This is old fashioned. Most children love their parents unconditionally and are forgiving of their mistakes. We should reciprocate. How do YOU want to be loved; conditionally or unconditionally?


Jayne Major, Ph.D. authored Breakthrough Parenting: Moving Your Family from Struggle to Cooperation. She was nationally recognized as an award-winning expert in family education, a dynamic and inspiring speaker, author and consultant on optimal family relationships.


For more please visit www.hardinglaw.com

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