I’ve tried it all! I’ve done gold star rewards. I have tried fun prizes as bribes. We’ve done fun fuzzy pom-pom jars. And lots of yelling. Begging. Taking away screens, sweets and toys. Everything works for about two days. if I’m lucky a week. And then we are back to square one. I’m tired. And my kids that just don’t seem to care. Help!!! -A very tired mother.
It can be so frustrating when your go-to discipline strategies just don’t seem to work. Often the problem isn’t that you aren’t being consistent enough, or creative with your punishments…It’s that bribes, punishments, time-outs and rewards tend to cultivate only compliance. And while compliance can make things appear easier, compliance doesn’t really equal long term learning or foster capability.
Children need to learn how to manage their emotions. They need to practice making decisions and even struggle with how to solve problems in order to develop responsibility and behave “well.” Children also need to feel safe, loved and accepted.
The secret to effective discipline?
Letting go of control and compliance and instead focusing on connection and guidance.
When the focus of parenting is on connection and guidance, what unfolds is learning, not just compliance. When we commit to having a solid relationship built on trust and encouragement with our children, we are actively creating opportunities for positive influence.
Your positive influence is what will matter when your child loses their way. When mistakes are made and your guidance is needed.
Connection makes us all feel better, loved and cared for.
When we feel connected to our child, offering guidance and corrections comes from a place of respect, kindness and love. Our children in return become more cooperative, feel safe and thrive.
This doesn’t mean that you will be free of conflict or misbehavior. That’s simply impossible. Because we are all, by default imperfect and always trying to fulfill our needs. Sometimes these needs clash. But the more your discipline strategy revolves around relationship building and understanding, the more likely you are to parent from a place that brings out the best in your whole family.
Here are three practical suggestions that can actively strengthen your relationship and your child’s emotional well-being and lead to better behavior; Without punishments, bribes or rewards.
1. Make time to be together
Building moments into each day that focus just on connection, not correction or criticism recharges your child’s “feel good” tank. Moments of connection also means paying attention, distraction and screen free. How each family chooses to build these moments will be unique but here are some ideas:
- A slower morning routine with plenty of hugs and kisses.
- 10 minutes in the afternoon just for listening to your child talk.
- A hug chart that light heartedly keeps track of giving each other 8 hugs in one day.
- Going for a walk
- Playing fun games like hot potato, chase and hide and seek
Deliberately using these moments to just listen and appreciate your child will also help you respond positively when they make a mistake.
2. Guidance with respect
Discipline that is respectful doesn’t focus on you having to control your child’s behaviors. Instead, it’s about fostering opportunities for your child to learn how to control their own behaviors. Your respectful guidance also actively cultivates your child’s capabilities and models how to be respectful and kind to others (A vital skill for sucess!)
Here are some practical ways to offer guidance with respect:
• Stop harmful behaviors with the intent to help and keep children safe. Avoid lectures and shaming.
• Set limits clearly – see more here on saying what you mean and meaning what you say
- Consider your child’s abilities (Are they truly able to do what you are asking?)
- Consider your child’s needs (Is she hungry, tired, sleepy, overwhelmed?)
- Consider that change and learning takes repetition, time and repetition.
• Validate feelings and experiences before making requests or offering corrections
• Take mistakes and transform these into opportunities for problem solving and working together
Dare to accept imperfection
Accepting imperfection can apply to both you and your child. Parenting is a huge opportunity to accept that everyone makes mistakes and that these mistakes are a chance to learn together.
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”
― Brené Brown
Strive to worry less about making sure your child is a certain way. Instead, try to get to know your child, authentically, just the way they are. What does your child love to do? What does she struggle with? What can she teach you? When children feel accepted and validated, connection and cooperation grows.
It is very likely your child will “miss” behave. They will make mistakes, and behave in ways that are not ideal. This is ok. Your job can be to guide the way. And, If you get angry, apologize and move forward. Modeling imperfection and how you overcome your own mistakes is a valuable lesson to children too.
If your discipline strategy has stopped working, I encourage you to start looking at discipline not so much as strategies and quick fixes, but more as one piece in the larger puzzle of your daily relationship with your child. As you focus on working together, to guide rather than control, you are very likely to see much more cooperation and learning. You might find this positive parenting course to be quite helpful for finding new, more effective parenting tools as well.
Peace& Be Well,
Book: Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen Ed.D and Lynn Lott.
The Brain Science that Changes Parenting by Rebecca Eanes
Book: Me, Me, Me Epidemic by Amy McCready
E-Book: Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families by Nicole Schwartz, MA LMFT