How to Discipline Kids: 2 Important Things To Consider

toddler hugging mom

The question of how to discipline kids is one that every mother has pondered. Like most things in motherhood, handling discipline and the teaching of children takes practice, trial and error, and patience. Today I have two important tips I’d like to share with you that you may have never considered…

A reader recently reached out to me to ask how I handle behavior problems with my kids, and specifically how I handle discipline.

Discipline is something that I have thought, fretted, pondered, and prayed a great deal about. I have read a LOT of books and articles on the topic coming from many different angles. Some of those resources I have shared on the blog in my other posts, and some of them I really disagreed with but still learned something through reading. I have switched my opinion on particular issues several times, and have tried new methods that didn’t work for me. That’s how motherhood is, a lot of the time. Trial and error!

This week at our house we have been having some clashes with my 4 year old. I took a few minutes to sit and think about what was causing these clashes and decided to make sure that I took extra time to connect with her today, which I can already tell has helped tremendously. Connection is vital in parenting, you can read more about what I think about it here.

Today I want to write about some more vital aspects of parenting and how to discipline kids, and share with you just a portion of my reader’s message to me (I can’t answer the entire thing in one post!), and some of my thoughts on the topic of discipline.

Before I start I want to remind you that I am just a random mom on the internet, not a professional, and nothing I say on this blog is advice. This is just my thoughts, and the way I do things at the moment, for your information end enjoyment only. One mom to another.

Her message said (in part)

“Hi Rachel!
…I’m a mom of three and I really enjoy…your wisdom on motherhood…
I wanted to ask you about a topic that I know can be sensitive, and that’s discipline. I hate correcting my kids, but… this has been a tough season for us.
When you do have to administer consequences, what is this process like?…
God Bless,

I was so flattered to read her message. I’m obviously a new mom myself so I’m not sure that I have much ‘wisdom’, I’m just trying to do what I can to train up my children and become a gentle mother. But it meant a lot to me that she felt like she could reach out to me and ask for some ideas.

Here are some of my thoughts regarding her question, and the two ‘tips’ I want you to consider.

Thought 1. It is always hard to discipline our kids, but it shouldn’t be something that you hate to do.

When I make a parenting mistake, what makes the situation such a failure is not only my failed response to my child, but also my poor mindset about the entire thing. When I yell, or threaten, or resort to my bad parenting habits instead of being the real adult in the room, it is usually because I have allowed myself to feel anger. THAT is when I truly hate correcting my kids. When I am feeling anger. And that is also a HUGE key to how well I am ‘handling’ the situation. Almost 100% of the time, if I am angry, I have done something wrong.

So for me, if I am feeling like I hate to correct my children, its because I have done something wrong (on top of the children’s offending behavior.).

Correcting children does not need to be painful. It is neutral. In my opinion, with very young children at the very least, you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel grave disappointment with them because they are still practicing their social interactions (which take years to master!) Discipline obviously isn’t necessarily an act that should bring you great joy either, since it isn’t really something that is fun to do.

Correcting your kids needs to be done in calmness, sure-ness, and a controlled and un-anxious emotional state in which you simply re-re-re-remind them what the boundaries and limits and rules of the house are, then enforce those limits.

The child may resist, or yell out, or become angry, but the situation doesn’t need to escalate on both ends.

Feeling like you hate to correct your children might be a red flag that the correction methods need to change, which will just take pondering, study, practice, and trial and error.

I have certainly felt this way many times but I am happy to report that practice really does pay off, and I am learning how to correct my children in a firm but loving way, and they are showing me at their tender young ages that they ARE capable of complex social interactions and peaceful restitution after making mistakes. I am so impressed with them.

In fact, while writing this article I had to stop twice to respond to my kids’ fighting. One of those times I was pretty impatient and immediately went straight to threatening (which may seem to work in the short term, but doesn’t really address the issue very well.) I just got a mad toddler. You bet I hated that.

The second time I had to stop, there were tears from both girls because someone got bonked and the other fled the scene. I gave the first some comfort, then when I walked into the bedroom and found the bonk-er hiding under a blanket in her bed, I gently but firmly told her to tell me what happened, corrected her, then reminded her that she should to apologize to her sister. They hugged and everything was fine in 30 seconds. No threats, no yelling, just acknowledgement of an error, and an opprotunity to make amends. Nothing to hate about the correction that happened here!

Here is some of the message I sent to my reader in response:

“I am willing to admit I was wrong or acted poorly, I apologize and I am also usually willing to listen to my kids’ side of things. We do make compromises on things often. I’m not silly enough to think I am always right 100% of the time! ..Sometimes I drop battles that aren’t worth fighting.”

To wrap up tip/thought 1: If you are feeling dread when you are correcting your children, ponder where it may be coming from.

Are you expecting your children to handle themselves, when you are not handling yourself? Do you need to try some different methods? Discipline may sometimes require punishment, but for very young children I really believe that most of the time it simply requires verbal correction and acknowledgement of the error, and the opportunity to make it right. (I am certainly still practicing my side of this partnership over here!)

Thought 2: If you can help your kids learn to control their actions, then administering discipline becomes rare.

My most pressing thought on the topic of how to discipline kids is this: discipline and duty are twins. You can’t have one without the other. This is why I try to give my kids responsibility, choices, and control of their own lives as much as I can.

Here is another excerpt from my response message:

“I try to give my kids as much power as I can. I give them options or let them choose what things to clean up, in what order, as long as it all gets cleaned up.
Most of all I try to treat my children like they are smart and understand what I am saying. I explain myself to them and talk to them, and give them duties from a very young age. (about age 1.)
Kids are very good listeners, they remember things you say and they like to help. They just need motivation or assistance sometimes.”

Kids like to feel like they are needed. Kids want to contribute! Anyone with a toddler should be familiar with the plea “want help!” every time you make dinner. Human beings want to be productive, useful, acknowledged, and proud of a job well done, and kids are no different.

Without a duty to fulfill, a child has no way to practice discipline. Remember, that discipline not only means to “train according to a certain mode of behavior or set of rules” but it also can be used to mean “a branch of knowledge, a subject, a study.”

Allow a child to refine themselves within a particular subject (such as household chores, manners, or music lessons for example) and through practicing that duty, they will learn the characteristics that make up the heart of discipline.

What are some of those characteristics?

  • Practice
  • Precision
  • Memorization
  • Listening to an instructor
  • Repetition
  • Self Motivation
  • Self Correction
  • Goal Setting

Yes, even the duty of folding laundry encompasses and teaches a child all of these skills. And the more opportunities a child has to practice these characteristics, the more they will learn how apply them to other and all areas of life.

Do you see where I am going with this?

A child who has a duty to pick up their toys learns not only obedience but also precision (to do it the way mom says), repetition (because it is a daily occurrence), self correction (if they accidently put the toy in the wrong place, they learn to put it where it belongs) etc. And once they learn these skills in this area, they are able to use these skills in other areas, such as proper manners and behavior.

Measuring Progress

We have utilized a sticker chart in the recent past to help my daughter understand that she has duties and expectations to meet.

Some families are against sticker charts because they feel that ‘rewarding good behavior’ is akin to bribing. I like to see it in another light: as adults, we know that one of the vital keys to making a goal and seeing it through is having a written plan and a way to measure our progress. This sticker chart acted as the way to measure my child’s progress in our mutual goal of her learning how to perform her duties.

The sticker chart was also helpful when I needed to remind her to behave kindly. Yes, I took away stickers sometimes. She earned them all back and then some because seeing on a visual and physical level how much good she was capable of made her happy, and very proud of herself. This greatly helped reduce the amount of clashes we had. (In case you want to know, her goal was to earn an ice cream cone. I was happy to oblige.) 🙂

I remember reading an article from a mother of a large family who was asked how she managed to teach her kids to behave so well when they ate out together at a restaurant. Her response was that she communicated to them that she had “great expectations” for them, and she was pleasantly surprised when she discovered that they rose to the challenge!

In addition, another angle to approach the “how to discipline kids” question from is this: how can my child and I work together to succeed in this situation?

To me, parenting is not something that you do to a child.

Parenting is more like this: a more advanced learner imparting knowledge on a new learner. Parenting is a relationship between a teacher and a student. Teaching a student requires patience, practice, and a type of acknowledgement and respect of the place they are in in their learning.

I think that if we stop seeing children as silly, lazy, troublesome, and start seeing them as smart, capable, ultra-absorbent individuals who are capable of so much, then we open up a whole new ability to teach them with grace. When we teach with grace, I think kids are more receptive.

In summary I want to highlight the few important things I have been learning regarding how to discipline kids:

  • If you want your child to learn to control their actions and emotions, you must also learn to control and evaluate your own!
  • Parents should be willing to admit when they were wrong
  • Correcting a child is an emotionally neutral act: they are just practicing and you don’t need to get overly upset.
  • Kids want to be needed. Giving them duties helps them practice skills that help them learn to control their actions.
  • Kids are capable of meeting great expectations
  • Kids are smart and capable, and in a different time of life than you (but a time of life that you once were in, too!)

Learning to discipline kids is not something that you master overnight. It is something that you learn together over time.

Hopefully all these thoughts made sense and were beneficial to you. I want to thank my awesome reader who inspired this post, It means so much to me when you all reach out and send me a message! I read them all!

Learning how to handle discipline in your family? What tips would you add?

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