All parents seek disciplinary techniques that work. However, not all techniques work for all ages or for all children. Use this list as a guide for age-appropriate discipline.
Distraction. Infants (birth to 18 months) typically do not need strong disciplinary measures. When babies "misbehave" they are often exploring and testing their boundaries. Simply directing a baby's attention elsewhere may solve the problem.
Time-Out. Many parents use time-out for all behaviors all the time. However, for time-out to work, it should be used as one tool in an arsenal of other discipline techniques for ages 2 to 8. Some basic guidelines for time-out include:
Removal of privileges. Taking away toys, activities or outings can be an effective way to manage inappropriate behavior for children ages 18 months and older. To make sure this technique works for you:
Natural consequences. Parents do not need to get involved in order for natural consequences to take effect. For example, if your child refuses to eat dinner, instead of developing a power struggle, allow her to go to bed without eating. She will naturally be hungry in the morning and will be certain to eat. (Appropriate for children 2 and older.)
Logical Consequences. This is a punishment that fits the crime. Suppose your child throws a ball in the house and breaks a vase. She could be asked to work off the value of the vase or use her allowance to buy a new one.
Spanking. Spanking typically works best with ages 2 to 6. It should be used only for specific, purposeful misbehavior and should never be done in anger. As with other techniques, spanking should be used as one of many discipline tools.
In case you hadn't noticed, America has a parenting problem. The evidence of this parenting deficit can be found at your local supermarket, fast-food restaurant or high-school parking lot — spoiled, selfish, out-of-control kids with no concept of right or wrong.
While many aspects of our culture are harmful to children, I'm particularly alarmed by the rise of what I call "pushover parents." These parents are either unable or unwilling to place limits on their children's behavior — even behavior that is unhealthy, dangerous or destructive. They are so concerned with being liked by their kids that they give in to their children's every whim.
This neglect has a ripple effect. Even if you are doing a great job of raising responsible kids, your children's lives are still influenced by this unfortunate trend. Their world is inhabited by kids raised by pushover parents — think bully, dishonest classmate, abusive boyfriend or girlfriend.
What turns parents into pushovers? The root causes include:
Wrong thinking. Many parents today believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on their children. They heed the advice of secular parenting gurus who preach that children are brimming with innate goodness and should be allowed to create their own values. Such humanistic advice denies the fact that all of us are inclined toward selfishness and self-deception.
Guilt. When Mom and Dad are both professionals working 50 to 60 hours per week, their children may spend the majority of their early years in day care. Because these parents are physically and emotionally unavailable to their kids, parents may feel tremendous guilt. To assuage this guilt, they often find it impossible to say no.
Copycat or reactive parenting. Many adults today were raised by parents influenced by the permissive "reject all authority" mantra of the 1960s. As a result, they never learned the importance of setting appropriate limits. Conversely, individuals who grew up with harsh, authoritarian parents may reject any form of child discipline. They vow, "I'm never going to treat my kids the way I was treated."
Divorce and single parenting. Contentious divorces and child-custody disputes can turn parents into pushovers. In order to be seen as the "favorite parent," a mom or dad may spoil the kids. Single parents can fall into the trap of looking to their children to meet their own emotional needs. As a result, they may fail to enforce limits for fear that their kids won't like them.
How can we avoid becoming pushover parents? We can begin by recognizing that our children are a blessing from God, and with that blessing comes an awesome responsibility. Children who fail to experience consequences for misbehavior typically grow up to become selfish, narcissistic adults who leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake.
If you believe you might be a pushover parent, ask your spouse and friends to give you feedback — and give them permission to be honest. If you're a single parent, ask yourself if you look to your kids for comfort and fear their disapproval. If so, ask God to help you develop close, nurturing friendships with adults — friends who will support you in your role as a single mom or dad.
By balancing love and limits, you can help your kids grow into healthy, godly adults who — as they become moms and dads — will break the destructive cycle of pushover parenting.
Two of your kids are fighting, another one won't pick up his toys, and your teenager just revealed the tattoo she got without your permission. You're exhausted, and all you want is peace.
You're not alone.
For many, disciplining children is a daily challenge. When it comes to discipline in my home, I only have one rule: respect.
Disrespect is the primary root of disobedience. Looking through Scripture, Adam and Eve sinned because they did not respect God's command. Cain killed Abel because he did not respect his brother's life. Lying, stealing, vandalism, strife and disobedience stem from an attitude of disrespect toward someone or something.
When your toddler pulls the dog's tail or your teenager rolls her eyes, it's — you guessed it — disrespect.
When correcting your child, point out how actions or words were disrespectful, and then ask him to think about something he could have done or said that would have been more polite. In this way, you're not only correcting inappropriate behavior, you're also providing opportunities for your child to learn and practice valuable life skills.
Whatever form of discipline you choose, administer it with respect. Your child will learn nothing if you lose your cool. If you want him to be respectful, then you'll have to model respect. Take note of your tone of voice at all times, especially when your child is acting up. Talk to him as a valued individual, not as a hardened criminal.
When my kids were younger, they often heard me say, "You don't have to agree with me or like me right now, but you will be respectful." They know I'll accept nothing less from them, and they know that I will show them respect. When a situation is about others, my response is, "Our family treats people (or animals or possessions) with respect."
By using "we" language, you let your child know your correction isn't just about him and one infraction. Living respectfully is about holding to a standard that is good for everyone. You don't have to memorize a long list of rules. You don't have to sort through every incident to figure out which rule was broken so that you can decide what to do about it. By making respect your one non-negotiable standard, you lighten the load.
Emphasizing respect and honoring people are biblical concepts. Believers are told to respect the law (Proverbs 13:13), honor parents (Deuteronomy 5:16) and live lives worthy of respect (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). With respect woven throughout Scripture, it's no wonder that it makes for a strong foundation for family and offers meaningful reward.
When I set a standard of respect in my home, the reward was relationship. My children became people I liked to have around. They trusted me as someone who respected and believed in them. Peace reigned and communication flowed between us.
But I didn't do this alone. God has been my guide and my support. His wisdom and strength carried me through the times when I felt too weary to press forward. His grace made up the difference when I fell short. And ultimately, He was my inspiration for my standard of respect.
Do you have a grip on reality? Here's a quiz to find out.
Bob drives his bright red sports car 90 miles per hour on the interstate and is pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper gives Bob a:
Susan prefers sleeping late to showing up at work on time. After arriving at the office two to three hours late for two weeks in a row, Susan's boss tells her to:
As a result of their choices, Bob and Susan will both experience unpleasant consequences. We can only hope they'll learn from their experiences, prompting Bob to become a safer driver and Susan to become a more responsible employee.
The effective use of consequences can be a powerful parenting tool. When our children break a rule or fail to act responsibly, we can implement a consequence or allow the natural outcome of their behavior to take effect. Over time, these results act as a teacher, helping our kids to learn how things operate in the real world.
Unfortunately, far too many parents short-circuit this process, either failing to implement appropriate consequences or bailing their kids out — shielding them from the slightest discomfort. These parents believe they are expressing love by sparing their children from consequences; in reality, they are setting up their kids for frustration and failure later in life.
The book of Proverbs reminds us that God designed the world to function in specific ways. Our actions have ramifications, and more often than not, we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Our kids benefit when they learn that life is made up of these cause-and-effect relationships — even though the effects they experience may sometimes be unpleasant.
If a toddler touches a hot stove, he gets burned — that is a natural consequence. When a child's actions do not lead to an obvious result, however, a parent can still employ a consequence that is logically connected to the behavior. For example, a child is instructed to put away his toy train and doesn't follow through; a logical consequence would be that he is not allowed to play with his train the next day.
Consequences can be both positive and negative. Parents can use positive consequences when they want to encourage a good behavior and negative consequences when they want to discourage a bad behavior.
In order for consequences to work, they need to be immediate. Kids have short attention spans. You can increase the immediacy of a consequence by using tokens or a point system. Immediately award your child points or tokens for positive behavior and deduct them for negative behavior. These can then be cashed in for special privileges or inexpensive rewards at a later time.
You'll also need to be consistent with consequences, or your child will quickly learn that you don't mean what you say. That's why it's crucial to follow through with a promised outcome even when you're tired.
Finally, consequences need to be powerful. If a positive or negative consequence doesn't matter to your child, it won't change her behavior. For example, earning points toward a new outfit for her doll may be a powerful motivator for a 7-year-old girl, but she may not care about that a year from now.
As you learn to use consequences effectively — instead of nagging, yelling or making threats — you'll find that interactions with your kids will improve. Your children will clearly understand what's expected of them, and you'll feel more confident in your role as a parent. Of course, you should always administer consequences in the context of a warm, supportive relationship.
Dr. Dobson's book The New Dare to Discipline includes step-by-step instructions on how to utilize consequences in your parenting and set up a point or token system.
By the way, if you chose the third answer for both questions on the quiz, congratulations — you understand the reality of consequences. Now you can use that precious wisdom to help your kids mature into responsible adults who make good choices — and who keep their jobs and avoid speeding tickets.
This article first appeared in the November, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.