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How to Discipline Children with Actions, Not Words

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Parenting doesn’t have to be complicated. Read on to find out how you can improve your child’s behavior without saying a word.

Have reasoning, pleading, and complaining become your go-to tools in your parenting tool box? If so, you are not alone. But as a result, you are probably doing a lot more talking than acting when you discipline your children – with very little return for your effort. The truth is, you don’t need to say a lot to have a big impact on your kids. Here are some examples of how you can let your actions, rather than your words, do the talking.

Toddler throws a ball in house

  • All talk, no action: “Now you know better than that. We don’t throw things in the house.”
  • Let your actions do the talking: Put on a neutral face, remain silent and remove the ball to a high shelf and walk away.

Child complains and whines about food placed in front of him

  • All talk, no action: “What is it now? You liked it yesterday. Mommy worked hard to make this for you. I don’t know what I am going to do with you.”
  • Let your actions do the talking: Silently remove the food and excuse him from the table. Meal time is over.

Siblings are fighting over a toy

  • All talk, no action. “Stop it! Who had it first? Let go, give it to him. He had it first. When will you two ever learn to play nicely together?”
  • Let your actions do the talking: Remove the toy and walk away.

Children don’t pick up toys when asked

  • All talk, no action: “I am constantly picking up after you guys! I don’t know why I spend so much money on toys that you don’t even care about. I have half a mind to take them all away. Then you would appreciate them.”
  • Let your actions do the talking: After they have gone to bed, get a laundry basket, collect the toys and store them in your closet. When they wake up in the morning, wondering where their toys are, show them. Simply tell them if they clean up the toys when asked, they can pick one or two toys from the basket at the end of each day.

Child forgets library book, gym clothes or band instrument

  • All talk, no action: “Wait! You almost forgot your library books again. How many times do I have to remind you?”
  • Let your actions do the talking: Do nothing. Don’t rush the forgotten item to the school. Let the consequences be the teacher.

Children are fighting in the car

  • All talk, no action: “Stop it right now! I can’t drive with you guys screaming like that! Do you want me to pull over?”
  • Let your actions do the talking: Pull over and park the car somewhere safe. Read a magazine, check your messages, balance your checkbook. Wait in silence. You may be there a while, but whatever fun thing is coming next in their day will now be cancelled to make up for the time you lost in your day.

Maybe you are wondering if you could discipline without all the associated verbiage. Maybe you are thinking “this isn’t enough; if I don’t say anything, they won’t learn!” To be sure, there will be times when words of explanation are necessary (as in issues of safety and character building). But most often these explanations and training sessions are best delivered when the misbehavior is not occurring. Discipline yourself to make the time to discuss behavior problems and character deficits when your child is calm and better able to receive such information. Remember, our goal is not to simply modify behavior but to dig deep into the underlying motivations for misbehavior and the heart attitude they reflect.

You can provide effective and lasting parenting without saying a word.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to residents of Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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      • I love this approach, sounds waaaay easier than the all talk, no action approach that i currently do.
        Since it was one of your examples and is something we deal with in our house, say my son throws a ball in the house, i remove it and place it on a high shelf and walk away. Then he starts screaming and throwing a fit over the lost ball. (This has actually happened). Shoukd I explain what happened and why i put the ball up? Should there be a timeout given for the fit? Should the fit be ignored all together?
        Thank you!

        • Hi Tiff,
          Simple responses are best in these situations. You can simply say, as you remove the ball, “We don’t throw things in the house.” Then I would not engage with him anymore over the issue. You don’t need to explain yourself any more than that. Try to distract him and get him to move on to something else. You can string the distraction seamlessly together with the statement such as, “We don’t throw things in the house. (place ball out of reach) Come on. Let’s go see if the bird feeder needs more birdseed.” This way, you send a message but don’t allow him to focus on what he has lost. This can often be enough to de-escalate the situation.

          Hope this helps,