Sometimes we feel that we have limited options as parents. As a result, we end up using the same old discipline tactics with our kids – even if they are not very effective. Luckily, there are many different ways we can discipline and train our children. Here is a quick but comprehensive guide of 20 ways Christian parents can discipline their children with tips and examples of each.
It takes a bit of discernment as a parent to know which response is best. Keep in mind that it’s always important to discipline in the context of a loving and supportive relationship. Without that foundational element, discipline becomes adversarial and done from a place of wanting to “get back” rather than a place of restoration. It’s always good to check your heart before you employ any of these.
Take a screen shot of the image below as a quick reminder of the options available to you.
Many parents yell because it does two things: 1) it releases emotion (not in a healthy or productive way, mind you) and 2) it can scare kids into compliance. When we yell, we are revealing that we are overwhelmed and attempting to get back to a state of equilibrium through domination. If you struggle with losing your temper, this post might help.
By whispering instructions to our children, we are changing the dynamic of a situation. Whispering necessitates physical closeness and a self-regulated parent, which are both helpful elements in de-escalating situations. You can learn more about the whisper technique here. Simply walk up to your child, make eye contact and kindly whisper your instruction or redirection into their ear.
Before the age of three, this tool is really the most effective. Children are naturally curious and easily distracted, so you can use these developmental tendencies to your advantage. Simply focus on what you would like them to shift their attention to rather than what you would like them to stop doing. This is also good for older children who get “trapped” in a cycle of negativity and no amount of empathy or active listening on your part can help them out of it.
You can say something like, “Oh look, it’s starting to rain. Do you think the cat is still outside?” or “I’m going to make some muffins. I would love a hand!”
This tool simply points out a more appropriate outlet or environment for the behavior they are engaged in. When kids are simply being kids, this can be very effective. You can say something like, “You can’t throw the ball inside, but you are welcome to go outside and play catch with your brother.” Or, “Wow, you have a ton of energy, why don’t you see how fast you can run one lap around the yard? I will time you!“
4. Speak directly
There are a variety of reasons why kids don’t listen to us. Sometimes it is because our delivery is all off. Life is very full and it is easy to shout instructions from another room, hear a half-hearted, “Okay Mom,” but then realize minutes later that there has been no movement. This can create tension and even conflict. So try this: make eye contact and deliver your instruction in a clear and kind voice. Try, “It’s time to get ready for church. Please put that down and grab your shoes.” This is an effective way to get kids to listen the first time.
5. Point out the positive
Discipline is not about focusing on the negative. It can be very effective to point out the behavior you want to see more of. Remember try to focus on encouragement more than praise. Here’s an example of encouragement: “Hey! You sat down to do your homework without even being asked. That’s shows great personal responsibility.”
This can be a bit controversial as some will assert that ignoring children is never okay as it can affect their attachment bond. Ignoring as a form of discipline is quite different than ignoring as a pattern of interaction. Used as discipline, it becomes a strategic, time-limited intervention. You are not ignoring your child out of anger or frustration. You are ignoring your child’s unwanted behavior while simultaneously paying attention to the behaviors you want to see more of. By ignoring the behavior you want to eliminate you remove its reinforcement.
As stated at the outset of this post, we need to check our hearts. If we we find ourselves giving our children the silent treatment as a means of punishment, we need to have a conversation with God to seek His heart and wisdom for the situation.
Behaviors that respond to ignoring (when there is no underlying developmental delay or neurological issue) include: whining, temper tantrums (that subside in your absence, “silly talk,” or other behaviors that are typical (but albeit annoying) childhood behaviors.
Just a note: we can’t ignore violent, aggressive or unsafe behaviors. If your child is acting in a way that can emotionally or physically harm another child, ignoring is not an appropriate response.
7. Heart-to-heart talks
As parents, it’s important that we don’t just pay attention to behavior. We need to dig deeper to search for the underlying unmet need or hurt that is fueling the behavior.
If your child comes home from school with a scowl on his face and then proceeds to create tension wherever he goes, you have a child that is in need of a heart-to-heart. Letting him know you are available (and making sure you are) will provide the opportunity to get to the bottom of things. If you have a teen, making yourself regularly available for these types of talks can go a long way in improving your relationship.
You can try some of these heart-to-heart starters: “I’ve noticed you don’t seem as happy as you were when you left the house this morning. If you want to talk about what is bothering you, I am here for you.” Or, “Your facial expression and body language tells me something feels off. Can I help in anyway?”
8. Give choices
This is a very powerful tool in your toolbox. Kids spend much of their day with other people telling them where to go, what to do, and how fast to do it. While some kids don’t mind this, the lack of autonomy can make others feel frustrated which often expresses itself in negative behaviors. It can be helpful to provide plenty of opportunities for choice.
In addition, kids who exhibit controlling behaviors often respond well to choices. Just make sure that both choices you offer are okay with you. “Would you like to clean up your room now or in 10 minutes?” Or, “Would you like to crawl up the stairs for bed like a lion or leap up the stairs like a frog?”
9. Heart of the Matter Parenting Cards
These parenting cards are a tool that is an original of Cornerstones for Parents. It will help you talk to your young children (age 3-7) about the condition of their hearts as reflected in their behaviors. Kids can use the cards to identify their misbehaviors, take ownership and discuss ways to make it right. Think of these cards like a heart-to-heart conversation starter for younger kids. Just be sure their heart is soft and ready for that talk and that they are calm and regulated.
10. Warnings (not threats)
There are big differences between warnings and threats. A simple warning in light of a potentially problematic behavior is biblical and often very helpful. Kids need reminders of possible consequences for their behaviors. Just make sure that you are willing and able to follow through on that consequence if needed. “If I find your bike in front of the garage again when I come home from work, it is going to take a two-day rest in the shed.”
Sibling disputes often create tempers that are too hot to employ any of the above discipline techniques. Hard hearts need time to soften. Time apart listening to calm music or reading a book can do wonders to prepare the soil of your children’s hearts to hear wisdom and instruction. Just make sure that you are not jumping to this one because it makes your life better for the moment. Sometimes separating does not help. Using our conflict management system can be very effective when tempers have cooled.
12. Alone time
All children need periods of calm in their day to settle their nervous systems. The problem is that they might not know they need it (similar to infants who become so overtired that they can’t fall asleep). We can help our children stay calm and in control by having regular down-time during the day.
This can be in addition to a nap time for younger kids or in place of a nap if they are no longer needed. During their alone time, provide them with activities that are soothing and relaxing, like coloring, listening to music or reading a book.
This tool can be used as both prevention and early intervention. If you notice that one of your children is showing signs of dysregulation, you can announce break time for everyone. This may give them the time they need to re-group.
13. Time out
This is a go-to tool for many parents. But it’s often misused. Time out should not be used as a punishment, but rather an opportunity for your child to hit the re-set button on their day and get back on track. Time outs are a great opportunity to make time in for God and there are things you can do if your child won’t stay.
14. Natural consequences
Natural consequences are those consequences that naturally occur if parental intervention does not happen. “I am sorry that you forgot your gym clothes again but I will not bring them to school.” This kind of “hands off” discipline can be uncomfortable for some parents, but the subsequent learning often results in rapid change.
14. Logical consequences
Logical consequences are those that are connected to the misbehavior in some fashion. A child who refuses to pick up her toys after being asked multiple times will have those toys removed with the ability to earn them back. A child who does not come to the table after being called repeatedly eats cold food or misses the opportunity for that particular meal. A child who refuses to wear a coat will be cold.
You can give warnings of what might happen if your child stays on their current path, but logical consequences work best without a lot of fanfare (which can start to take on the form of threats).
Making amends is a very important step in discipline. Children need to be held accountable for their behavior and how their actions impact other people. Acts of service can demonstrate a repentant heart and heal relationships. Some ideas include: making a sibling’s bed, making a snack for Mom, buying a new toy to replace a broken one, or a sincere note or drawing of apology. Remember, we should not force children to apologize, but educate them on how apologizing heals relationships.
In the modern family, everyone has to do their part in order for it to run smoothly. The distribution of responsibility provides kids a way to develop important skills, but also creates a teamwork atmosphere in the home.
There may be times when you choose to add additional responsibilities as a means of discipline. If your child repeatedly leaves their muddy shoes in the hall, mopping can be added to their daily tasks until they remember to keep their dirty shoes in the garage.
18. Applied consequences
Sometimes natural and logical consequences just won’t do and you will need to add a consequence that is neither logical nor natural. Be careful here. We do not want to start doling out punishments that are fueled by anger. Check your motivations for any applied consequence. If you are feeling the need to “get back” at your child rather than train and discipline, take a moment to search your heart in prayer. And applied consequence is one that isn’t tied to the behavior. An example would be helping dad wash the car. Making the consequence an opportunity for connection can help start the repair process of ruptured relationships.
19. Loss of Privileges
This requires knowledge of your child’s “currency.” Keep in mind that this strategy should never be used as a carrot by saying, “If you don’t ________, I’m going to take away your _________.” We should warn our children of impending consequences if they continue on the wrong path, but there is a big difference between threats and warnings.
Examples of this type of intervention is loss of the use of a phone or a video game.
20. Behavior chart
When all of the above methods have proven ineffective, a behavior chart can help. A one week-long behavior chart is a short term solution for a child who is displaying chronically hard heart. Your child may be outright refusing to comply in all areas. A behavior chart is simply a way for your child to get back on track.
There are lots of different types of behavior charts available. The ones that are more effective are prescriptive of the behaviors you want to see, rather than descriptive of those you do not. For example, a prescriptive behavior chart goal would be, “I will put my clothes in the hamper 5 out of 7 mornings this week.” This is more effective than “I won’t make a mess of my room.” You can tag a privilege or a reward to an achieved goal.
I hope that now you can see that you have many discipline options available to you as a Christian parent. Consider this list as your tool box. Whenever you need to address a problem behavior or situation, you can dig into your tool box and pull out the right tool for the job. But don’t just focus on the behavior. Make sure you use your tools and God-given wisdom to dig deep and get to the heart of the child and the heart of the problem. Training and correcting our children is part of our job as parents, but discipleship plays an equally important role.
[Photo credit: tangle_eye from morguefile.com]