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 effectively 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.
This works when you need to get the attention of a child who is worked up over something. We might think that shouting gets attention, but often the opposite is true. The benefit is that it will help reduce your blood pressure as well. Simply walk up to your child or children, make eye contact and whisper your instruction or redirection.
This tool is great for babies and toddlers who are getting into things they shouldn’t. This is also good for older children who get “trapped” in a cycle of negativity. 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. Why don’t you give me a hand?”
This discipline tool can work with kids who are simply being childish. A gentle reminder of a more appropriate outlet for their energy or activities can be effective. You can say, “You can’t throw the ball inside, but you are welcome to go outside and play catch with your brother.”
4. Speak directly
Sometimes our kids don’t take us seriously. Making eye contact and delivering a direction or command in a firm but calm voice can work wonders. Try, “You may not take things from other people’s hands.” This is an effective way to get kids to listen the first time.
5. Point out the positive
Discipline is not just focusing on the negative. It can be very effective to point out the behavior you want to see more of. Remember encourage, don’t praise. “You sat down to do your homework without even being asked. That’s showing great personal responsibility.”
This can go hand in hand with the previous tip. By ignoring the behavior you want to eliminate you remove its reinforcement. But this requires discernment. We can’t ignore violent, aggressive or unsafe behaviors. Temper tantrums (that dissipate in your absence), whining and interrupting are good examples of behaviors that can be ignored.
7. Heart-to-heart talks
Sometimes we need to get to the bottom of an issue. 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 talks can go a long way in improving your relationship.
8. Give choices
Controlling kids respond well to choices. Kids who like to have the last word can benefit from choice. 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?” This may be ineffective for children who like to choose what is behind door number three.
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 children 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.
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 you choose to continue to argue with me, I will not be taking you to soccer practice.”
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
Children whose systems are easily overwhelmed 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 need to help our children regroup by providing them with the down-time they need during the day. We may even need to encourage it. Provide them with activities that are soothing and relaxing, like coloring, listening to music or reading a book. This alone time should not be indefinite and it’s important to check in on your child periodically to make sure that the intervention is having the desired effect. This isn’t an appropriate intervention for very young children.
13. Time out
This is the go-to tool for many parents. But it’s often misused. They 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 will 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 very uncomfortable for some, but the learning often results in rapid change.
14. Logical consequences
Logical consequences “fit the crime.” A child who refuses to pick up her toys will have her toys removed with the ability to earn them back. A child who does not come to the table after being called repeatedly simply does not eat. A child who refuses to wear a coat will be cold.
Making amends is a very important step in discipline. Children need to be held accountable for their behavior and how their actions made other people feel. Acts of service can demonstrate a repentant heart and can absolve a guilty stricken conscience. 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 today’s industrialized society, most children are not subject to the number of household chores that were so common in our ancestor’s agrarian society. Daily chores and participation around the house help create a sense of solidarity and appreciation for the work that goes into running a home. An additional chore or two for a child who is demonstrating a lack of appreciation can facilitate a fresh understanding.
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.
19. Loss of Privileges
This requires knowledge of your child’s “currency.” Removing a privilege that is of no value to your child will be ineffective. However, don’t be tricked by the “I don’t care” response to a loss of privilege or possession. Often the child cares very much. 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 always warn our children of impending consequences if they continue on the wrong path. There is a great difference between threats and warnings.
20. Behavior chart
When all of the above methods have proven ineffective, a behavior chart can help. A weekly behavior chart is a short term solution to a child who is displaying chronically hard heart. Your child may be outright refusing to comply in any area. A behavior chart would allow him to earn back basic privileges. 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 work on the broken “part” of your child (i.e. 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.
[Photo credit: tangle_eye from morguefile.com]