Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Our Three-Pronged Approach to Disciplining With Love

A couple of days ago, I was sifting through old files on an old computer and I came across a document entitled "Discipline." I opened it up, and Sam and I laughed and laughed as we read through the guidelines we had come up with to discipline 1-year-old Talmage (who is now 6) for various behaviors. For "putting rocks and dirt in mouth" we allowed him 5 attempts to eat said materials while we removed them from his mouth and said "kuh-kuh" (yes, it was spelled out in the document...) before we would take him inside. There were consequences for getting cords and plugs, for biting, for refusing to say please, and much more...and they were incredibly specific and tedious!

As we enjoyed a good laugh over our naive parenting, Sam commented that it made him feel good to see that he had actually improved as a father over the years--but at least we were trying to be conscientious!

As time has gone on, we've gradually whittled out our approach to disciplining our children with love.
It can be summed up using three known phrases:

1-One Strike, You're Out
It may sound harsh, but we realized that it was sending a mixed message to our kids when we gave repeated warnings before finally giving a consequence. When we respond immediately to their behavior, we avoid nagging, we teach them to obey the first time, and we are able to better keep our emotions in check and give consequences calmly.
(This is the guideline I struggle with the most--I tend to want to give second chances and find myself nagging more than I should!)

2-Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
To be honest, I don't really like this phrase, but it fits our second disciplining guideline perfectly. Our goal is to always stay calm and be loving as we give consequences--but we try to make the consequences hurt sufficiently to prevent the behavior in the future. Not only does this remove anger from our end of the interaction, but it encourages the idea that consequences are a result of behavior--not a result of a parent's anger. For example, if one of the kids throws food, we may take their plate away and say, "I'm sorry you made that choice...I wish I didn't have to take your food away, but when you throw food you don't get to keep it." Our kids still get mad about consequences, but their anger is directed more toward the consequence and less toward us. Another big part of this guideline is to follow through. I cringe when I hear idle threats like, "Come now or we're leaving you!" If we propose a potential consequence, we must be prepared to execute it.

3-The Punishment Must Fit the Crime
This guideline is pretty self-explanatory. We try to give consequences that are directly related to the negative behavior exhibited by our kids. For example, when our 4-year-old loses his temper and screams at someone, he gets a bit of cayenne pepper or vinegar on his tongue because he used his mouth incorrectly. Hitting may result in a few minutes of arm-folding, name-calling is followed by compliment-giving, and if we ask the kids to do a chore and discover them playing instead, the distracting toy is confiscated or thrown away. I believe that time-outs have their time and place when a child needs to be removed from a situation to calm down, but it usually doesn't make a lot of sense to me to isolate a child as a consequence for bad behavior.

Of course, these guidelines are very specific to our family and what works for our kids.
I always hesitate to give parenting advice because each family is so different, and our experience may be completely different from someone else's.
Perhaps someday we'll look back at these guidelines and find ourselves laughing once again at our naivete, but in the meantime, articulating our approach to disciplining helps us be consistent, it helps Sam and I be unified in our parent-child interactions, and it helps us stay calm and know how to respond in moments of stress.

I'd love to hear some approaches to discipline from other parents!
What works for your family?


  1. Using the phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" reminds me of one of my favorite methods. I wrote extra chores on craft sticks (for big chores such as dusting blinds, I broke it down into 5-10 minute parts). Then when the kids are disrespectful to parents, not doing their chores, or slow to obey, I just hand them a stick. If they argue or talk back, I hand them another, etc. until all the chores are completed. Some days I just keep a handful of sticks in my pocket. On other days, I just have to threaten, "Do you want me to get out the sticks?" I always laugh (inside) when I hear myself say that because it sounds so crazy. I expect the jobs to be completed at the child's level, and I don't help them with it. The punishment is served, the child is occupied doing something other than antagonizing his siblings, the kids learn how to do a variety of household chores, and even if the blinds aren't perfectly clean, they're better than if I waited until I got around to washing them myself...

    1. I love that idea! I'm always amazed by how much calmer my kids seem to be after they do a chore.

  2. I like all three of these. I'm a big fan of Love & Logic and I think these all fit within that context, especially the last one and the first one.

    1. Yeah, they definitely have a lot of parallels!


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