The Four C’s to Discipline with Kindness

Children have an innate capacity to give and receive kindness. However, we need to keep in mind that kindness does not equal giving a child everything s/he wants, or providing no limits or expectations. Limits, expectations and responsibilities are a part of life for everyone.

Unfortunately, many parents and their children get into power struggles about responsibilities resulting in a need for parents to discipline their children. Discipline is not a bad thing and is necessary in all families. It is normal for children and teens to challenge rules, resist responsibilities and question expectations.

However, discipline does not mean the same thing as punishment. When we punish someone we are giving them negative consequences for doing something bad. For example, people in prison are being punished for their illegal actions. Many prisoners do not receive any education about how to behave differently, they are simply punished.

Discipline, on the other hand, strikes a balance between giving consequences for poor behavior, but also teaching a child or teen how to behave differently in the future. Discipline has a teaching component that punishment does not. Often, parents are disappointed, frustrated and upset when their child makes a poor choice. Emotions can get the best of the most loving parents when they are faced with a difficult, scary, or frustrating situation involving their child. Sometimes parents punish as a way to manage their own fear and anger.

While punishment may be successful in getting a child or teen temporarily under control, it is a poor long term strategy which can lead to poor parent-child relationships that can last for many years. Discipline takes more time, energy and planning than punishment. It also requires parents to have the self-discipline to choose to stay as calm as possible and teach with kindness, rather than anger.

Discipline requires planning. It is important to have some idea of how you will respond to your child‟s challenges and transgressions. Sometimes we want to avoid thinking about such things because we hope that our child won‟t act out, or make mistakes. The truth is EVERY person makes mistakes, so it is best to plan ahead.

As you start to consider disciplining your child, please keep three important facts in mind:

First, it is important to always keep in mind that kids often refuse a task or don’t live up to expectations for a reason. It is very rare to find a child or adolescent who acts inappropriately “just because.” When I work with a child and family, my first job is to determine the possible reasons for certain behaviors. For instance, I worked with one family who was at their wits’ end because their son would not brush his teeth. He was sent to his room and could not come out until he brushed his teeth. After a short conversation with me, the boy shared that the toothpaste hurt his mouth. Once his parents changed the toothpaste, there was no longer a problem! Almost every negative behavior has a reason behind it. Before doling out discipline, try to take some time to figure out what the source of the problem is.

Second, since there is some underlying reason for the behavior, we adults need not take it personally. Behavior is not personal, no matter how often it might feel that way.

Third, screaming, yelling, and shaming have no direct relationship to improving or changing behavior. Kids often respond to these tactics because they are scared, or to avoid humiliation. However, they have just avoided a confrontation, not learned to behave any differently.

The 4 C’s of Disciplining with Kindness

How do we discipline with kindness?

1. Have clear rules and expectations so kids know what is expected.
If they don’t know what you want, it will be hard for them to do the right thing. This is known as providing Clear Expectations.

2. Give kids clear choices about how to follow a rule.
Such as, “You may not jump on the couch, but if you need to jump around you can use the bean bag chair, or the trampoline.” This is known as giving Clear Choices.

3. If your child makes a poor choice and breaks a rule, clear consequences should be implemented. For example, if a teen takes the family car when he was told not to an appropriate conversation about consequences might sound like this, Parent: “Kyle, you took the car without permission. Now you may not use my car for 2 weeks, no exceptions.” For consequences to stick and change behavior there cannot be any gray areas or exceptions.

In this example, Kyle cannot have access to the car for any reason. No exceptions means he cannot have the car to get to school, go to work, or drive siblings around town. No exceptions means just that. Many a teen has told me that their parents do not follow through on consequences, therefore, they know they can get away with poor behavior. If you do not want this to happen in your family you must give Clear Consequences.

4. Give consequences in a clear, unemotional manner. There is no need to scream and “lose it” on your kids. Your child knows what he did was incorrect, saying it louder and scarier doesn’t make the facts any more clear. I’ve heard many a child say, “My parents scream all the time, but when they are quiet and give me a consequence, I know they are serious!” If you want a calmer, quieter household plan to practice Calm Communication.

To review: The keys to disciplining with kindness, are the 4 C’s:

  • Clear Expectations
  • Clear Choices
  • Clear Consequences (with no exceptions)
  • Calm Communication

If you utilize this approach, chances are your child’s behavior will change for the better, and your home will be a lot quieter.

I hope you found this article helpful. Please leave a comment to ask me your question about parenting a child with executive dysfunction. I can address it in a future blog post.