An undisciplined child is not just exhausting to parents. They zap energy from all those with whom they come into contact with. They drain their teachers, their grandparents, and even the grocery store clerk. A child who does not know or respond to boundaries will grow into an adult who is selfish, overbearing, and ultimately struggles making friends, finding a career, and maintaining intimate relationships.
So what part can we play as parents to help our children not get to this point? My belief is that through discipline we establish proper functioning boundaries and instill principles our children will carry with them throughout their lives. Good counselors meet others where they are. Parents are no different. It’s important for parents to study the stages of human development to the extent they know what their child is capable of understanding and accomplishing at any given age. Regardless of the circumstances we grew up in, as parents it is irresponsible to hold insurmountable or unreasonable demands over our children’s heads. Instead, we must be consistent in establishing a set of principles and adhering to age appropriate discipline. Below are three things that exasperate or exhaust your children.
Lack of Established Family Principles. Many families struggle today in discipline, not because they don’t know a method or technique, but because they fail to see the principle behind it. Over the years I’ve developed a habit of talking with my children after doling out some discipline. I make sure we’re both calm, ensuring I’m sane enough to give instruction and they’re focused enough to receive it. My first words are always a question, “Why did you go to time out, or why did you receive a spanking?” Nine times out of ten they’ll answer with a corresponding behavior. “I didn’t pick up my toys,” “I hit my sister,” or “I spoke back to mom.” I graciously and immediately correct them, because the behavior, while important, is not the key issue. In our family we have the principle of obey your mother and father, treat others as you would like to be treated, and respect those who are in authority over you. These are what I want my children to understand. If focused only on the behavior they will grow up being little robots, completing a series of tasks without fully understanding why.
Lack of Consistency. Some of the most important things we can teach our children are trust, self-control, and perseverance. There is no better way or example for us to model these than when we discipline. By showing patience, sticking to our word, and doing the right thing in the face of adversity, we establish a foundation of consistent behavior our children will see and internalize. The key is consistency in trying circumstances of life like financial struggles, marriage issues, and hard days at work. It can be easy to lack motivation in disciplining our children well. The desire to give in can increase with tantrums, whining, or physical outbursts. But remember, you’re the parent. I hear a lot of parents in my office say, “I want to be my child’s best friend” or “I just want my child to be happy.” Trust me, in the long run nothing will make your child happier than stepping into your role as a mother or father. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to make friends outside of the family. They may not like it, but as parents we step out in faith trusting one day they will understand and appreciate the steps we took to discipline them well.
Lack of Humility. Modeling these principles for our children isn’t easy, namely because few of us as adults are able to maintain them in our daily lives. What a beautiful picture and wonderful teaching moment it could be for us to step down off of our “parent perch” and humbly walk alongside our children. Acknowledging we struggle with the same things they do. Asking your kiddo for forgiveness when you’ve lost your temper or doled out inappropriate consequences for their behavior shows them it’s okay to be human. We all make mistakes. This principle more than any other is hardest for parents. We fear a loss of authority or respect if our child finds out how much we don’t have it together. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Your child will respect you for being honest and open. They will desire to give you authority because they feel they can trust you. Humility is a skill, and is best practiced by seeking forgiveness and acknowledging our own shortcomings.
Because every person is unique, not every child will respond positively to the same type of discipline. Once a parent has tested a particular technique to the extent they believe it’s not working, it is the parent’s responsibility to hunker down, do research, talk to other parents or counselors, and figure out the way to best discipline their child. But how can a parent find a new technique if they don’t know the end goal or principle they’re trying to teach? And how can they address behavior they haven’t modeled themselves?