I remember interviewing for my first teaching job and being asked about my discipline approach. The line in Whitney Houston’s hit song came to mind, “I believe that children are our future … teach them well and let them lead the way.”
An older man recently approached my family at the grocery store checkout and gave my sons money to “spend on a treat for being so good in line.” A woman came up to us in a restaurant and complimented us on how well-mannered our children were at the table. “You’re doing something right!”
My children engage in conversation with us at the dinner table. They rarely whine because we listen to them. We know their hearts and attend to their needs. We were able to drive 12 hours straight from Disney World to our home in Virginia. Our boys slept most of the way and didn’t fight with each other. They shared toys and all of this happened without bribes or empty threats. Kids will be kids, and of course there is occasionally some drama, but I can honestly say I’m proud of our brave parenting.
Over the last five years, we’ve found our effective rules to follow:
1. Be clear and specific.
When teaching your child, always be clear about what you expect from them and be specific about what needs to be done. Teach rules and then set boundaries if rules are broken in a neutral and calm tone. Support your children in consistently meeting the behavior goals you have taught. If it’s tough to meet them, set small goals first and work towards the bigger picture. Everything presented should be age-appropriate. What we expect from our almost 5-year-old is often different than what we expect from our 2-year-old. This entire process should always be based on unwavering respect. When you give it, you will get it.
2. Be consistent.
Repeat after me: No empty threats. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have heard other parents bribe their children with things both the child and others know the parent will never do. Be truthful with your kids. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Don’t expect anything from them that you can’t follow through on. Be consistent and take the time to follow up and check in with them. Consistency gets positive results.
3. Be organized.
Children thrive in an organized and well-loved environment. When you take the time to keep the living space relatively neat, uncluttered, and show that you truly care about it, your children will be comfortable. As they grow they will learn to take ownership of the living space as well. Our children share in helping us tend to the yard, tidy their rooms on weekends, tidy the playroom after play, etc. We feel that children who grow up in a structured environment, often build one of their own as adults, setting them up for overall success in life.
4. Be colorful.
I use vibrant color to attract children to the lessons I want them to learn regarding discipline and self-efficacy. I had a colorful mountain in my classroom and encouraged my students to climb each day. When they made positive choices that supported our class vision, they moved up. When they made poor choices, they did not. This system has carried over into our home, is age appropriate, and works well for our little ones. When the imagination is ignited through colorful imagery and bold displays, children are able to get excited about discipline. Make it fun!
5. Be loving.
Discipline, with love. My children always say that “hands are for helping, not hurting.” If you can change the world for the better, please do. Just don’t hurt, and if you find that you are, seek help. It seems that so many hurting adults are an unfortunate result of the thoughtless hands or angry words that reared them. Be kind, be gentle, be patient, and root all things in love.
6. Be brave.
Believe in what you are doing. Reinforce with confidence. If you believe in what you are teaching, your children will as well.