Navigating the Discourse on Discipline: A Guide for Warrior Parents

Parents, gather around, because the time has come to delve into the hot topic that slides into our DMs every day. You might want to sit down for this one. At the very least, brace yourselves.

It’s time to talk about that “d” word.

Yes: Discipline.

Discipline is a tricky subject. Everyone has their own take on the best way to shape “good” behavior, including those who don’t have kids of their own.

Meanwhile, you’re just trying to turn a little human into a healthy, well-adjusted, and socially contributing adult. But with all the “helpful” advice, opinions, and your child’s persistent misbehavior, it’s enough to make you curl up in the fetal position.

If we could show up at your doorstep with a soft blanket and an adult beverage, we would. But since we can’t, imagine us, moms with mom bags slung over our shoulders, in yoga pants, sitting next to you in solidarity, telling you these truths:

  • You’re good parents who want the best for your child.
  • Discipline is hard and confusing.
  • It’s possible to rein in bad behavior while preserving a child’s self-esteem.
  • You already have everything you need to do this well. You might just need a little help and a new perspective on the word “discipline.”

So, let’s dive in and help you stand up from that fetal position, shall we?

Why Your Discipline Methods Might Not Work

Firstly, the word “discipline” actually means education, not punishment. We want to educate our children on how to shift from bad behavior to good behavior.

When a discipline attempt fails, it’s often because the strategy is rooted in punishment, which is fear-based. Fear-based discipline seems effective in the moment because fear activates the brain’s fight, flight, or freeze response. So, your toddler might stop hitting (freeze) after the punishment, but they’ll repeat the behavior once the punishment is over. What gives?!

Well, fear is a lousy teacher and usually doesn’t lead to long-term change.

So, what should you do? Be the calm, confident leader in your home, using related consequences.

Let’s look at a real-life scenario. Can you imagine it with us?

You and your friends have had a delightful day at the park. The air is crisp and invigorating. Laughter from happy kids fills your ears.

Child 1: Throws a ball at Child 2’s face.

Child 2: Starts wailing like a banshee.

You: After repeatedly telling Child 1 to stop…please stop…oh my goodness, we don’t throw balls at faces, you’ve had enough. You lift your hand and declare, “If you throw the ball one more time, no dessert for you tonight!”

We don’t need a crystal ball to see the future of this encounter, right?

Child 1 throws the ball again. So, you scream, handle the child, wonder why no one told you parenting would be this hard, or feel embarrassed.

Fast forward to dinner.

You’re setting the table, dishing out dessert for everyone. Except Child 1. Because they lost dessert privileges due to the whole ball-to-the-face incident, remember? You’re trying to be consistent.

Sounds good in theory, considering consistency is a nice idea! But applying consistency this way doesn’t work, as you’re about to discover.

Your child is now looking at you like you’ve grown horns, teetering on the edge of an epic meltdown because they want dessert, why can’t they have cookies too?!

So, you explain why.

But even after reminding them about being the lone ranger in the park’s face-dodging incident, they still don’t get it, and now they’re lying in a puddle of despair.

End scene.

Though it seems crazy, this reaction has a very clear explanation.

A child’s brain is under construction, trying to figure out how the world works. They don’t always connect one experience to the next, and time is a very challenging concept for their little brains. Ever seen your child “forget” how bedtime goes down in the same way every night?

So, why didn’t punishment work? Two reasons:

A child’s brain struggles to recall what happened five hours ago at the park.
There’s no logical connection between their misusing a ball and losing dessert. What do these two have to do with each other?

If you want to curb bad behavior, your child needs to understand the connection between their actions and the consequences. Without this connection, there’s no correction.

On the flip side, once they start understanding the link between what they do and the results, they gain the ability to make different choices.

Using Related Consequences to Manage Misbehavior

Related consequences (sometimes called logical consequences) are entirely directly connected to the misbehavior.

Let’s revisit the day at the park, using related consequences.

You: “We’ve had a wonderful time at the park. The air is fresh and crisp. The sounds of joyous children surround us.”

Child 1: Throws a ball at Child 2’s face.

Child 2: Starts wailing like a banshee.

You: Walk up to Child 1, using a calm, composed tone, and say, “Balls are for bouncing, not for throwing at faces. I saw you having fun with the ball, so the ball says goodbye for now. We’ll try again tomorrow. Now, let’s check on Child 2, make sure they’re okay.”

Because the consequence is swift and directly related, you’re laying a successful foundation in your child’s brain. Now, these synapses are firing, saying, “Hmm, when I throw the ball at my brother’s face, I can’t play with the ball anymore. So, if I want to play with the ball, I shouldn’t throw it at people’s faces.”

Your child might need a few encounters with related consequences to truly grasp your meaning, but research shows they are effective.

Plus, they can work without you having to shout, shame, threaten, or become the parent you swore you’d never be.

Here are a few other examples to stash in your parenting toolkit:

Misbehavior / Related Consequence

Running into the street / Hold hands or ride in the stroller.

Throwing iPad / iPad goes on the shelf; no screen time for the remaining time.

Drawing on the wall with markers / No markers for the afternoon.

The more you practice related consequences, the quicker you’ll come up with them. Your consistency will lead to fewer instances of misbehavior, and your child will learn problem-solving, self-awareness, and confidence.

Bang! You’re a great parent!

A Brief Word on Timeouts and Spanking

Discussing the “d” word inevitably brings up questions about timeouts and spanking. Our unbiased response remains the same: timeouts and spanking should not be part of your discipline plan.

Effective discipline teaches three things:

  • All feelings are okay.
  • Certain behaviors are unacceptable.
  • Teach better coping skills for next time.

Timeouts and spanking achieve none of these goals. In fact, both “techniques” are ineffective and can lead to more misbehavior, hindering your child’s development of healthy coping skills.

Further reading

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