When it comes to discipline, our kids probably don’t know that, in many ways, we parents are making it up as we go along. Each child has a different personality, and along with it a unique twist on the discipline issue. But, here’s what I tell parents all the time: “Get on the same page.” As a couple, you need to use the same philosophy of discipline and grace. Consistency is the key to raising responsible kids.
If you are married, work together with your spouse so that you do not get worn down. If you are single, first try to get on the same page with your ex, and if that doesn’t happen, then work overtime at having a plan and following the plan. Seek the support of others who understand what you are going through.
Because you want to be on the same page with your spouse and, to some extent, with your kids, you will want to create a common language with expressed expectations. When parents work together toward the same goal, it makes it much easier to raise responsible kids. Here are six essentials for making discipline work in your home:
1. Rules without relationship equals rebellion. All families have rules and expectations, but what they also need is relationship. Just today, I blew this essential. I was taking my daughter out to lunch. The moment we got in the car, I started confronting her about some school issues and other problems I had with her at the time. I immediately put her on the defensive. The conversation went cold.
Fortunately, I remembered essential number one, dropped the school issues for the moment, and just started asking her about life, friends, and stuff that wasn’t so important to me but vital to her. Her spirit opened back up to me. We did what most teens and preteens do: we just hung out. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. As we were getting out of the car, she brought up her school issues and we had a good, non-defensive conversation. Timing when to lay down the rules and when to engage in relationship are big deals for practicing grace and discipline.
2. Choose Your Battles Wisely. Not every problem is worth fighting over. If you are finding yourself growing more and more agitated when your kids act up, chances are that you’re trying to fight too many battles on too many fronts. If you are going to battle an issue, then you’d better be right and you had better win. We have a “no argue” rule in our home. A very wise counselor once told Cathy and I, “When dealing with a strong-willed child, don’t argue. Period.”
Let me remind you that you are not running a democracy. I’ve often had to tell people, “You are the parent, so act like it!” Win the battle at all costs, or suffer the consequences. And don’t forget that you can win a battle and still lose the war. Parents who don’t choose their battles wisely can end up lacking the energy and resources to stay engaged down the road.
3. Nagging doesn’t work. Nagging is a very poor way to parent. It shuts down intimacy and it sets your kids up for future failure. Are you planning to follow them to college and nag? Your children will get used to decision-making propelled by nagging and then have an unhealthy relationship with their spouse. In my opinion, nagging is a lazy way to parent your children.
A home filled with negativity and criticism simply breeds rebellion and exponential amounts of negativity. In fact, here is the Biblical standard on this subject, “And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice.” (Ephesians 6:4 TLB)
4. Yelling crushes and shuts down your child’s spirit. The more you yell, the less they hear. The message your children will hear if you are yelling is that you are mad at them; they won’t hear the meaning of your words. All close relationships make us angry at times, and not all anger is bad. However, yelling is a signal that something else is going on inside us. Someone once said, “Parents need to out-mature, not out-power, their kids.” Parents who resort to yelling will find it not only upsetting but also ineffective.
5. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. If you made a misjudgment or acted unwisely, jump at the chance to apologize to your child. Contrary to what many parents think, this won’t cause them to disrespect you; it actually will bring you closer in the long-run.
I remember a time when Christy was 12 and I totally lost it with her. I shouted at her and demeaned her as I sent her to her room. After I cooled down, and with the help of “the look” from Cathy, I walked into Christy’s room. I got down at eye level to her and I said, “Christy, that outburst was all about me and not about you. I made a mistake. Will you forgive me?” My little 12 year old, tears hovering in her eyes, stretched out her arms, gave me a big hug, and said, “I forgive you Daddy, and I’m sorry too.” That day, I was shown grace by my daughter. You aren’t perfect, so when you blow it, be quick to admit it. That’s the kind of role model your kids need.
6. Clearly Express Your Expectations. Your children need you to set limits and boundaries. Children generally do have a desire to please their parents. When they do follow their parents’ expectations, they feel good about themselves and feel a greater sense of security. When your expectations were clearly expressed and your child still went against your desire, much of the emotion is taken out of the discipline process.