Parents Report Card: Let’s Be Clear About Discipline

Disciplining effectively is one of the biggest challenges parents can face because it often requires setting limits with children who are not happy about being told they need to conform to something. For many parents, having to assume the role of an authority is uncomfortable as well as challenging. Our children don’t tell us after we’ve disciplined them: “Hey Mom or Dad, thanks so much for disciplining me. I needed somebody to provide the control I don’t yet have for myself.”

Really…thanks for the discipline, Mom and Dad

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

In the last two blogs, parents (and anyone in the role of disciplinarian for children) were encouraged to consider a parents’ report card that begins with several “C’s.” The first one suggested to intentionally choose to maintain a high level of calm throughout any disciplinary interaction.

Today, we will continue with that discipline report card by exploring the second “C,” being  clear. There are two key steps for becoming clear. First, we want to consider ways to get clear followed by determining ways to express what you are now clear about.

Step One: Consider Ways to Get Clear

Before you can communicate something clearly to children you need to first get clear in your own mind. This involves thinking about a description of the facts of the situation and then verbalizing in a specific, objective way. This means that parents need to identify what the problem or mistake is, why it is a problem, who is responsible, and what needs to be done to make the necessary changes. This is an assessment phase.

First, get clear about what you expect from a child/children:

Think about your own specific values and goals. Being clear means knowing what your own values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, goals and priorities are, and communicating these to a child in a direct and simple way that he or she understands, with no doubts about what you expect or are demanding.  Being clear means being exact, concrete and specific rather than vague, abstract or general.

For example: An eight-year-old has stolen money from his parent’s wallet. The parent deeply values honesty and trustworthiness. Stealing is a major infringement of these values. This parent can be very clear that stealing from his or her wallet is unacceptable behavior.

Be knowledgeable about the nature of children, such as child development and temperament, so you can have age-appropriate and realistic expectations. It is important to have reasonable and appropriate expectations for children. Take into consideration each child’s maturity level, including his or her degree of self-control, age and stage of development, temperament and other unique aspects of that particular child’s moral maturity, along with any situational factors that might be impacting behavior.

Continuing with the example: The parent of the eight-year-old would benefit from reading about typical behaviors and beliefs of eight-year-olds, and would discover that a child this age is fascinated with the power of money. [One excellent source of ages and stages information is the Gesell Institute’s classic book, The Child From Five to Ten.] For an eight-year-old, taking money may be very tempting because children are learning the power of money, something not understood when younger.

Eight-year-olds usually like to give the money away to friends because having friends is becoming an important social need. Morally, children of this age are often at a stage of development where they believe they are only guilty of a crime if they get caught. So stealing and then lying about it, and in general being sneaky, are age appropriate behaviors.

If the wallet was easy to access, it can be a very tempting target for a child of this age and at these stages of development. If the money was taken from it, he or she may not really believe it was wrong to do this. [For more information about moral development, see articles by Lawrence Kohlberg along with the excellent book Raising Good Children by Thomas Lickcona.]

When a parent is clear about his or her own values and can appreciate when certain behaviors are developmentally normal, that parent can get clearer about how to approach disciplining their child without shaming or accusing him or her of abilities they may not yet have.

Invitation to Reflect:

  1. In a recent disciplinary interaction, to what extent were you clear within yourself about your expectations of your child?
  2. How aware are you of developmental norms for your child’s age category?
  3. How does becoming clear about each of these influence your disciplinary decisions?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network