Parents Report Card: More Tips on Being Clear about Discipline

As readers may be noticing, the idea of getting clear has many elements for parents to consider. The value in becoming clearer when disciplining is that clarity promotes calmness, confidence and a better understanding of what might be needed and not needed.

We are going to continue to pause on this “C” for our Discipline Report Card to gain even more clarity about clarity!

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

To review, it helps to notice how you are feeling to become clear about your priorities, values and goals, and to make sure expectations are compatible with your child’s developmental and individual abilities.

The following tips can also help you gain more clarity: 

  • Know that it is okay to take your time to get clearer, unless it is some kind of emergency situation in which you must act. Barbara Coloroso, in Kids Are Worth It, tells parents to ask themselves the following  questions to determine if they must act immediately or can take their time deciding what to do: is this life-threatening, morally wrong, unhealthy or dangerous? If none of these is true, parents have the time to get clearer.

To help me apply this principle, this chilling image came from an example someone once shared with me.

Would I ever let my child play with a box of open razor blades? Of course not! Therefore, I could more clearly and confidently decide if I had to act immediately or could take my time. Suppose the child begged, pleaded, whined, threw a huge temper tantrum? Is there any way my child could convince me to change my mind? Of course not! So, in situations involving disciplining, I learned to ask myself, “Is this a box of razor blades?” before deciding whether I had to immediately and assertively act. If it was not razor blades, I could take a deep breath and allow myself some time to get clearer about my options.

  • Get clearer about the specific behavior you want to see changed. It may not be helpful for a child to hear, “Be nice to your little sister ” if a child does not understand what you mean by “be nice”. The specific behavior might be, “You need to ask your sister if you can play with a toy instead of pulling it out of her hand.”
  • Ask yourself if the child can change by himself or herself or will you need to be involved. Younger children might need demonstrations of what you are asking, or the specific words you want them to say. A young child might need you to even provide a short role-play to clarify what is being expected of him or her. A parent might say to the child who has grabbed a toy from a younger child, Let me show you what I mean.” The parent turns to the younger child or even uses a doll for a prop and says in a respectful voice, Alice, may I play with that toy?” It is important to be aware of what a child understands and if that child needs help becoming clearer about your expectations.

Again, getting clearer involves a number of important elements:

Noticing how you are feeling, becoming clear about your priorities, values and goals, making sure expectations are compatible with the child’s developmental and individual abilities, being clear about whether or not you can take your time, being clear about the specific behavior you want to see changed and asking yourself if the child can change by himself or herself or will need your help.

Getting clearer can help the whole process of disciplining be a smoother and healthier interaction between a parent and child.

Invitation to Reflect:

  1. How are you doing noticing your feelings, priorities, values and goals when you need to discipline?
  2. Are you continuing to check that your expectations are reasonable based on the child’s developmental and individual abilities?
  3. Are you giving yourself permission to take your time to decide what to do? (Unless of course it’s “a box of razor blades!”)
  4. Are you clear about whether a child needs help making a change or can do it by himself or herself?

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