The one question you need to explore when considering discipline:
Is it working?
Every time I’m asked about discipline with respect to children, I always give the same response: “It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.” That’s it. I know, this is not what people want to hear. They prefer a concrete answer that’s predictable and easy to implement.
Managing behaviors and discipline is a challenging part of parenting. I often refer to these strategies as part of my toolbox. Just like a real toolbox, we don’t always reach for the same tool. We have to consider the problem and which tool would be the best choice. We also need to consider our experience with each tool and how comfortable we are using it. This is where I ask you to consider an important question: “Is what I’m doing working?”
After spending years working with children, I know this for sure: You cannot rely on one form of discipline or one strategy. Just as adults do, children respond to each situation differently. It’s your job to figure out what works and how to help them progress toward the healthiest and happiest expression of themselves. The funny thing about discipline is what might work one day, may not be effective the next day. Not only is every child unique, but so is every situation they’re in.
In some cases, positive reinforcement can help shape and improve their behavior. Other times negative reinforcement may be more effective. Let me be very clear: When I say negative reinforcement, I don’t mean imposing severe punishments or using shame. This may include, ignoring a certain behavior you don’t want your child getting attention for, taking a highly desired item away, etc. In some cases, you’ll need to use both types of reinforcement depending on the situation.
Here’s where I think it goes wrong: When you insist on using the same form of discipline, repeatedly, even though it’s not working. We’ve all done this! If you think you haven’t, ask yourself if you’ve ever said, “because I said so,” or done any of the following: force them to apologize, insist they participate in an activity they don’t want to, expect perfect grades. We insist we will get them to do what we need whether they like it or not. It becomes this insidious need for control and a reminder to yourself and your children that you hold all the cards.
Many people define insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results.
I will often talk to parents who insist on sticking with one strategy, regardless if it’s working or not. They’re attached to the idea that because they are the parent, what they say goes. There is an unwillingness to shift — they must hold their ground to ensure the child knows they are the ones calling the shots. I encourage you to take an honest look at your process. It may be time to search for new tools in your toolbox.
If we think about the paradigm of parenting in a conventional way, we the parents are the leaders, the ones with all the answers. Consider this: Your children are sent to you, specifically, to help you evolve and grow as an individual. Through this lens, you can see yourself more clearly and make the necessary shifts to become more whole and effective as a parent and person. I often think of my own children as my greatest teachers. Through this experience, I have seen my own fears and insecurities surface time and time again.
If we think about the PARR (Pause, Acknowledge, Respond, Reflect) approach, reflecting is a critical part of the process. When we reflect, it gives us the opportunity for personal growth. When I reflect on my own experiences, the first question I ask myself is, “Is it working?” This can help me make the honest adjustments needed to move forward.
I’d love to hear from you. Think about a recurring struggle between you and your kiddo. What has your response been each time? Does it look the same? What is your child’s response? Is it working?