I can’t say I look forward to raising teenagers. It seems that the parents of teens all have different ideas about how to provide appropriate discipline! Is the right way grounding? Taking away privileges? Just letting things slide?
For kids of any age, the list of discipline tactics is almost endless! And sifting through all the research on the subject can be a daunting task.
So what’s a parent to do?
As disciples of Christ, how can we provide appropriate discipline for our children?
While I could examine specific discipline practices, I think it will be more helpful to focus on the principles behind it all. These three research-based principles can help us discipline our kids a little more like Christ would.
1. Focus on teaching, not punishment.
As a child, I got to spend a good amount of time in time-out. (I wasn’t really a rotten kid . . . just sometimes.) The goal was usually for me to “think about what you’ve done” and feel sorry. Or something like that.
Instead of understanding better why my behavior was wrong, however, I normally ended up sulking in my room and feeling sorry for myself. (I don’t say this to criticize my parents. They were able to teach me so much, in spite of my sometimes awful behavior.)
While a lot of research has been dedicated to time-outs, that’s not my focus. The point is that our purpose in disciplining should be to help our children understand.
Research shows that when we use physical punishment to make our kids behave well, the results don’t actually last. Our kids are much better off when our focus is to help them understand the “why” behind things.
Sister Carole M. Stephens told a story of her granddaughter, Chloe. When they were driving home, Chloe refused to put on her seat belt. After many attempts to convince Chloe to buckle up, Sister Stephens finally found the key. She said, “. . . until Chloe understood that my desire for her to remain securely fastened in her car seat was because of my love for her, she was unwilling to submit to what she considered a restriction.” Once Chloe understood why, she was much more willing to obey.
So next time your child misbehaves, ask yourself, “Have I really helped them understand why we have these rules?” Take advantage of these opportunities to teach rather than simply punishing.
2. Don’t act out of anger.
It can be so easy to lose our cool, especially when a child is acting up again and again. But when we react in anger, we aren’t helping our children learn limits. And we definitely aren’t treating them the way Christ would.
Psychologist Leon Seltzer recognizes that adults can resort to anger just as easily as kids do. Because of that, we need to be careful not to let that anger rule our discipline tactics.
President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished, “I speak to fathers and mothers everywhere with a plea to put harshness behind us, to bridle our anger, to lower our voices, and to deal with . . . love and respect.”
Jesus Christ Himself explained why we must avoid anger in our parenting: “. . . this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:30).
By avoiding anger, we will respond to our children more like our Savior would. This will be more helpful than any punishment given out of anger.
3. Love, love, love!
I, like many others, struggle to accept correction. It’s especially hard for me when I feel that the corrector is mean-spirited or doesn’t understand the situation. On the other hand, it’s quite a bit easier to accept correction from my Heavenly Father.
Why is it easier to receive that correction from Him? While there are many reasons, perhaps the primary one is His constant outpouring of love.
In order to effectively correct our children, we must follow the example of our Perfect Parent. When correction, guidance, or discipline is necessary, we must make sure our children still feel loved.
According to renowned researcher Dr. John Gottman, a stable relationship has a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. While his research was focused on marriage, the same is true of a parent-child relationship.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:43 explains that after an episode of correction, we must show “forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved.”
When our children know how much we love them, they’ll be a lot more likely to respond well to the discipline we provide.
Discipline Like a Disciple
If we want our children to reach their full potential, our discipline should reflect our discipleship.
As President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement.”
So as you seek to enforce appropriate limits and structure for your kids, remember the why behind it all. Remember to discipline like a true disciple!
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