We get it: The word “discipline” makes some people nervous, right? How to discipline your child is a personal choice and talking about it can be touchy.
But it’s important to talk about. How you choose to discipline your child is a vital part of your parenting and your family culture.
Before we talk about how to discipline your child without damaging your relationship with them, let’s start with the goal of discipline.
The goal of discipline is not to:
- punish kids
- release our own anger
- create conflict
- make yourself look like a better parent
- constrict a child’s personality
- kill a child’s independence, creativity, or initiative
Rather, the goal of discipline is to:
- keep kids safe
- love kids and pursue what is best for them
- demonstrate that all actions have consequences
- teach respect
- lead children to develop self-control of their actions and emotions
- guide kids’ hearts to grow in obedience to God
With this in mind, here are 8 tips for how to discipline your child without damaging your relationship.
1. Explain why you discipline them.
We’ve established expectations and consequences because we want what’s best for them.
Parents stop kids from running into the street because we want them to be safe. We encourage children to tell the truth because lies cause strife and destruction in relationships. We expect them to treat others with respect because that will serve them well in life.
Our desire is for our kids to be successful at whatever God has called them to do. We discipline them to lead them in that direction.
2. Have clear expectations.
Like most families, we have expectations in our home. We discuss them and remind our kids about them (constantly, some days!).
We also have expectations whenever we go somewhere. Whether we’re headed to the grocery store, church, field trip or playdate, we have a brief “What are the expectations” conversation so we’re all on the same page.
It’s not always about behavior and rules – although that’s part of it. We also talk about the schedule, what’s going to happen, and what they can expect. We don’t need to talk about it as often now that our kids are older, but we still have the “expectations” chat when going someplace new.
Kids like to know where the boundaries are.
3. Maintain consistent consequences.
I remember my mom telling me early in our parenting years: Whatever consequences you choose, you must follow through on them consistently.
Kids won’t believe our expectations if we don’t follow through on consequences. Consistency helps kids know what to expect and provides security.
4. Remind them that they are responsible for their consequences, not you.
When a child disobeys and a consequence occurs, it is not your fault. It’s theirs.
You are not punishing your child. They choose to accept the consequence when they choose their behavior.
For example, we have a “no throwing in the house” rule. Let’s say our son picks up a toy as if he is going to throw it.
I say, “Remember, we only throw outside, buddy. If you throw that toy, you’ll have to take a break from that toy.”
He throws the toy. What happens next? The toy is taken away and he cries, “You took away my toy!”
I respond with, “No, you chose to have the toy taken away when you chose to throw it.”
Expectations are known and the consequences are clear, so now the choice is theirs. In choosing the behavior, they also choose the consequence.
When they understand this, it reduces conflict when a consequence happens. It was their choice – not yours. This also helps them take responsibility for their actions and develop self-control.
5. Resist placing labels on your child.
If a kid makes a wrong choice, they are not a “bad kid.” They’re not “naughty.”
What they did may be bad, but they are not bad.
We believe our words matter, and the words we say to our kids become their inner voice.
Have you ever been told something that just tumbles around in your head for awhile?
We don’t want any negative labels to be tumbling around in our kids’ heads, so we try to avoid labeling our kids.
We talk about the inappropriate behavior, but we do not give the behavior permanence by labeling our child and making it part of their identity.
6. Remind them of who they are.
Whether they’re refusing to share, have a bad attitude, or are complaining, that is not who God created them to be. That is not who they are!
Your child was created in the image of God. God knit great qualities into them like compassion, generosity, and gratitude.
Out of all the kids in the world, God chose your child to be a sibling for their brother or sister! When God created your child, He gave them qualities to be a great brother or sister for their specific siblings. God knew what kids He was putting together into your family!
This is who they are. This is the truth of their identity. When they disobey, they are acting outside of who they are.
Good news! They can reset at any time and start living out the truth of who God created us to be. (Pro tip: We can, too! We can all start fresh at any time.)
We have one child who can be very hard on themselves when they disobey. They say things like, “I’m the worst.” It grieves our hearts to hear our child tell these lies to themselves!
When we need to discipline this child, we always end by having them speak true things about themselves: “I’m generous. I have a compassionate heart. I care about others. I’m a leader.”
All of these things are true and very apparent most of the time! But, in the times when our child forgets, it’s important to remind them and speak truth.
7. Assure them of your forgiveness and love.
Our kids look to us as a model for God’s forgiveness and love. Therefore, we must do our best to forgive and love fully. What a huge responsibility, and we’re so thankful for God’s grace as parents!
When we assure kids of our forgiveness and love without shame, we create an environment where kids can come to us when they’ve made mistakes. They don’t need to cover up their sin or hide in shame, because they know we are a source of love and grace.
8. Have fun together.
We try to have fun with our kids shortly after a time of discipline.
Why? It shows our kids that we still like them. We still enjoy their company and we’re moving past what they did previously.
We don’t want our kids to dwell on their past mistakes or be defined by them, so we try to move on as quickly as possible. For us, the easiest way to demonstrate this is to have fun together.
Fun releases tension, breaks down walls, and creates connection.
No matter what techniques you use with your child, it is possible to discipline without conflict or damaging your relationship. Appropriate discipline has the child’s best interest in mind and can set them up for success!
We encourage you to spend some time considering your thought process on discipline, and create a system that works for your family culture. If you’d like to learn more about how to create your own family culture, check out our step-by-step guide!