Navigating Discipline

Date: December 9, 2021 l Author: Holly Fregin, LMHC

One of the most common questions we receive from parents is how to approach discipline. So often as parents, when we see our kids’ big behaviors, discipline feels like the only answer. In these moments we have an opportunity to use discipline not just as a means to control our kids’ behavior, but as a means to guide them and ultimately deepen our connection with them. This is the best way we can not just manage our kids’ behaviors, but help them to exemplify the balanced, loving behavior we desire to see them live out.

Before we get started, we want to make sure we always have a relationship focus when we enter discipline. Remember, this is the same way Jesus operates with us – He desires to deepen our relationship and with that relationship growing, our behavior grows too.

Here are 3 simple steps to taken when you’re approaching discipline:

    • Correction should always end with connection. Whatever our child has done and whatever degree of correction that requires, our kids should always walk away knowing our love for them has not been compromised or diminished—they are deeply loved no matter what.

    • Empower your child to have a voice. Negotiating with our kids can be uncomfortable for us as parents, especially if that isn’t how our own parents interacted with us. But we want to make sure our kids know how to respectfully use their voice, because they won’t always be with us. Ultimately, we want to equip them to get their needs met in the world beyond our home. A great example of how to do this is with choices. Giving a child two choices still allows parents to set limits while the child gets to practice using their voice.

    • Nurture and structure should be in balance. There is a powerful example of this from Dr. Karyn Purvis, where she describes nurture and structure as the two feet of discipline. So, when we take one step of leading with nurture we have to follow with the next step of structure, otherwise we risk toppling over. Our kids crave both structure and nurture so as parents, we need to equally prioritize both, even in the midst of discipline.

Practical Applications

Here are some practical ways I see these steps get played out within families. One great practice is to create family rules together. These should be simple, only a few words per rule, and you should aim for just 2-3 rules. One family I work with has a family rule, “We stick together.” Now that can mean lots of things—it can mean we can count on one another, we don’t leave another person out, we don’t wander away, and more. Getting your kids involved and talking through these rules often helps your child see clear expectations consistently practiced at home.

Another great practice for balancing nurture and structure while also growing that connection, is trying something called a “time-in.” Rather than sending your child away from you when they have out-of- control behavior, oftentimes it can help our kids to co-regulate with us. If we can allow them to have a “time-in” rather than a “time-out” they step away from their siblings or a game or anything else they might be losing control in, and they can spend time calming their body with us. We can help them breathe through their big feelings, regain a sense of calm, and build deeper connection. Especially for kids who have experienced trauma, having a safe person bring them in rather than send them away when they are struggling can be a deeply healing experience.

Give these steps and ideas a try the next time you see difficult behavior at home. Give yourself grace as you try different approaches to connect with your child(ren)!

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)