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Do You Undermine Your Discipline?

by on Aug.21, 2017, under Adolescents, Behavior, Communication, Elementary School Children, Expectations, Parenting

For forever Lisa has been cutting my hair every 4 weeks. I have watched her two kids grow up, hearing her many tales and dishing out my advice. My hair looks great, and Lisa is a terrific parent.

The proof is in the pudding. Today I got my haircut, and here is Lisa’s story.   Lisa’s teenage daughter was granted her permission to host a friends’ party at their house, one that would include her boyfriend and his family, too. Mom consented but only with this deal:  Lisa does the food and her daughter readies the whole house (straightening and cleaning up). After all, it would be after a long work day for Lisa. Deal made.  Having previously done her shopping and cooking, Lisa came home on party night to find the house a mess, worse than it had been when she left in the morning. So much for the deal.  Game over. So, Lisa calmly texted the boyfriend and one guest, asking them to contact the rest of the invitees because the party was cancelled.

The daughter found out when her boyfriend texted her.

I won’t bother with the oceans of tears and the rest that ensued. Suffice it to say, everything Lisa has asked of her daughter for the past weeks has been easily executed. No surprise to me.

Parents often wonder why their “discipline” isn’t working. Why is it that the child’s behavior hasn’t changed?  Among the mistakes that parents make which undermine their discipline, these two scream out to me:

  1. Too many warnings
  2. No follow through with threats


Whether your child is four or fourteen, the same holds true. The lesson is not learned if it isn’t meaningful, if it isn’t supported with power.  That certainly doesn’t mean that a consequence needs to be tough or mean. What it does mean is that you, the parent, undermine your own credibility when you don’t follow through. Either you say the same thing over and over without any action, you offer “one more chance,” or you state the consequence and don’t follow through.

The goal in discipline (from the Latin disciplina which means teaching or learning) is to teach your child what you want her to do—the lesson.  With threats and yelling, it is no longer about the lesson. It is now about the parent and the child.  The lesson is lost.  The idea is for the child to know that she has caused the consequence (party cancelled) because of something she did or didn’t do (clean up the house.) It is of her own doing and not because of her mean mommy.

Over and over I work with parents on how to use logical consequences, ones that are directly related to the child’s choice of behavior. You choose the behavior and you also choose the consequence, good or not so good.  And over and over I implore them to stop counting, to stop the second chances, to state the consequence as a warning and lower the boom when there is non- compliance.

Often following through with a logical consequence means you’re going to have a very unhappy child. Very! We all know how painful it is to tolerate a child’s unhappiness and disappointment. And we all remember how bad it felt to be disappointment. Our identification with child even sabotages our ability to follow through.

When the dust had settled and the tears had dried, with emotions back on an even keel, Lisa explained to her daughter just how she felt when she had come home to her messy house.  She didn’t apologize for canceling the party. Lesson learned and behavior changed.

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