The R.U.L.E.S. of Disciplining Your Kids – Part 1 (of 2)

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naughty boy

I was out shopping the other day when I noticed a woman with her pre-teen kids in the parking lot of the mall.  I couldn’t help but pause to watch because I couldn’t believe what she was tolerating from her kids.  Not only were they talking back to her and yelling at her, but they were actually hitting her and she was letting them, sloughing it off with a laugh!  I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of adults they will grow up to be. While she may think it’s no big deal now, she is creating unlikable people who will have problems dealing with relationships and authority figures when they grow up.

Now I know that we’re in the midst of the self-esteem movement in raising kids, and while I have my own opinion on that (see my previous blog), I think we have gone too far in giving so much latitude to our kids.  In too many homes, the children are the centre and have the power to run the household according to their moods, activities, and demands.  Not only is this unhealthy for the family, but it’s unwise for the future well-being of our kids and their ability to handle relationships and life’s demands.

As parenting experts are beginning to discover, it’s starting to make a lot more sense to start a “self-control” movement when it comes to how we raise our kids.  And a key aspect of how we teach our kids self-control is through how we discipline and set boundaries for them.  I speak a lot more about this issue of disciplining our kids in my CD, Parenting by the RULES, so you may want to check it out if you want more information that is beyond the scope of this posting.

When it comes to healthy disciplining, I use the word R.U.L.E.S. to talk about the 5 key principles of good disciplining strategies (I will be covering the first two in this post and then completing the last three principles in Part 2 of this two-part series on Wednesday, October 3, 2012):

R stands for Respect must be a non-negotiable in your family.  Kids learn respect best through our example.  How do we talk to our spouses?  How do we talk to our kids?  How do we talk to the rude telemarketer on the phone?  Kids will tend to treat people the way they are treated.  Many parents we meet demand respect from their kids but dish out the opposite.

If we are used to yelling at our kids, criticizing them and ordering them about, they will never understand what we’re expecting from them in terms of respect.  Not only is that because it hasn’t been modeled for them, but kids also have an inherent sense of fairness and this double standard will eventually lead to great resentment and problems with your kids even FEELING respect for you.  This is particularly problematic in the adolescent stage when our kids begin to develop abstract reasoning skills, and the capacity to observe your double standard.  You then lose credibility in their eyes, and at such a crucial time in their life when you want to be a source of positive influence for them.

Even if you’re disciplining your kids or they’ve really messed up, remain calm and low key, and use a respectful tone of voice.  Speak logically and clearly about the observed behaviours and what rules they’ve broken.  There’s no need for yelling or name-calling or other forms of disrespectful communication.  Remember, the key outcome you want from the discipline is for your child to learn, and when you introduce anger into your communication, you introduce static into the airway, so that your child’s back goes up and his hearing shuts down.

But beyond how YOU speak to your kids and to others, any disrespect in your kids MUST be nipped in the bud.  It’s one of those things that can be easily ignored by parents but to their peril, as it only becomes worse and worse as your kids grow and gain power and strength.  Their capacity to submit to your authority as a parent is rooted in their RESPECT for you and your authority.

You are NOT your kids’ friends.  It’s very important that you don’t get your emotional needs for approval met from your kids because trust me, if you do, it places them in a very powerful place in your relationship and you will lose every time if you go head-to-head with them.  For many of us who are highly relational, it can be hard for us when our kids are angry at us, but you need to look at the long-term good of your kids.  Your job as parents is to help them grow into people of character and resilience, who can handle the ups and downs of life with integrity.  For them to respect the authority of the law, their future bosses, and God – which is all part of real life, they need to learn to respect your authority first.

So make respect in how your kids act and talk a non-negotiable.  Talk about respect regularly and model it, but also respond quickly and consistently if your kids ever act or talk in a disrespectful way, whether it’s to you, their siblings or others.  It doesn’t matter how angry or distressed they are, or what they’re dealing with – sometimes we tend to excuse them by saying, “oh, Bobby is just tired and hungry”.  All kids can learn to respond to others with respect if you hold them to a higher standard.  People who learn to do this, even under times of extreme stress or crisis, tend to be highly successful and well-respected adults with great influence.  Don’t tolerate disrespect in your kids.

U means Understand differences in discipline needs.  Since not all kids are the same, parents must be willing to adapt their parenting style and methods of discipline to fit their kids’ personality.  No two kids are the same and not one method of discipline and correction will work for everyone.  What should stay consistent, however, is the love and respect we communicate to our kids.

For example, for kids who are generally compliant and sensitive in nature, a gentle word of rebuke is often enough.  With these kids, if we lose our cool with them, we can actually be injuring their spirits because of the difficulties they have with any harshness or anger in our tone.  When raised in consistently harsh, angry or punitive homes, these sensitive kids often grow up to struggle with low self-confidence, insecurity and even anxiety problems.

With strong-willed children, on the other hand, parents need to give them lots of choices but within clear limits.  Parents also need to learn to pick their battles, but also to nurture their children’s leadership skills by giving them opportunities to choose, even on behalf of the family.  You also have to be very clear with the boundaries for these kids, because if you draw a line in the sand, they’ll stand with their toes right up against that line!  Compliant kids sometimes don’t even need that line because they will typically ask for permission first to even go in the sand.

It’s also very important for a parent to distinguish between a child who won’t and a kid who can’t.  Discern between intentional defiance and childish irresponsibility.  Avoid making impossible demands.  The majority of times, kids mess up because that’s what kids do.  They often don’t know better or they don’t have the skills to do it the way you want.

For example, if you ask your kids to clean their rooms, don’t go in afterwards and start yelling at them for not doing it properly when it’s unrealistic to expect them to do it to your standards.  It’s better to use that opportunity to teach and instruct them, for instance, “I think it’ll make it easier to find your socks in the morning if you put all your socks in the same place”.

Consider where your child is developmentally and establish reasonable expectations based on that.  Your kids have certain milestones they must successfully reach to grow in a healthy way and they must reach these milestones by their own effort.  It may be tempting to hover and provide constant advice but it won’t help them in the long run.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be there to provide emotional first aid for their occasional bumps and bruises, but you need to begin to let go and let them move forward.  If you’re interested in learning more about your kids’ developmental stages and what can be reasonably expected of them at each stage from infancy to adolescence, I speak a lot more about this on my CD, Parenting by the RULES.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series, coming Wednesday, October 3, 2012.  If you are dealing with a specific disciplining issue with your child and wish to have some guidance, click on the widget on the right side of this website to leave a question for the “Ask Dr. Lin” blog that posts on Fridays.


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