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

» Posted in Family Life, Parenting | 2 comments

When it comes to healthy disciplining, using my mnemonic R.U.L.E.S. will help you remember the 5 key principles of good disciplining strategies.  In the first part of this two-part series that I posted on Monday, October 1, 2012, I reviewed the first two principles of effective disciplining:

R stands for Respect must be a non-negotiable in your family.

U means Understand differences in discipline needs.

Continuing on with the RULES of disciplining your kids:  L means Limit-setting must be consistently applied.  Each time parents don’t address a problem that arises, they are whittling away their credibility as parents who are committed to teaching their child right from wrong.

Regardless of how you’re able to rationalize your dismissal of problems due to busyness or fatigue, the child whose parent is inconsistent about upholding important values is learning that their value is conditional upon how tired or distracted the parent is feeling at the moment.  It may seem minor at the time (e.g., whining), but when your child gets big and isn’t so cute, it can lead to big problems in the world in their relationships with others.  Other people in the world aren’t so quick to tolerate their misbehaviour, and it will absolutely impact their success at work and in relationships.

Repeatedly accommodating your child’s sullen mood or negative attitude allows her to avoid feeling accountable for how she affects other people.   Avoiding conflict now with your child will lead to bigger and more serious problems later in life.

It’s also important that you stick to your convictions rather than being wishy-washy.  It you’re not going to stand firm, then don’t set the limit.  If you don’t feel up to following through with consequences, don’t threaten consequences.  Your kids can read you and figure out if you’re serious.  Check yourself before laying down the law.  If you cave in, your kids just lose respect for you and learn they are accountable to no one but themselves.

So keep your limits simple and understandable, communicate them clearly to your kids, and be consistent in how your enforce them.  Putting in the hard work at the front end to be consistent is well worth the effort because it’ll save you a whole whack of problems down the road.

E means Establish clear rules and consequences.  Don’t turn this into arguing with your child and trying to explain yourself.  In my opinion, parents use far too many words to try to get their kids to do something – they cajole, lecture, yell, threaten – but you know what?  Kids just learn to tune you out so that you sound just like the parents in Charlie Brown.

It’s also important to communicate your expectations clearly, in a way that your child understands.  If you’re going to be changing any of the rules or consequences, make sure you let your kids know before you implement the changes.  Better yet, engage your kids in a discussion about these rules and consequences, and let them help you design to “program”, particularly for your older kids.

The consequence of your kids’ choices must always matter more to them than to you, or you will feel like you’re held hostage to needing to make their kids change their way of thinking and acting.  For example, if it’s more important to you than to your child for him to get good grades school, guess who’s going to be trying to get which person to finish his homework in time?  It’ll become your job to police him because it doesn’t matter enough to him to be self-motivated with his school work.

Parents who aren’t willing to let their kids experience a problem or perform at a lower level academically or socially than they are capable of, are at risk for trying to protect their kids from their lapses in diligence, attention, effort or accountability.  Because it’s often more important to the parent than to the child that the “right” thing occur, the parent is vulnerable to working harder than the kid to make that correct thing happen.

You need to impose a consequence that will bother your child enough to curb that behaviour.  You can’t control actions but can control consequences.  Make those consequences to fit the crime and choose consequences that you have control over (e.g., don’t say they have to stay in their room if you don’t have the physical ability to force them to stay there is useless – instead, take away the computer privileges).  Parents tell me that none of the consequences they try to enforce work with their kids.  Trust me, there’s something that’s important enough to your kids that they won’t want to lose that thing – you need to know your kids well, their passions, and their likes and dislikes and select the consequences accordingly.

And don’t get caught in the trap of explaining over and over again the reasons for your consequences.  Use your words to let them know they’ve blown it and what the consequences will be, and that’s it.  You can also use your words to express empathy for them (e.g., “I know you’re really disappointed at missing your school dance, it’s really hard to see your friends go without you, isn’t it?”) but don’t use your words to get pulled into an argument with your child.  The more you argue with them, the more they think they have a chance to sway you, and the greater the likelihood it is that you’ll lose your cool and escalate a minor situation into something major.

And finally, S means Solve problems collaboratively.  If your child disagrees with you, don’t jump to the conclusion that he’s a moral reprobate and needs to be intimidated into changing his mind.  Instead, engage your child in collaborative problem-solving.  This way, you can both work together to find a solution that you can agree on.  Often when you include your child in the decision – rather than you just making it or letting them make the decision – your kids will come up with creative solutions that work.  This teaches your child the important skills of negotiation and compromise, really key life skills that will help them succeed as adults.

It also teaches your kids that they are respected and trusted to solve problems, and it helps them learn the lesson you want them to learn through the discipline.   It also teaches them to take responsibility for their actions.   Studies show that kids learn best when they are able to think for themselves and understand the solutions to the problems.

In fact, clinical experience shows that collaborative problem-solving is one of the best ways to manage strong-willed children who go from 0 to 100 in mere seconds.  If you have one of those kids who meltdown any time they encounter a “no”, then this strategy is particularly helpful for you.  These kinds of kids only get more and more worked up as you try to power down on them.  There’s something in their brain that responds with rigidity and so when they want to do something, it’s actually painful for them to have to consider another option.  When you hit them with firmness at this point, you actually create a storm in their brains that becomes unmanageable and creates a complete melt-down that takes them sometimes hours to recover from.  The other important motivation to engaging your child in collaborative problem-solving instead of a battle of the wills is that every time she has a meltdown, you are actually undoing the brain pathways that were previously put in place when you were able to teach her how to collaborate successfully.  For a great resource on using this strategy with strong-willed and explosive children, it will be well worth your time to read Dr. Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child.

But in the end, the key to healthy problem-solving is to respectfully acknowledge your kids’ concerns while asserting your own.  Letting them express their opinions and tastes shows that you respect their individuality and don’t need to control their thoughts and feelings.  You’re addressing the problem, but you’re doing it in a respectful and loving way.

Making changes in how you discipline your kids is hard initially.  You will typically get an increase in the resistance as your kids try to break you of your new determination.  In fact, that is often when parents give up and say that the new disciplining strategies don’t work.  I won’t lie to you, it’ll take hard work at the initial stages plus consistency before you see changes in your kids’ behaviours, but it’s well worth the years of headaches and heartaches you will avoid down the road.

If you find that what I share with you resonates with you but you don’t know HOW to implement the necessary changes, then please consider getting some professional help.  Clients tell us how thankful they are for the help, as they experience considerable relief after coming for a few sessions and noticing profound changes in their home.   Just like you would go to a mechanic if you have problems with your car, please don’t hesitate to go to a parenting mechanic if you’re struggling with your kids – your sanity and the well-being of your kids are worth it!  Remember, none of us are born with these skills – they are all skills that we have to learn.


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  1. This series you have done has been directed particularly at parents raising children (which I do not have). However, I have found many of these principles particularly helpful to learn and be refreshed on as an adult in terms of “appropriate” boundaries and behavior in adult relationships, and as they relate to internal self control and personal boundary setting.

    Thanks Merry!

  2. Very true, Julia! Thanks for the feedback! I think I will actually do a series on setting healthy boundaries soon as I think that is much needed.

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