articles / Family life

Choice-focused discipline

When Josiah was a toddler and preschooler, discipline was easy. For the most part he listened to what we had to say and when he didn’t the consequences worked. Now that Josiah is older — he’ll be 8 in a few months — he’s gotten more prone to rebelling and trying to have his own way.

As far as the other one goes, I’ve yet to find a consequence that truly works with Samuel. I’m consistent, but redirection has been my only useful tool when it comes to discipline. He will be 3 years old in a few weeks and he’s starting to enter the preschool age. It’s not like he’s going anywhere, but he’s starting to be more aware of what he’s doing and will start having a few consequences of his own to face.

I’ve read books, blogs, stories from other moms, and everything I could get my hands on to figure out how to best discipline the boys. I knew based on the results I wanted to see (productive men of society), that I had to focus on discipline — not punishment.

For those that don’t know the difference: Discipline is teaching. It’s proactive. Punishment is about inflicting pain (not necessarily physical). It’s reactive.

Punishment is what we inflict on children when they don’t do what we want. Discipline is about teaching them why we do or don’t do certain things. There shouldn’t be punishment without discipline and that’s where so many of us go wrong.

Here are a few things that I’m working on teaching my kids:

  • We all make choices. There are direct positive or negative consequences of those choices, so choose wisely.
  • When we make messes, we take responsibility for them.
  • It is never acceptable to be disrespectful or hateful to someone.
  • It is not OK to hurt someone because you’re angry.
  • We have to be responsible. Mom and Dad can’t do it all for us.

So knowing what I want to teach my kids, I then have to think about the best way to teach them these things. The best way, something that I’ve always attempted to do in the past is allow natural consequences. These consequences are totally out of my control and not inflicted by me, but are things that occur naturally (big surprise).

For example, I am not going to force my kids to wear a coat. I’m going to tell them it’s cold and they need to put their coat on. If they choose not to, they will probably end up cold. This ends a few ways. They either put their coat on and we’re all happy, or they choose not to and they either get the sniffles for a few days or they’re cold enough that they choose to listen the next time I say it’s cold. The bottom line is, I didn’t yell, get mad, or complain. I taught them that when it’s cold, we wear jackets. It depends on them whether they learn the lesson the easy way or the hard way.

Sometimes natural consequences aren’t available, so I move on to consequences that promote teaching, not just punishment. How does that work? Well, for Josiah, he struggles with trying to be the adult. He tends to boss Samuel and act like his parent. There is a specific consequence for that offense. If he acts like an adult, he will be treated like one. He might have to make his own lunch and his brother’s lunch or he might have to do a yucky adult chore like cleaning the bathroom or cleaning up the yard (on top of his normal chores). It serves as a friendly reminder that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Being an adult isn’t just about doing what we want and bossing people, we have responsibilities that are beyond that of a child.

I’ve also shifted into the thinking that we don’t have rules we have expectations. These are not rules that are made up so we have something to do, these are expectations that people will have of them for the rest of their lives. Expectations regarding morals and etiquette.

Each expectation we have for our kids has a consequence if they don’t meet that expectation. The expectations and the consequences are written out for the kids to see. We discussed the expectations and consequences with Josiah and Samuel so there were no surprises. We still have some struggles, but the kids are learning.

I’ve put the ball in their court. I’m not doing anything to them. When they make a choice there’s a positive or negative response. It’s up to them. It shifts things from me inflicting something on them to them choosing a certain path.

Some days it doesn’t look like it, but other days it’s evident. Seeing the deer in the headlights look on Josiah’s face earlier when I took his door off the hinges was priceless. If you’re going to slam the door or bang on it because you’re mad, then you don’t need a door.

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