5 Questions for Parents to Answer Before Discipline

When children misbehave, parents generally respond quickly with discipline. Family shepherds immediately and energetically discipline their children in order to stop the misbehavior and teach more appropriate behavior. That is all well and good. However, as family shepherds we also have to remember that what we say and do during a heated interaction (like discipline) burns into the heart and mind of our child. Like quick drying cement, our words and actions quickly harden into rigid patterns of thought and beliefs that impact our child’s self-image, mood, and character. So, we need to be careful how we speak to our children during the heat of discipline. When you discipline your child, ask yourself these questions to assure your words and actions strengthen your child’s character.
     1.      What specific behavior do I want my child to change? Family shepherds do not lecture their child. They don’t ramble or “pull in the kitchen sink” of misbehaviors past and present. If their child forgets to unload the dishwasher, they do not start into a 5 minute rampage about how their child never cleans his room, helps around the house, and appreciates the effort to care for them. If their child speaks rudely, they do not lecture on the disrespect of arriving late, rolling eyes, and not helping around the house. No, Family shepherds focus on the specific behavior they want to address at that time…one behavior at a time. When parents ramble or “pull in the kitchen sink,” children stop listening. They don’t hear the words anymore. They hear Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” When parents lecture, children stop looking at their own behavior and focus on their parents’ “incessant rambling.” They complain about the lecture and they argue. So, focus on the specific behavior you want your child to change. Keep anything you say short and to the point.
2.      What is the message of your child’s misbehavior? Children’s misbehavior often sends a message. They may misbehave to communicate a desire for attention or to express their own anger at a perceived mistreatment. Children may also misbehave to communicate a feeling of rejection or to counter a feeling of inadequacy. In order to respond effectively to a child’s misbehavior, family shepherds consider what their child is communicating, what he hopes to gain, through his misbehavior. Behavior that expresses a fear of rejection requires a different response than behavior that expresses anger or a desire for attention. Take a moment and think about why your child is misbehaving and respond with that in mind.
3.      Are there times your child has communicated the same thing with appropriate behavior? After you know what your child is communicating with their misbehavior, think about times they have behaved well. Recall times that your child has behaved in accordance with family values and rules. Perhaps you can recall times he has gained attention through kind deeds or expressed anger with words rather than fists. Taking time to recall these positive incidents helps us avoid phrases like “you always…” and “you never….” It helps us realize that this incident of misbehavior is not a permanent pattern or a major character flaw but a temporary behavior that he can change given proper instruction.
4.      What factors may have contributed to this misbehavior? Many factors contribute to children’s misbehavior: hunger, tiredness, changes in routine, feeling neglected, something that happened at school, a misunderstanding, feeling left out, etc. Sometimes misbehavior is simple immaturity, not a devious plot to make everyone’s life miserable. Think about what contributes to your child’s misbehavior. Family shepherds believe the best about their child’s intent. They adjust their discipline to match the factors that contribute to their child’s misbehavior. For instance, if their child misbehaves because he is tired, they may send him to lie down for a few minutes rather than take a privilege away. If their child misbehaves to gain attention, a time out and working to give them attention for positive behavior will prove more effective than a simple scolding.
5.      What behavior do I want my child to engage in to replace the negative behavior? Discipline involves teaching. Family shepherds teach their children appropriate behaviors to replace negative behaviors. If they want their child to stop speaking rudely, they teach him how to speak politely. If parents simply “punish” their child, he learns what not to do but does not learn what to do. He is left with a “behavioral void,” an empty space with no idea of what to do. If he has a “behavioral void,” he will fill it…most likely with inappropriate behavior. Family shepherds teach their child appropriate behavior to replace the negative behavior and fill any “behavioral void” they might have.

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