Yelling may seem like the obvious way to discipline, but here are 5 other ways that may be more effective.

Whether your kids are toddlers or well into high school, every parent experiences the exasperation around establishing guidelines and implementing consequences for when boundaries are crossed. 

Perhaps you know how it goes—you’ve had the reasonable conversations, the head-nodding buy in from your child, and then, once again, the rules are broken. It’s hard to remain calm; it’s hard not to yell and scream; it’s hard to follow through without a rant. 

Here are five helpful tools to keep you from losing your cool.

1. Don’t take the bait.

Your daughter comes home with blue hair which violates her school dress code. Your son calls you an inappropriate name. Your toddler draws on the wall----all watching for you to lose your cool! 

Not that these infractions are tolerable, but perhaps they are understandable. Before jumping into a screaming match laced with idle threats, see if you think about why this might be occurring at this point in time in your family. 

I’ve heard it said from many a kid—“negative attention is better than no attention at all.” Negative attention is a sure bet for your child. They’ll get an immediate reaction when sometimes positive behavior goes unnoticed. 

Or perhaps they are baiting you—tempting you to blow your top—in an effort to deflect the attention onto your negative behavior rather than their own. Rather than giving them the reaction they expect from you, try saying something that might open a door for a deeper conversation. 

“Wow, you’ve been wanting blue hair for some time now. How do you like it?” “I know you’re frustrated at me and I think that’s why you’re calling me a name; things are really tense for you right now.” And, “wow, that’s an incredible art project; maybe I should have been in here drawing with you.” 

2. Have a preventive conversation.

We often think of “discipline” as doling out consequences when rules are broken. Kids get caught, parents explode in anger and frustration, and consequences sometimes look like unreasonable life sentences. Sometimes kids break the rules when they are testing your limits or the boundaries for themselves. 

Whether its mere curiosity or deceitful planning, kids do far better when those conversations happen before the rules are broken. When kids receive new responsibilities or reach a new milestone, it is important to have a family conversation about expectations that you have for them. Help them discuss the expectations they have for themselves. 

Work on establishing reasonable expectations. Even though you all agree that they will walk their new puppy and clean up the messes, it is reasonable that your child will fall short at times. Use these opportunities to teach responsibility and create new guidelines rather than screaming at them that the puppy has gone ignored. 

If your teen continues to game online well after all have gone to bed, have a conversation about the limits that were established and why you all agreed to them. And, when infractions keep happening, consider reasonable consequences. 

3. Craft creative consequences.

If you’ve been able to re-frame their negative behavior as their “creative” way of getting your attention, then give them the attention they need. Spend time talking about the consequences that would be appropriate for their actions (assuming their actions really are an infraction of the boundaries you’ve set).

Perhaps your daughter’s blue hair is her way of talking about her need for some individuality. Connect with her about what’s happening in her friendships. Then take some time to brainstorm about the dilemma she’s placed herself in—blue hair and her school don’t mix. 

After taking pictures to capture the moment, perhaps she can come up with the money for the hair dye to return to a more natural color. Creative consequences are harder than impulsive ones. Taking away privileges for infractions works when the privilege is closely tied to the misdeed. 

It is reasonable to take away a teen’s car privileges for a set time when he has broken rules set for his vehicle use. It’s less reasonable to take away his dog for that infraction. The younger the child, the shorter time the consequence should be. 

4. Catch them doing something right.

Saying “no” is something that parents are really good at. It’s easier to find fault with our children than it is to catch them doing something right. Faults are glaring and easy to see. What they do right might be hidden or just taking shape. 

Help enhance their positive behavior. Help prevent their negative ones. Rather than nagging your child about drawing on the wall, act preventively and put the markers out of sight. Talk about what time you and your son expect he will be home rather than harping on him for his last curfew violation. 

Thank him for honoring the limits. Perhaps he will. Emphasizing the positive is not a magic solution, but it may help foster a more pleasant relationship with your child. Less anger. Less hostility. Less need for your child to express the negative self-image that he may have. 

However, if their behavior continues to slide downward, consider brainstorming with others outside your home who might have a broader perspective.

5. Create a village.

It’s hard to parent creatively all alone. Find a support system for yourself. And find a support system for your child. Therapy. Tutors. School administrators. Neighbors. Mentors. 

They all must be part of your village to help you step away from the conflict while aiding you in considering some solutions. A parent’s nagging may fall on deaf ears. Our children experience us as the talking heads in the Peanuts cartoons. 

Many parents know the toils of coaching their own children in sports. Other parents know what it’s like to tutor their youngster in math. Involving some third- party advice may allow your child to hear things differently.

It takes two to play “tug of war.” Consider letting go of the rope and walking away from the conflict. Come back to it later to discuss ideas and ways to help turn your child’s behavior around. Perhaps it’s a new consequence or a goal with a reward. Perhaps it’s an intervention that takes your child’s negative behavior more seriously.

Have more parenting dilemmas? Check out additional parenting articles from experts on our Parent Portal.


About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

Log In or Sign Up to leave a comment!

    Comments: 0

Don’t Miss Out

Join the Zift community and get all the latest news and our exclusive content delivered straight to your email.