Menu Close


TOC Next Previous


Discipline has a negative side as it relates to rules, boundaries, and to the life-circle. Somewhat simplistically, this has to do with making your children mind and assuring they avoid unnecessary risks. Discipline also has a positive side. It encourages your children to participate in those activities and experiences that are good for them, even though this Sometimes means insisting.

Here are the most important principles underlying effective discipline.

*     Your discipline should be reasonable, fair, and effective.

Encouraging your children is a good example of reasonableness. You may encourage your child to try harder. If, however, you do this after it has become obvious he really cannot conform or perform, your encouragement is excessive. Encouragement implies expectation. To over-encourage is to expect too much. Alternatively, if your encouragement is insufficient to get your child to try a little harder when he really does have the ability, your response is inadequate.

Reasonable discipline is in proportion to your child’s age and abilities and is directly related to the action or behavior at issue. For example, responding to your child who carelessly puts a muddy hand on the window is different from responding to your child who intentionally fingerpaints all over the living room wall without permission. Dealing with a three-year-old who leaves his toys in the family room is different from dealing with a sixteen-year-old who drives too fast or recklessly. Your discipline should be reasonable and related to both your child and his behavior.

Your discipline should be fair. This point is all too obvious but is also very important. For example, children in a family or group aught to have a sense discipline applies to them in the same way it applies to other children. When your children complain about unfairness, listen to what they are saying. They are often right.

Your children may complain about having to do things today they did not have to do yesterday. They may question not getting to do things they previously got to do. Fairness means having rules, boundaries, and expectations that are reasonably consistent and predictable.

Also, fairness means your discipline should not be arbitrary or capricious. For example, it is really quite unfair if your child is first told he can stay up to watch a TV program and then is made to go to bed fifteen minutes before it is over, when his behavior was satisfactory. This is a fairly simple issue. Things are not always fair and people do not always behave fairly. Your children have to learn about and live with this fact of life. Even so, they have a right to expect you to discipline them fairly and equitably.

Your discipline should be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness. Has your negative discipline decreased or prevented whatever you do not want your child to do? Has your positive discipline encouraged and increased desired behavior? If it has and if it also has been reasonable and fair, then your effort represents appropriate discipline. If your discipline has not achieved the desired outcomes or if it has not been reasonable and fair, your discipline has been inappropriate.

Appropriateness is a principle governing all aspects of being a parent, including discipline. When considering how to best discipline your child, first consider not disciplining at all. Parents frequently say, “I have tried everything and nothing seems to work.” If “everything” has been tried, the child must indeed be confused. It is more likely, however, “doing nothing” has not been tried.

This is one of the most difficult issues with which parents have to deal. They want to respond but they know their child needs to be allowed to fail, to get hurt, to work out the problems. Just because your child broke a rule, did not meet your expectations, got into trouble, or had difficulty does not automatically mean discipline is appropriate. Perhaps nothing should be done. Similarly, just because your child is making an effort does not necessarily mean praise is appropriate. Sometimes, just stay out of your children’s experiences. If you do decide positive or negative discipline is appropriate, then whatever you do should be reasonable, fair, and effective.

TOC Next Previous