disciplining children

3 Ways You’re Missing the Mark With Disciplining Your Kids

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“Dad, you’re dumb,” my teen daughter said as she sat looking out the window of the van. If you had asked me before I became a dad if I thought this would ever happen, I would’ve said no, never—not my kids. In all my imperfections, I never called my dad dumb. This is uncharted territory in my book. It took all I could muster to quietly drop her off at the school basketball game and drive back home. In looking back, I was hurt then, and I’m hurt now as I think about it. As far as disciplining children goes, I missed the mark that Friday evening.

As dads, when disciplining children, we have the power to exhaust them or encourage them.

Instead of turning left into the school parking lot and dropping her off, I should’ve taken a U-turn and driven right back home. But in the moment, I thought a break from each other would prove best. I made my choice. She went and had fun and later pretended it never happened. And I missed an opportunity to discipline her. Has something as heartbreaking ever happened to you? As dads, when disciplining children, we have the power to exhaust them or encourage them. Let’s look at 3 ways you’re missing the mark with disciplining your kids.

1. Attitudes

My attitude needs constant improvement when teaching my kids. When I must step in, it’s often in the evening. I’ve worked all day. The kids have been in school. I’m tired. They’re tired. I’m annoyed. I want peace and quiet when it’s unrealistic and darn near impossible. Rather than be loving, I get angry and frustrated. I start to take my kids’ not listening personally. I feel disrespected and start to get ugly. Is it just me?

As dads, we must learn how to discipline in love rather than anger. Guard against a negative tone or bad timing. Understand that your kids have had their own experiences during the day. Most times, they’ve been good at school and need an outlet. Take responsibility for your actions and try not to stir the pot of emotions the later it gets. This may mean holding off on that one conversation for another day because your teen already had a rough day and to bring it up now would just be piling on.

2. Words

Along with a bad attitude, I often use words that aren’t helpful. If I’m not on my A-game, I’ll forget which child and what age I’m dealing with in the moment. When my kids were younger, I could get away with saying, “No…stop…don’t…” to stop the behavior quickly. As they mature, it’s belittling to run around doing that. I need to respect them and have age-appropriate conversations.

Seek to be age-appropriate in your discipline as well. As your kids grow, explain why you have certain rules. You’ll need to invoke reason and logic about behaviors and explain why you have certain punishments for rules that are broken.

3. Actions

With actions, we have to balance being encouraging and supportive but also actually teach our kids. Sweetness is great–but if it doesn’t get your kids to do what they should, it’s not the way forward. But strict discipline that doesn’t work isn’t an improvement. I’ve found I’m at my best when I can be consistent. When I’m tired, I’ll avoid certain topics or put them off until another time. That time often never comes. Then, I regret the missed opportunity.

Once you create a rule, stick to it. For a rule to be effective, it must be consistent. Your kids shouldn’t wonder what’s right and wrong to do. They should never question if a wrong behavior will be punished—or a right behavior rewarded. When you are consistent with discipline, your kids may not understand early on; but over time, you’re showing them your relationship is permanent rather than flighty. It’s a security that should not be taken lightly.

Sound off: When disciplining children, do you feel like you’re missing the mark? 

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do you think you learn best?”