An older mentor told me a story once of how his daughter had made some regrettable decisions in high school and was caught. When he and his wife sat her down to discuss what happened, they asked her what she thought her punishment should be. The punishment she suggested was way worse than what he would have done. Still, after she shared, he asked her, “Would you rather take the punishment you just suggested, or instead, come down and give me a hug and a kiss every night for the next month?” She obviously chose the latter, and my mentor said it had a profoundly positive impact on their relationship. He knew a thing or two about positive discipline techniques.
Admittedly, disciplining my kids is not one of my strongest skills. Too often, I get tired, annoyed, or—worse—angry when my kids misbehave or make poor decisions. I don’t want to be the dad who’s constantly exasperating his kids with negative discipline. But I don’t want to be the dad who abdicates his responsibility to discipline his kids, either. Using positive discipline techniques is a skill we must hone and grow in if we’re going to keep our kids pointed in the right direction. And we should never discipline our kids at the cost of our relationships with them. Here are 5 positive ways to discipline your kids.
1. Check your emotions.Never discipline kids out of anger, frustration, annoyance, or laziness.
We’ve probably all disciplined poorly out of our feelings, but this is the first positive discipline technique that sets up all the others. Never discipline kids out of anger, frustration, annoyance, or laziness. I realize this is easier said than done. We need to calm ourselves within the first few moments of an event when our kids need to be disciplined. Our aim is to discipline out of clarity, patience, and wisdom.
2. Focus on the behavior.
One mistake I’ve made is blurring the lines between behavior and my kid’s identity. If your kid is caught lying, it’s essential to call out the lying (the behavior) and not the child personally. Instead of saying “you’re a liar,” we should say “what you said was a lie.” This positive discipline technique is a great way to call out poor behavior and reinforce a strong identity. I’m starting to say things like this to my kids: “Lying is not who you are. We tell the truth in our family.”
3. Find the root.
I’ve noticed poor behavior in younger kids is usually rooted in their emotions. However, as kids get older, poor behavior is typically tied to their hearts’ deeper issues. I once caught a student bullying another kid in my ministry. As I sat down and began talking with him, I discovered that he personally was having a problem being bullied at school and had no one to turn to. This left him feeling powerless. As you can imagine, that insight helped me to discipline my own kids in a different way. Find the root causes of your kids’ behavior issues. Believe me—there are root causes.
Remember, your kids are young and they’re still learning. The aim isn’t to get our kids to simply submit to our authority. We’re trying to help them learn how to make good decisions independently. A great question to ask yourself every time you discipline your kids is, “How can I prepare them for the future?” Explain why their behavior upset you and why it could lead to negative consequences in the future. Help them see a better path forward or what alternative decision they could have made.
5. Praise good behavior.
An often overlooked but positive discipline technique I have found effective is praising good behavior when I see it. If all we ever focus on is negative behavior, we only give our kids half the picture of what they should (or shouldn’t) do. When I see my son sharing with his sister on his own or holding the door for others, I always try to give him a fist bump and say, “Thanks for sharing with your sister and loving her well!” or “Well done. Proud of you.” We want our kids excited to behave well, and when they get positive encouragement and attention, this reinforces that.
Sound off: Which of these five positive discipline techniques are your strongest and which are your weakest?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do I focus more on your poor behavior or your good behavior?”