Presence & Purpose


Lorem Ipsum

Ineffective Discipline Strategies & 2 Simple Tips to Prevent Misbehavior

Did you know that giving children rewards or prizes for expected behavior can actually be more detrimental than helpful in the long run? When we provide children with rewards, not only do they continue to expect the rewards, but they also lose their intrinsic motivation and desire to engage in those activities or behaviors on their own. Sure, rewards may be effective short term, but they won’t teach children WHY they should or should not do something. With my own children, I did not want them to just comply with requests in order to get a reward or expect a gift because they did something “right.” I also don’t want them to only follow rules because they are afraid of getting in trouble. I want them to learn empathy, coping skills, and respect!

Here are other common ineffective discipline strategies: Bribes, threats, and escalation.

  1. Bribes don’t work in the long run.  Sure, your child may give in and comply in the heat of the moment in order to get what you bribed them with.  But, in reality, your child will learn that they can control situations by demanding a something they want in exchange for compliance.  

  2. Threats aren’t effective either.   We have all been there, on the brink of insanity while dealing with a young child who more resembles a screaming ball of fire than your sweet little angel you were snuggling and giggling with 5 minutes earlier.  You may have threatened with…”If you don’t do ____ right now, I’m going to ___!” or “If you don’t stop, you’re never going to ____ again!” Threats teach your children to be scared of you, which probably isn’t your long term goal.  Also, if you make a threat you’re not really going to follow through with, (i.e. “If you don’t clean up your toys, I’m throwing them all in the trash! ← I actually used that once, and my daughter just cried instead of cleaning up. Totally ineffective.) What you probably want is for your child is to cooperate without having to engage in a power struggle.

  3. Escalation, escalation, escalation.  Remember the time you were going to stand your ground, and the first 400 times your child asked and whined for something, you gave a firm no?  But on the 401st time, the whining was driving you nuts and giving you a headache, so you caved just to make them be quiet? We’ve all been there before too.   That’s how they learn to keep pushing and pushing, louder and louder until they get their way.

  4. Yelling.  When giving children instructions or dealing with misbehavior, it is important to speak respectfully and in a calm voice to your child. Yelling and screaming will escalate the situation and emotions, and models the exact opposite of what you want to teach. Just like we, as adults, do not like to be yelled at or disrespected when we have made a mistake or had a miscommunication, children do not either. Think of a time when you had a boss, a teacher, a parent, a coach, anyone, yell at or criticize you about something they thought you should have done differently. Did it motivate you to do better? I doubt it. Instead, it probably did one of the following: made you more upset, motivated you to not get caught the next time, made you scared about getting in trouble, motivated you to get even with the person, etc. Also, when we yell and scream at our kids, we often feel guilty for it later and will try to "make up" for it by being too permissive and giving in to them later on, and it can create a vicious cycle.  If people spoke to us as adults the way we sometimes speak to children, we would probably get angrier, lose our reasoning skills, not comply, and take longer to calm down.   Kids are people with feelings and egos too. Just like being yelled at isn’t effective with adults, it isn’t effective with our children.


What I do instead:

1. Limited Choices: Providing your child with choices instead of telling them what to do or making demands can be very empowering and effective.  This does not mean that children get to run the show and make decisions about everything. For example, younger children may be given the choice of leaving the park now or leaving in 5 minutes; would you like water or milk to drink, would you like to wear this outfit of that outfit.  Older children may be given the choice of which chore they would like to do, which homework assignment to do first, what they would like to help make for dinner, walking or riding their bike to their friend’s house. Either way, the task gets done and either alternative is acceptable.  Adding the phrase, “You decide” after giving the choices is empowering as it helps the child realize that they have some power and significance in the situation.

What if they child says they don’t want either of the choices?  Remind them of the choices, and if they don’t make a decision, make one for them and help them follow through.  If a child offers another solution and it is reasonable and acceptable, go ahead and honor it. It encourages children to problem solve and work together.

2. I love you and the answer is No: This phrase allows you to be both Kind AND Firm, which is a great Positive Discipline tool that helps parents avoid the extremes of being too permissive or overly firm when frustrated and upset.  Begin by validating the child’s feelings regarding the situation and showing understanding, and follow through by sticking to the limit you have set. For example:

“That toy looks really fun, I see why you would want it.  The answer is no, we are not going to buy it because we are only here to get Olivia’s birthday gift.”

“I can see that you don’t want to leave the park because you are having so much fun, and it is time to leave.”

“I know you don’t want to take a bath, so I am going to help you get to the bathtub.”

    It is okay for your child to be disappointed in these situations.  Don’t rush to rescue them from their disappointment; have faith that they will continue to survive and learn to cope in disappointing situations as they grow.

Want to learn how to stay calm when your kids (or you) are melting down? 

Source: “Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way” by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott


Matt Hendon