How to Discipline Your Kids

“How do you discipline your kids?” It is a common question I receive but it’s the wrong use of the word discipline. For the sake of my argument, a simple Google search of the word “discipline,” gives the following definition:

The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.

Now, that is interesting. Did you catch it? The definition itself is both proactive and reactive. It begins by talking about training folks to follow rules, yet, is completed with talking about punishing someone if they break the rules. No wonder people are confused and ask me this question when it comes to parenting. When I am asked this question, it tells me immediately, which side of the definition the parent puts their focus when it comes to raising their kids.

Two disclaimers here because I can already hear the peanut gallery. First, I will never tell anyone how to give a punishment as a consequence for poor behavior. I simply inform my kids that everything has a consequence, everything. Some things you do have good consequences and some have bad consequences. Most of the time, they know what type of consequence their behavior will produce.

Second, with respect to obeying rules and following a code of conduct, that is also on you as a parent, teacher, school, or coach. My rules, in my home, will be different than yours. They may align with teachers or school or coaches, and maybe even some of yours, but they are the rules in my house. Let me tell you, we live by a different set of rules than society currently does.

Back to discipline. I prepare my kids to be disciplined in all they do, not disciplined by me for not doing something. They will become independent through having to do chores, showering and dressing themselves for school, getting their school work done at a set hour, going to practice and committing to whatever they signed up for, and using their imagination to create the things they want in life. They will be disciplined in sharing a mantra with me every morning before they go to school and when they go to bed. They will be disciplined in checking themselves when they are on the verge of going too far. They will be disciplined in making their beds, being polite and kind, and owning up to their mistakes. This is trained before we ever have to deal with consequences.

The way it is trained is simple. We give them great, wonderful, and fantastic consequences for doing the right things. That forces me to be thinking about it before it happens. It forces e to be proactive. Unfortunately, being proactive goes against the grain these days.

We live in a time where everything is reactionary. Not only do we constantly react and jump on the bandwagon of new fads, new movements, and new sense of morality and political correctness, but we overreact. We spend so much time overreacting to the “atrocities,” until the next negative event occurs to make it cool to overreact to that. We all know right from wrong. We all know when something is not equal, fair, or just. Yet, we do much of nothing to be proactive.

If you focus on being proactive with your kids, guess what, you spend less time being reactive and having to worry about the second half of the discipline definition. Here’s a simple example for everyone. You are sitting in the living room watching a show or game or whatever. Your kids are playing in the room together nicely, with tons of laughter and genuine enjoyment for each other’s company. That lasts for about 15 minutes and then all hell breaks loose. They start fighting, yelling, hitting each other, and crying. Oh, and it happens right at the best part of the movie or when there are only 5 seconds left in the game with one finally hail mary to throw to the end zone from your favorite quarterback.

You get so pissed off and frustrated that you get up and go right into that room and yell at them for being mean to each other, too loud, stop crying, whatever your pleasure. You miss the game winning buzzer beater or maybe you were able to pause the DVR, but when you go back, you’re so flustered you can’t even enjoy it. Now the kids have left the room, come into the living room and are further interrupting your time. Sound, about right? I know it does. Being reactive in that moment did nothing to stop them from fighting in the future. It did nothing to allow you to enjoy your show. It made you angry. It made them sad and feeling less than for being yelled at and nothing actually changes.

Now, let’s flip that around in being proactive. You are watching the movie or game. The kids are playing nicely and laughing. First, you need to recognize that and enjoy it. Be aware of what the hell is going on in your home. After you recognize it, press pause on the DVR or walk away from the game and go to the kid’s room. What if this came out of your mouth?

“Hey, sorry to interrupt you guys. It looks like you are having a lot of fun. I just wanted to say I really love it when you guys play well together. It makes me very happy and I know you guys like it too. Also, it let’s me watch my game in peace, and you know how much I love watching the game. So, THANK YOU! ENJOY!”

That took less than 30 seconds. You feel great and the kids are on cloud nine. Then you go back to your game and get more of the playing nicely, form the kids, for an extended time. Now, imagine if you did that consistently. Imagine if you focused on being aware and proactive constantly. What do you think would happen? You would consistently and constantly get the desired result. No, not always, but most of the time. Don’t believe me? Try it, if you dare!

The funny thing is, most people won’t try it. The reason is because it takes effort. It’s hard work. It requires you to be disciplined as a parent, to recognize the good stuff and acknowledge those things ten times more than you do the negative stuff. When you do, you get more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff to punish or “discipline,” as so many like to put it. It requires you to get up, pause the damn TV and possibly miss your favorite part of the movie or the game winning shot, that will be replayed on SportsCenter fifty times in the next hour. It requires you to stop thinking about yourself and truly think about others. It’s not just a sentiment for parenting. It goes for anything in your life.

To answer the question, “How do you discipline your kids?”

I respond, “I make sure I am disciplined in my life and as a good parent. I make sure I teach my children how to be disciplined in their approach to everything they do. When a consequence is necessary for some inappropriate behavior, the consequence is given and fits the crime. Then I look at where I could do better, to decrease the possibility that they do something stupid again. I look at how to prevent the wildfire instead of focusing on how to put it out.”

In the words of the great Smokey the Bear, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Start with yourself, be disciplined, and focus on being proactive. The rest will take care of itself.          

Antonio HarrisonComment