Disciplining Children in an Undisciplined World


Google child discipline and you get a long list of options that provide anything from information on parenting styles (i.e. authoritative, authoritarian, permissive) to DVD programs that claim to transform your children. Day after day I am asked by parents, “how to I get my child to behave?.” As the interview continues I discover we’re often talking about things like respecting adults and peers, being considerate of others, doing well in school, and a variety of other concerns along these lines.

After 5 years of doing this work,I have learned that positive parent-child interaction coupled with a dose of consistency goes along way when attempting to reach the goal of a well disciplined child.

In his book “The New Dare to Discipline,” Long time author and researcher, Dr. James Dobson talks about five underpinnings to common sense child rearing

1. Developing Respect

2.  Communicating after a disciplinary event

3.  Control without nagging

4.  Not saturating your child with materialism

5.  Establishing a balance between love and discipline

I could write a separate article on each of these five topics, but for now I’m going to explain each one briefly. In regard to developing respect,a child must learn to respect his or her parents, not to satisfy their egos, but because his relationship with them provides the basis for his later attitude toward other people. How do I teach respect, you ask? Model it, and be sure those your children are influenced by are good role models also. Your children, are always watching you.  In the preteen and teenage years they are strongly influenced by peers, be sure to monitor these relationships, but leave enough space for them to be independent and responsible in their decision making.

A parents demonstration of their authority builds respect like no other process, and the child will often reveal his affection after the initial tears have dried, this is why it is important to communicate after discipline. Too many times, parents assume their children have no interest in talking with them, after they have been disciplined, this is not always true.

If you are parent who fears your own outburst, when you are upset with your child, it’s important to remember that your child feels angry and destructive at times just like you do. They need to know that you can control yourself and respond positively, when they can’t  seem to control control themselves. Your calm positive response helps teach them self-control when under stress and over the long term helps develop good emotional intelligence.

Yelling and nagging is quiet possibly the most ineffective habit parents get into. This creates only chaos, and is a guise for control. Do not be deceived, yelling and nagging create an continual cycle of conflict, that often spirals out of control. Providing a more reasonable, consistent, and controlled response, perhaps in the form of a “response-cost”  behavioral program that uses positive reinforcement as a motivator, can be much more effective. For more information about this (see our site articles regarding time-out and shaping attention and behavior management).

How do you say no to your child’s materialistic desires? Know thine enemy.  In the words of Dr. Dobson, “Many American children are inundated with excesses that work toward their detriment—it has been said that prosperity offers a great test of character.” As parents, allow your children the opportunity to want something, by resisting the urge to give them everything for nothing. Teach them that things must me earned and provide appropriate opportunities for them to do those things.

Last, but not least, Establish a balance between love and discipline.  This is the foundation on which the entire parent-child relationship rest. Children need love form each parent, not just one. Therefore, Don’t undermine the other parents attempts at disciplinary action. This will cause the child to respect neither parent, because each parent has assassinated the authority of the other. Agree together how to balance love and discipline, stand together on the tough issues, and respond consistently.

Dobson, James, C. (1971/revised-reprinted 2011) The New Dare to Discipline. Tyndale House Publishers. Carol Stream, Illinois.

Jessica D. Cleveland M.S, NCC, LPC








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