Parenting, Mission: Possible

By Caroline Taylor

I know you have all read books, looked on line, or asked a friend or relative about discipline. It’s a hot topic among parents, teachers and kids. It seems that everyone has a different idea of what works and what is right.

Your dad may say, “In my day, when someone acted like that, he would get the belt.
The teacher may say, “Time out is the key; that’s what we use in the classroom.”
Your grandmother may say, “ Spare the rod and spoil the child…what’s wrong with a little candy to get him to brush his teeth every morning.”

In reality, it’s your child. You probably know what works and what doesn’t with her. Sometimes you may face challenges and feel like NOTHING works. Here are a couple of pointers I have used through the years…with my children and in my practice.

Remember Maslow:
Think back to college, intro psychology, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: Physiological needs (air, food, water, excretion), Safety needs (the desire to be out of danger), and the need for Love and Belonging. It’s specifically important when disciplining to do a mental check to make sure all of these needs are being met for your child. If they aren’t, it will be a lot more difficult for your child to listen and make good choices.

Sleep is key; is your child getting enough sleep every night? American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 9-12 hours of sleep for school age children. Lack of sleep can actually manifest and mirror symptoms of ADHD.

Keep your child’s tank full with healthy, low sugar snacks and drinks to minimize acting out due to hunger or thirst.

Establish Rules and Consequences or Rewards with the child if age appropriate:
Word rules outlining specific expectations in a positive tone. For example: “Don’t hit” or “Be nice to your sister” Should be: “Keep your hands and feet to yourself.”

Have a manageable number of rules, depending on the age of the child. 3-4 rules for a 3-5 year old, 4-5 for young school age children; increase as necessary.

Have the consequence match the offence. Keep consequences natural and logical. Having the child help develop the consequences is always good, if the child is old enough.

Some children work well with a rewards program instead of consequences. Psychological studies show that using a reward system works better than consequences to get favorable behavior outcomes.

Be consistent:
Implement a behavior routine that works for your family and stick with it. Some times may be harder than others; summer and weekends for instance. Children thrive when they have a structured environment and know what to expect. Keep a regular routine and follow it as closely as possible.
Follow through with consequences without giving too many warnings. I’ve been there too, saying something like “You have one more chance to go put your toys away or…” The more you give chances the less likely the child will listen to you in the future.

Remember my 3 week rule…It typically takes at least 3 weeks for a new routine stick. The first couple weeks may be the hardest; but the results will be a pay off.

Watch your language:
So many times a parent words commands in question form without knowing. For example, I was at the park with my son and saw a mother repeatedly trying to get her child to leave. She kept saying, “It’s time to go, ok” “Mommy has to go home and make dinner, ok” In the child’s mind he is hearing a question. Too often parents end statements to their child with the word OK. I can just hear the little boy’s thoughts…No, it’s not ok! I want to stay! If you want to add a little something on the end of a command try, “Do you understand” or “Did you hear me”. With older kids it works well to say, “What did you just understand me saying”; if you’re concerned the child is not listening.

State your expectations clearly and don’t negotiate.

Reserve yelling for true emergencies. I try to imagine a switch, in my child’s ear, that automatically turns off when yelling takes place. Sure, it’s easier to yell, “Get down these stairs, we’re late for school!” But, much more effective to walk up the stairs look your child in the eye and use a normal tone of voice.

Obviously, discipline encompasses a lot of time in the life of a mom! There are as many perspectives on discipline as there are children. The above suggestions are broad ideas that will hopefully help you in your parenting journey.

I realize this piece may be the tip of the iceberg! If you have questions or would like me to further explain something, email me at I may feature your question in my next column!

Ms. Taylor obtained a Bachelor of Science in Child Development from Florida State University focusing on Child Life. After graduating she worked with children and families coping with terminal and chronic illness in the hospital and an outpatient setting.

She received a Master of Education in Counseling from Auburn University while working as a counseling intern at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Counseling and Wellness Center. She worked as a counseling intern at University of Alabama at Birmingham counseling and wellness center. Before opening her private practice, Ms. Taylor worked with children and families in various diverse settings from community mental health and outpatient psychotherapy to in home intensive family restoration.

She specializes in:

  • children,
  • adolescents
  • individuals
  • challenged families
  • parent training
  • trauma recovery in children
  • helping families to cope with transitions such as divorce or death.

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