President James E. Faust said, "One of the most difficult parental challenges is to appropriately discipline children."
Sometimes our natural inclination to love our children can cloud our judgment regarding discipline. President Faust goes on to say, "Direction and discipline are . . . an indispensable part of child rearing. If parents do not discipline their children, then the public will discipline them in a way the parents do not like."
One of the most important elements of effective discipline is being credible as parents: we need to mean what we say, follow through with action, and be guided by love.
Are we credible?
Do our children know we will keep our word? If our children believe us when we say, "Because you came home late, you won't be allowed to go out next Friday night," we are credible, and that helps children learn to be responsible for their actions. If we are not credible, our attempts at discipline may end up being counterproductive.
Robert Lichfield, in an article found in the BYU publication Marriage & Families, says that sometimes the behavior problems we want to avoid actually come from our attempts at discipline that flounder. When we fail to follow through, say "no" too often, or when our own actions don't match up with what we expect from others, we can lose credibility as parents, which creates problems as we attempt to discipline.
What does "no" mean?
"One way parents can assess their level of credibility is to look at the word no" (23) in our parenting.
Does "no" mean what we want it to mean? Or does it mean to your child, "I just haven't asked enough times"? If our children believe we will keep our word, our discipline can be quick, effective, and loving.
Consequences and teaching
Children should learn their actions have consequences, either administered by us, or as a natural result of their behavior.
"Within reasonable limits, we need to let our children learn from natural consequences. If they leave their lunch at home, there is a natural consequence that will likely result in their being much more attentive to remembering to pick it up before they walk out the door in the morning" (Lichfield 26).
Discipline is about learning obedience, and sometimes a lesson can be taught simply by our staying out of the way.
Teach correct behavior
Effective discipline includes loving follow through as well as teaching children what they should do.
BYU researchers echo this: "The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina, meaning teaching, learning." Discipline shares a common root with the word disciple: "one who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of another." (Young et al. 13).
Just as we are true to our word and do what we say we will, we also need to teach children the positive things we hope to see in them.
Lichfield suggests that if we've lost credibility with our children, if they don't expect us to follow through on what we say we will do--we should "talk less and act more." (23). We need not remind or guilt trip or threaten our children, just administer consequences as non-emotionally as possible (Latham).
Lichfield suggests that sometimes not setting up a consequence before misbehavior occurs can be to a parent's advantage. Rather, simply letting a child know, "If you make those kinds of choices, there will be some consequences," can leave you flexible to deliver consequences that you have time to think through, are convenient and doable, and that best fit the particular situation (25-26).
Create a nurturing environment. Lichfield suggests there are three great times to set a nurturing tone in our home: in the morning as we all prepare to leave for the day, in the evening when we have the chance to listen and debrief about the day's important events with our children, and hopefully as the children come home from school. Pay special attention to making those times positive ones in your home.
Allow your children to experience (within reason) the natural consequences of their actions. When we fail to allow consequences, we undermine the learning process. Think of a rose: if you were to "help it bloom" by picking and pulling at it, it would never reach full bloom at all. Some things happen best naturally. Allowing your child to forget her lunch one day can teach what years of nagging may not.
Prayerfully consider the discipline in your home. Do you feel it is in balance with nurturing? Do you feel that, for the most part, you are a credible parent?
Robert Lichfield, in an article found in the BYU publication Marriage & Families, explains how important it is for parents to be true to their word. "When we consistently follow through, amazingly enough, we get consistent results" (23).
He also compares family life to the workplace: Imagine working in a place where you are not accountable. No one notices whether or not you are even present. It's likely you aren't going to try very hard. Then imagine a workplace low in nurturing: when you are working hard, no one responds. Families are like this: we need to create accountability and nurturing in order to get our children's best efforts.
If children get the right kind of nurturing, they will respond well to accountability. And it's our job, as parents, to provide an appropriate measure of each. (28).
Faust, James E. "The Greatest Challenge in the World Good Parenting", Ensign, November (1990): 31-34.
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 1994.
Lichfield, Robert. "Keeping Our Credibility as Parents." Marriage & Families Fall (2005): 22-28.
Young, K. Richard, Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An alternative to punishment. Marriage & Families August (2000): 9-15.