Discipline: Top Do’s and Don’ts When Your Kids Won’t Listen

Some tips for mastering these key parenting skills
little girl in trouble drawing on wall

It’s a familiar drill. You’ve asked your child to do some task, but they flatly refuse to do it. You’ve tried all the tricks: You’ve used the “mom voice,” counted to three, and broken out all the stops, and your child still defies you. It’s enough to make any parent frustrated! 

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When it’s time to get serious and discipline your child, do you know if you’re disciplining them correctly? Are you sure you’re making the right choices? Where do you draw the line? 

Pediatrician Edward Gaydos, DO has some do’s and don’ts for you to follow when it comes time to discipline your little one.

1. Don’t view discipline as punishment

Discipline may feel as though you’re punishing your kids. However, discipline is more of a means of actively engaging with kids to help mold their moral character — a way to teach them right from wrong. And this is a skill that is vital to functioning in society.

“With discipline, we’re teaching our children self-control and restraint,” explains Dr. Gaydos. “Punishment is a direct, pointed penalty or a loss of privilege that serves as retribution.”

While discipline is far more effective than punishment, know that it does require a little more work. Just remember that it’s a process.

2. Do find opportunities for praise

It’s important to pay attention to what your child is doing that’s good, and recognize that aloud to your child, Dr. Gaydos advises.

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Make an effort to notice when your child is actively engaged in appropriate behaviors, “being good,” and compliment them accordingly. Giving positive attention to good behavior can go a long way. It can help mold your child’s behavior, but it can also build their confidence in themselves too.

“Take the time to listen fully to what your child has to say, and agree when appropriate. If you disagree, say so. Make sure you take the time to let them know why,” Dr. Gaydos says.

Parents who are available to, and show empathy toward, their children serve as excellent role models, he notes. Communication is always the key.

3. Do set limits and keep them

We all have to abide by limits in our world, and your child needs to understand those boundaries too. Take the time to let youngsters and adolescents know the appropriate behaviors you expect from them. But once you set your limit, be sure to stick to it. A good example of this is setting a curfew.

“We set these limits, then we follow through with them,” says Dr. Gaydos. “If your child falters, they should know that there will be a consistent, expected consequence. There are no surprises, no new negotiations and no retractions.”

4. Do be specific

Assuming your child should know what you want and not being clear about what you expect in advance will lead to frustrations for both you and your child. Set clear, realistic limits with your child. And be specific with goals.

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“Warning children, ‘You better be good,’ is too broad and general a message,” says Dr. Gaydos. Being specific with tasks — like letting them know exactly what “good” looks like — helps them understand what’s expected of them. Good may mean not interrupting an adult who’s speaking, for example, or not running through a crowded airport. 

5. You’re their parent, not their buddy

It may be tempting to treat your kids like they’re your best friend. But kids need you to lead and teach them as they grow. Disciplining your child and setting limits will instill confidence as they learn to navigate through life.

“With discipline, we’re not passive observers suddenly required to react. We’re actively involved as teachers,” says Dr. Gaydos. “It’s an ongoing process and requires work.”

But disciplining will pay dividends as you watch your youngster grow, become more confident and develop a good moral compass.

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