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5 Strategies to Refresh Family Discipline and Restore Calm

Are your discipline techniques up to the challenge of everyday life with kids? Here are five ways to change things up and bring back sanity.

By
Cheryl Butler,
Episode #546
restore calm

Raising kids is a joy, but it also comes with obstacles. Disrespectful kids, defiant interactions, broken rules—they're all part of normal family life. Are your discipline techniques up to the challenge? Here are five discipline strategies you can use to restore peace and calm in your daily life.

1. Take time for a reality check

The best gift you can give to yourself and your family is to “get real” with an open and honest reality check. Set aside a quiet chunk of time and reflect on what’s going well and what’s not in your family’s day-to-day life. Are homework struggles now part of your norm? Are your kids slacking off on daily chores? Are back talk and sassy attitudes part of the mix?

As our kids get older, they quickly learn to buck the rules to their advantage. Your fourth-grade daughter may have been happily on-board with walking the dog every day after school. But now that she’s in seventh grade, hanging out with friends is higher on her priority list, so her attention to her usual chores has gone right out the window.

You're confronted with new options:

  • Accept the change and begrudgingly take up the slack yourself
  • Give your child a piece of your mind and dictate that she’s going to do exactly what she’s told to do—like it or not
  • Have a heart-to-heart and acknowledge her feelings first, then reinforce that being part of a family means contributing 

Which method do you usually choose? Is it working for you? It may be time to change your approach.

Sit down with your family to make the time to review what needs to happen to promote household harmony. Get everyone's input and ideas so you can create a new plan that's realistic and doable for all. 

2. Review your parenting style

In my episode about parenting styles, we looked at the most common approaches parents take to raising their kids. The concept of parenting styles was introduced by Diane Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist, to explain differences in the way parents attempt to control and socialize their children.

Which of these styles do you see yourself fitting?

Helicopter parents constantly hover over their children—just like a helicopter! They monitor their kids excessively and jump in whenever they see a potential problem.

Free-range parents encourage their children to move through the world independently and with very little parental supervision. The amount of supervision a child receives usually aligns with his age group.

Lawnmower parents mow obstacles down so kids don’t have to struggle. Instead of preparing their children for challenges, they go to great lengths to prevent them from having to face adversity or failure.

Permissive parents are loving and responsive to their childrens' needs, but they don’t have many boundaries. They prefer to avoid confrontation, so discipline isn't a priority.

If you're locked into a style that isn't working, now is the time to reassess and change paths to find one that better suits your family’s lifestyle. By being honest with yourself, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

3. Create house rules

Though I’ve always considered myself a rule-follower, the idea of creating a set of family rules seemed corny. However, when my kids were entering their tween years, I relied on the advice of a family friend. She's a psychologist, and she explained that creating and posting family rules was a great way to encourage my kids to be more compliant.

Good rule-setting exchanges "Because I said so" for "Here's why this is important."

With my eight kids, I learned that if I allowed them to get away with bad behavior—like slacking off, back-talk, or whining—I could kiss any chance of raising a well-behaved child goodbye.  There’s no question that it’s easier to give in and let them watch TV instead of doing their homework, especially when you’re in the middle of making dinner and they’re wearing on your last nerve. It's always tempting to bribe a crying kid with a new toy or treat to get them to stop crying in the store and save yourself some embarrassment. It happens to the best of us! But if you invest the time in setting family rules, and state them consistently for your kids, you can turn that rotten behavior around.

House rules make it so you don’t have to overcomplicate things with lectures and lengthy explanations each time there's a discipline breach. Let's say your rule is "No TV time before school" and you find your kids firing up Netflix, anyway. Time to invoke the house rule!

"What's our house rule about TV before school?"

"It's not allowed because it might make us late."

"That's right. Please turn off the TV and get ready for school."

Discuss your house rules with your kids so they understand why they benefit everybody. Good rule-setting exchanges "Because I said so" for "Here's why this is important."

In our house, our rules have changed as the kids have grown—house rules can be flexible. The great part is that the rules give kids structure and let them know what's expected no matter what stage of their lives they're navigating.   

See also: Ten Healthy Habits to Strengthen Your Family

4. Generate positive energy

Positive energy is contagious! When you constantly take in the positive energy from your surroundings, it will be visible in the outer world. You get what you give. When you start your mornings off on a positive note, those gestures lay the foundation for their upcoming day. But it's easy to slip into a negativity rut, and that can ultimately make your children negative and uncooperative.

When you start your mornings off on a positive note, those gestures lay the foundation for their upcoming day.

At one time, I was overwhelmed with a hectic schedule. We were running from activity to activity, challenged to find time for family meals and togetherness. We slipped into a dark hole that led to short tempers. Even the most routine interactions—having breakfast and getting out the door for school and work—turned gloomy.

I finally realized that I was part of the problem. If you find it challenging to maintain a positive outlook, take heart. It’s possible to learn how to give off that positive energy on a permanent basis. I changed my entire mindset and got into a more positive groove, which was ultimately contagious for my entire family. Here’s how:

  • I woke up every day and got myself into a grateful state of mind by reflecting on the many great things going in my family’s life.
  • I took a 20-minue power walk in my neighborhood before the rest of the family got up so I could focus on all the good in my life. (And here's a bonus: Exercise is scientifically proven to reduce stress!)
  • I focused on one goal that made me feel inspired and happy (reading a new book, writing in my daily goal journal, making a fun new muffin recipe) and used that as my foundation for helping my family have a great day.
  • I played upbeat music every morning when my kids got out of bed and prepared for school.

There are hundreds of ways you can get yourself into a positive mindset every day. Once you get into this habit, it will become the norm for your morning routine, and you can become a conduit for the rest of your family. This can change your family dynamic in awesome ways ... for life!

5. Commit to non-yelling

Let's be totally honest. We're all parents here, and that means, at one time or another, we’ve raised our voice or yelled at our kids. The reasons for parental yelling vary, but the bottom line is this—somehow, we feel that yelling will get our kids' attention and get them to behave or comply with our wishes.

As a mother of eight for the past 26 years, I can tell you that yelling never, ever works the way you want it to.

In Psychology Today’s Why Not to Yell in a Nutshell, Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. says “Instead of viewing yelling as a way of controlling your child, you need to see yelling for what it really is—an expression of anger. Yelling is an adult temper tantrum.”

Ouch!

So, if yelling isn't the way to peaceful family interactions—shocker!—what is?

Parent as though someone is always watching

Several years ago, I was making dinner and asked my son to put the dog out. I wanted to pull the ribs out of the oven without Molly jumping all over me. My son dutifully complied but left the door open. The moment I set the ribs on the counter, the dog flew back in and grabbed them. It was an honest mistake, but I was furious and screamed at my son and everyone else in the house. 

My yelling was bad enough, but what I didn’t realize was that a neighbor had been standing at our front door the whole time. I was mortified!

From that night on, I decided I would try to never embarrass my kids or myself like that again. I began reminding myself to parent like someone was always watching. This forces me stop, take a breath, and then deliver my message without sounding like a crazy person.

Turn your voice into a whisper

Even when you're not angry, you may find yourself yelling “Get in the car! We're late for practice!” If you make a softer voice a habit, you'll be less prone to yell at other times, too.

When I turn the volume down and whisper to my kids, it gets their attention immediately. They know I have something important to say. 

Catch them doing good

This is one of my favorite strategies. Our tendency is to focus on what our kids do wrong. That's inherently negative.

About 15 years ago, the teachers at my kids' elementary school implemented a new system called “Getting Caught.” The teachers would be on the lookout for good things the students were doing. They'd "catch them in the act" and give them a written citation explaining the good behavior.

These included a teacher observing a student befriending a new kid on the playground, or a child sharing his snack with someone who didn’t have one that day. It might’ve been noticing a child who exhibited a lot of patience waiting in a long line or a child who raised his hand instead of interrupting. The majority of the students wanted to rise to the occasion and practice good behavior because it felt great to be noticed for doing something positive.

That new policy made a big impression on me. I've implemented the strategy in my home. I’m genuine with my praise when one of my kids does something good (especially if he or she has had trouble with it in the past). My consistent praise for good actions has rubbed off on my kids, and it shows in how they treat their siblings and friends.

So catch your kids in the act of doing something good and them let them know it. 

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