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How to Discipline a Child, Stop Bullying, & Teach Ownership


Developing inner discipline seems like a lifelong process, especially for kids with challenging behaviors such as anxiety. Even as an adult, I continue to have to focus on discipline and will every day.

However, I know that discipline will give me more freedom in life. For that reason, my goal is to help my kids develop that same understanding and desire for discipline.

How to Discipline Your Child

I am reading a book called Kids Are Worth It by Barabara Coloroso. In this book, Ms. Coloroso described discipline as “giving life to a child’s learning.” Ms. Coloroso, an educator, author, and expert on child development. Her work resonates with me and my Montessori mindset in a big way especially when it comes to giving a child space and opportunity to develop inner discipline. In other words, much of Barbara’s approaches harkens back to aspects of Dr. Montessori’s philosophy that give children respect and allows children the room to lead her own development through experience and failure.

Related Read: The Secret to Positive Discipline – Why Time Outs Aren't Enough

Her start in education children involved a behavior modification approach that she had difficulty embracing in the real world. This experience gave way for her own ideology with parenting and educating children. In fact, she believes many of the parenting tactics – such as bribes, threats, rewards, and punishment – invasive in our society today interfere with raising ethical human beings.

Instead of Rewards, Bribes, Threats, & Punishment

Instead of rewards, bribes, threats, and punishment, help your child make progress with these three basic questions:

  1. Where am I at?
  2. Where am I going?
  3. What do I need to do to get there?

I like this approach from an executive function standpoint. For example, I asked my kids typically in the morning and the evening, these two questions:

  1. What is the most important thing you need to be doing right now?
  2. What are you forgetting?

Two simple prompts that help kids take responsibility for their tasks and their belongings.

The Difference Between Discipline & Punishment

Ms. Coloroso believes punishment takes away a child’s opportunity or ability to develop inner discipline. Furthermore, in many cases, punishment negatively impacts the dignity of a child.  Discipline, she writes, is not something we do to children but instead with children.

Effective Discipline for Kids

The process of discipline involves:

  1. showing children what they have done wrong
  2. giving them ownership of the problem
  3. helping them find ways to solve the problem
  4. leaving their dignity intact

Why Disciplining a Child is Important

  1. Kids are worth it in terms of our time, our energy, and our resources to help them become decent productive adults.
  2. The basic idea that you treat kids as you would want to be treated as a human being.
  3. If it works, it must leave the dignity of the child and of the adult intact.  In other words, adults are not doing things to a child that destroys a sense of self-worth (such as hitting a child).

Our goal should be a child who will stand up for the hard thing without reward. In other words, doing the hard thing when it costs a child. Furthermore, kids who do the right thing when it is hard to make that choice.

Children need to hear six critical life messages:

  1. I believe in you
  2. I trust you
  3. I know you can handle life situations
  4. You are listened to
  5. You are cared for
  6. You are important to me

A teenager looking unhappy

How Do Parents Raise Kids Willing to Stand Up at a Cost?

How do we raise children who are willing to stand up and do the hard thing without rewards and bribes?  Ms. Coloroso emphasizes letting kids know that they have agency, that they have a voice, & what they do matters a lot. In other words, your challenge is to raise kids who are not praised and reward dependent.

Easier said than done, right? So, how do we raise kids who are willing to do the hard thing?

By giving kids opportunities to make decisions and an opportunity to make mistakes. In other words, by holding kids accountable for their actions and leaning into the fact that their actions matter.

How to Give a Child Feedback

Ms. Coloroso professes three C’s when giving feedback based on the deed and not the child:

  1. Compliments – specific & label the deed, not the child
  2. Comments – basic observational and neutral statements
  3. Constructive criticism – attacks the problem, not the child, & focuses on what actions the child can take or changes the child can make to fix the problem

What Does it Mean to Hold a Child Accountable?

Giving a child choices and decisions that are age and ability appropriate based on the child.

So, start with responsibilities & decision making. Then move to increase the risk or cost of those responsibilities and decisions. Allow the child the opportunity to make a decision and to embrace responsibility.

Don’t question the child’s decision that you’ve offered to them. Ms. Coloroso says that “if it isn’t life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy…let it go. Stick with the big stuff.”

Age Appropriate & Ability Appropriate

You don’t ask a two-year-old if they want to go to bed or not because that is not a decision as two-year-old is ready to make. Instead, ask if he wants to go to bed with red pajamas or blue pajamas? Then you move to “here are two outfits, pick one”, and finally to “here is a day outfit and a night outfit, choose which you’d like to wear.”

Mistakes, Mischief, & Mayhem

First, let’s define these three missteps:

  • Mistake – a child spills a glass of milk while walking it to the sink. Own it, fix it, learn from it and move on.
  • Mischief – a child spills a glass of milk because he is upset he can’t have dessert because he didn’t finish his dinner.
  • Mayhem – a child knocks over his sibling’s glass of milk

More on How to Discipline a Child

There is so much more I want to address the work of Barbara Coloroso including online and offline bullying and sibling rivalry & bullying. Look for more to come from me on this topic.

In the meantime, here are a few resources to learn more about her work:

Thank you to The Knowledge Project & Shane Parrish for enlightening me to Ms. Coloroso’s work.

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