Parenting Tips > Raise a Self-Disciplined Child

Why Loving Guidance Raises a Better Behaved Child

All children "misbehave" sometimes, and all parents wonder how to stop the misbehavior.  But that's only half of our mission as parents.  The other half is raising a child who internalizes our guidance to become "self-disciplined."  The most effective "discipline"  for your child is always positive, loving, gentle guidance. Here's why.

Why Positive Parenting?

Children misbehave when they feel bad about themselves and disconnected from us. The word "Discipline" means to teach, which raises the question of how kids learn how to behave. Research shows that children learn best when they feel heard and valued, not when they feel on the defensive. Here's how to use loving guidance, so you can get out of the discipline business altogether.  (Read article.)

How to Use Positive Parenting

Your ten-step guide to putting positive parenting to work in your house, from setting limits effectively to weaning yourself off yelling and punishment.  (Read article.)

What's Wrong with Strict Parenting?

Most parents assume that strict parenting produces better-behaved kids.  However, research studies on discipline consistently show that strict, or authoritarian, child-raising actually produces unhappy kids who feel bad about themselves and behave worse than other kids -- and therefore get punished more!  Here's why.  (Read article.)

What's Wrong with Permissive Parenting?

Infants' wants are identical to their needs.  But over time, that changes. Toddlers' wants are often in direct opposition to their long-term developmental needs and safety.  When parents don't make that developmental leap and learn to set limits, their children don't develop the ability to tolerate frustration or to manage themselves. These children are often referred to by others as “spoiled.”  (Read article.)

How to Set Effective Limits with Your Child

Setting limits is an important part of parenting. Limits keep our children safe and healthy and socialize them enough so that they can function happily in society. And if we do it right, our kids will internalize the ability to set limits for themselves, which is otherwise known as self-discipline. Why neither permissiveness nor strictness works, and how to chart an effective middle course.  (Read article.)

What's Wrong with Timeouts?

Why timeouts are vastly better than hitting, but sabotage your child's development and create power struggles -- and what to do instead.  (Read article.)

Why Consequences are Just More Ineffective Punishment

Why consequences, as used by most parents, create defiant children and teach all the wrong lessons -- and what to do instead.  (Read article.)

Should You Spank Your Child?

If your parents used spanking as a discipline method growing up, you may have reconciled yourself to their behavior by justifying it: You came out ok. You may even think there is no other choice for managing kids who are "a handful." How else do kids learn? We now have a wealth of studies on how spanking affects kids. The research shows clearly that children do indeed learn from spanking, but they don't learn what we want them to.  (Read article.)

Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child

Breaking a child's will is a betrayal of the spiritual contract we make as parents to nurture our child's unique gifts. That said, strong-willed kids can be a handful -- high energy, challenging, persistent.  How do we protect those fabulous qualities and still encourage their cooperation -- without going crazy?  (Read article.)

For Parents: Handling Your Own Anger

All parents get angry at their children. We're all wounded in some way from our own childhoods, and our kids surface all those wounds. It doesn’t help that there are always the endless pressures of life: appointments we’re late to, things we’ve forgotten until too late, health and financial worries -- the list is endless. In the middle of that hectic momentum, enter our child, who has lost her sneaker, suddenly remembered she needs a new notebook for school today, is teasing her little brother, or is downright belligerent. And we snap. In our calm moments, if we’re honest, we know that we could handle any parenting moment much better from a state of calmness. But in the storm of our anger, we feel righteously entitled to our fury. How can this kid be so irresponsible, inconsiderate, ungrateful? Here's how to handle yourself so you can handle your child.  (Read article.)

For Parents: Healing Yourself

The bad news is that virtually all of us were wounded as children, and if we don't heal those wounds, they prevent us from parenting our children optimally. If there’s an area where you were scarred as a child, you can count on that area causing you grief as a parent. But the good news is that being parents gives us an opportunity to heal ourselves. Most parents say that loving their children has transformed them: made them more patient, more compassionate, more selfless. Our children have an unerring ability to show us our wounded places, they draw out our unreasonable fears and angers. Better than the best zen master or therapist, our children give us the perfect opportunity to grow and heal. Almost magically, as our wounds transform, we find that these hurt places inform us, motivate us, make us better parents.  (Read article.)


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Want to explore the research behind this approach? My favorite resource is the index of Alfie Kohn's wonderful book Unconditional Parenting, which lists hundreds of peer-reviewed studies that support this view. That's a wealth of research. I refer readers here because you get a synopsis of peer-reviewed research from a credible academic, and you get the citations to track the studies down if you want to. But here are a few studies to get you started. More are being published every day.

Burhans, Karen Klein, and Carol S. Dweck. “Helplessness in Early Childhood: The Role of Contingent Worth.” Child Development 66 (1995): 1719-38.

Chapman, Michael, and Carolyn Zahn-Waxler. “Young Children’s Compliance and Noncompliance in Parenting.” In Marc H. Bornstein, ed., Handbook of Parenting, vol. 4, Applied and Practical Parenting. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1995.

Dienstbier, et al. “An Emotion-Attribution Approach to Moral Behavior.” Psychological Review 82 (1975): 299-315.

Hoffman, Martin. “Power Assertion by the Parent and Its Impact on the Child.” Child Development 31 (1960): 129-34.

Hoffman, Martin. “Moral Development.” In Carmichael’s Manual of Child Psychology, 3rd ed., vol. 2, edited by Paul H. Mussen. New York: Wiley, 1970b. 285-6

Assor, Avi, Guy Roth, and Edward L. Deci. “The Emotional Costs of Parents’ Conditional Regard: A Self-Determination Theory Analysis.” Journal of Personality 72 (2004): 47-89.

Grolnick, Wendy S. The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2003.

Hoffman, Marin, and Herbert D. Saltzstein. “Parent Discipline and the Child’s Moral Development.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 5 (1967): 45-57.

Cohen, Patricia, and Judith S. Brook. “the Reciprocal Influence of Punishment and Child Behavior Disorder.” In Coercion and Punishment in Long-Term Perspectives, edited by Joan McCord. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Kandel, Denise B., and Ping Wu. “Disentangling Mother-Child Effects in the Development of Antisocial Behavior.” In Coercion and Punishment in Long-Term Perspectives, edited by Joan McCord. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Gershoff, Elizabeth Thompson. “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associate Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analysis and Theoretical Review.” Psychological Bulletin 128 (2002): 539-79.

Gordon, Thomas. Teaching Children Self-Discipline…At Home and at School. New York: Times Books, 1989.

Hoffman, Martin. “Conscience, Personality, and Socialization Techniques.” Human Development 13 (1970a): 90-126.

Sears, Robert R., Eleanor E. Maccoby, and Harry Levin. Patterns of Child Rearing. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1957.

Stormshak, et al “Parenting Practices and Child Disruptive Behavior Problems in Early Elementary School.” Journal of Clinical Child
Psychology 29 (2000): 17-29.

Straus, Murray A. “Children Should Never, Ever, Be Spanked, No Matter What the Circumstances.” In Current Controversies on Family Violence, 2nd ed., edited by Donileen R. Loseke, Richard J. Gelles, and Mary M. Cavanaugh. London: Sage, 2004.

Straus, Murray A., David B. Sugarman, and Jean Giles-Sims. “Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 151 (1997): 761-67.

Straus, Murray A. Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effects on Children. 2nd ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2001.

Toner, Ignatius J. “Punitive and Non-Punitive Discipline and Subsequent Rule-Following in Young Children.” Child Care Quarterly 15 (1986): 27-37.