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How to discipline your child (Part 2): Six Principles of Discipline

The six principles of discipline.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we discussed how “punishment” and “redemption” relates to discipline. Now we will dive into the six principles of discipline.

Principle #1. Use connection, not separation, to bring a child into line.

I know there are plenty of times when I just want to say, “Get out of my face” when my children do something wrong. Whether it’s my frustration with the incident or a feeling that sending them away will teach them a lesson, I should consider the potential unintended negative effects of this action. In essence, we are teaching our children that their connection to us is conditions-based. Thus, they should expect separation if they violate the conditions of this unspoken “agreement.”

Aside from the psychological reasons, children, like all other mammals, learn through imitation. By banishing them, we teach them to disregard other people when they disapprove of them. In reality, our focus should be on separating the human from the deficiency with the belief that humans, including our children, are generally well-meaning beings. Separating the human from the deficiency does not mean we shouldn’t hold our children accountable for their actions; it means we should never identify our children by their deficiencies.

With that said, I’m not saying we cannot take a moment of separation to gather ourselves when we’re frustrated–we’re still humans. I’m suggesting we should eliminate reactions that isolate the child from the adults responsible for grooming and guiding them. Remember, it’s your responsibility to maintain a connection with your child.

Connection before direction.

Hold on to Your Kids

Establishing the connection: Key concepts.

Establishing the connection requires us to apply some basic fundamentals. Remember, every child is different, so they require a unique approach.

  • Communication: Effective communication is key. Listen actively and express yourself clearly. Be aware of non-verbal cues like body language and tone, and adjust accordingly.
  • Contact: Be in the moment. Eye contact and physical touch make a huge difference. Practice embracing your child everyday so this contact will feel natural when it is time to correct the child.
  • Find common and relatable interests: Find shared interests or hobbies to bond over. It helps create a sense of belonging. Nobody likes a long, irrelevant lecture.
  • Respect: Respect your child’s time, intellect, and intelligence. Do not be rude or condescending. Respect their beliefs and opinions, and gently guide them as required.
  • Openness: Be open to their ideas, feelings, and experiences. Being judgmental will cause them to shut down. Encourage open dialogue while teaching them the proper tone and time to provide an alternative opinion.
  • Vulnerability: Be transparent, and share your thoughts and feelings– even if they make you feel uncomfortable. Transparency and embracing each other’s vulnerabilities can deepen the relationship.
  • Trust your instinct: We are naturally wired to nurture, care for, and protect our children. We know what’s best for them and will do everything to protect them. Trust that both of you share an innate desire for love, connection, and closeness.
  • Patience: Building a connection will take time. Be patient and allow your relationship to develop naturally.

Principle #2. When problems occur, work the relationship, not the incident.

This point cannot be overlooked or understated; however, it’s easier said than done. We should teach our children that condemning (giving strong disapproval of) their actions is not condemning them. The challenge is we are simultaneously teaching them to accept responsibility for their actions–a critical component of self-discipline. Therefore, we should teach them how and why what they did was wrong, show them the right way, and recognize them when they do the right thing. The goal is to break the repeated wrongful act before it becomes a habit and the habit becomes their identity. I wrote more about habit creation here: Establishing Winning Habits.

Here’s my advice (with an example):

  • Don’t make excuses: “You lied about that because…”
  • Don’t attack the person: “You’re a liar because…”
  • Highlight the wrong without connecting the wrong to their identity: “The lie you told was wrong, but it is not indicative of who you are as a person.”

Principle #3. Emotions, ego, and embarrassment.

I challenge you to check what I call “the three E’s” when you’re preparing to interact with your child.

  • How does your child’s action make you feel? Be in tune with your current emotional state and address that before addressing your child.
  • Why do you feel that emotion? Did the child’s action impact your perception of yourself (ego)? This is where identifying, understanding, and embracing our vulnerabilities helps us to avoid lashing out at our children or attempting to shame them into submission.
  • Are you responding because they publicly embarrassed you? This is a parenting reality. Our children, especially toddlers, aren’t selective of when and where they demonstrate poor behavior. The infamous meltdown in the grocery store is a perfect example of this. If we’re not careful, we quickly react out of embarrassment instead of love. Our intuitive reaction to embarrassment is to build a formidable defense against the one causing the embarrassment. We do this to regain status in whatever environment we are in at that time. The problem is that the psychological (and sometimes physical) defense we build severs the connection with our child which isolates them and worsens the situation. I’ll talk about this a little more later.

Principle #4. Solicit good intentions instead of demanding good behavior.

We’ve all been there–we’ve excused our own behavior based upon intentions while demanding perfection from others. This is not only counterproductive, but it creates a toxic, no-win environment for our children. Start by recognizing and encouraging your child’s desire to do the right thing. This is extremely hard to do in the heat of the moment, so it’s best to practice this daily before your child does something wrong. Again, this is not an attempt to excuse poor behavior; rather, it is a method to impact the root of self-discipline–a will to do the right thing regardless of circumstances.

Principle #5. Impulsivity and self-control.

There’s a positive correlation between impulsivity and our emotional state. This is something that we intuitively know. The more disarranged our emotional state becomes, the more impulsive we are. Like us, our children sometimes express their emotions with rash speech or behavior with little to no forethought or acknowledgement of how their words and actions impact those around them (including you). Though you should immediately address the behavior, the long-term goal is to teach your child emotional control. Teach them to acknowledge and validate their feelings, take a deep breath to calm down, and develop/execute a plan to solve the problem causing the emotion.

Download my free Three Day Mental Health Guide: Major Payne Edition for more advice on building mental resiliency and emotional control at

Principle #6. The fourth “E”: Environment

I’ve already highlighted that we should check the three E’s (emotions, ego, and embarrassment) before interacting with our children. I’ve also described how our children are susceptible to the three E’s. There’s a fourth “E” that can either tranquilize or inflame an unstable situation–environment.

Many believe it’s best to make on-the-spot corrections. These kind of corrections are sometimes necessary and even useful. There are other times when these kind of corrections make the situation worse simply because you negatively impacted the child’s other three E’s. My advice is that, unless you need immediate conformity (e.g. there’s a dangerous situation), it’s best to isolate your child to have the discussion. This allows you to connect with them and talk to them instead of talking at them.

My embarrassing example.

I’ll share an embarrassing example. My son had a break-away run while playing flag football last season. The nearest person was more than ten yards away with no chance of stopping him before he scored the touchdown. Noticing this, he began to high-step while placing his l-shaped hand on his forehead and looking over his shoulder at the nearest defender. The referee threw the flag and called back the touchdown for “taunting.” I was floored! I couldn’t believe that my son, who I previously told he’d get his team penalized for taunting, was now getting his team penalized for taunting.

I moved closer to the field as I turned off my camera. Another mom said, “Get him, Dad” as I moved closer to the field–further hyping my planned on-the-spot correction. “Jacob!” I yelled. “Cut that crap out, and play ball! You know better than that!” There I was, pointing and yelling at my son from the sidelines like a deranged lunatic. It seemed effective in the moment, but I cringe as I reminisce about that moment because it was ineffective and embarrassing to me, Jacob, and my entire family. The worst part is I publicly created a rift between myself and my child. Oops! Needless to say, I apologized after the game and began restoring the connection.

Mistakes will happen, but keep trying!

Ironically, I’m sharing this embarrassing story as encouragement. None of us are perfect, and we shouldn’t entertain a delusional belief that we will do everything right and lead our children to perfection. Do your best! Discipline takes time, but through your consistent connection and strong desire to lead your children with love, you will help them achieve self-discipline and grow into well-rounded adults.

I believe in you!

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