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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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How to discipline your child (Part 1): Punishment vs Redemption

“How do I discipline my child?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions that I’ve received since publishing, “Discipline: A U.S. Marine’s take on what it is and why we need it.” It’s a wise question because on one hand, discipline done right can influence positive behavior, solidify your relationship, and increase your child’s chances of succeeding in their life’s endeavors. On the other hand, discipline done wrong can have traumatic long-term effects, reduce confidence, and create a rift in your relationship that is incredibly difficult to mend. Here’s a brief overview of what I previously wrote so you’ll have context for my recommendations today. I encourage you to read (or listen to) the entire article!

Recap of “Discipline: A U.S. Marine’s take on what it is and why we need it.”

Discipline is training and preparing, not chastising and punishing.

If I were to break my idea of discipline down into its simplest form, I’d submit that discipline is a cyclical process where you learn from someone you trust, reenact what you learned (self-discipline), and teach what you’ve learned. The word discipline was tainted over time to incorporate “chastisement” or “punishment”; however, “discipline” originated from a word that describes a teacher presenting information that a pupil accepts.

Effective discipline leads to self-discipline.

We emphasize discipline because we want our children to apply what they learn in our absence. That’s self-discipline. You lead others to become self-disciplined by applying the following fundamentals:

  • Set the example!
  • Remember, it’s a team effort.
  • Create a structure for repetitive actions.
  • Be consistent and persistent.
  • Reward and hold accountable.
  • Prioritize education and explain the “why.”

Building upon this foundation.

I’ve read several books since I wrote my original article about discipline that have caused me to reflect on my own relationships at home and work. There are two specific books that I highly recommend to any parent, teacher, mentor, or caregiver. The first book is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown that talks about embracing our vulnerabilities. I honed in on her philosophy on how ineffective and harmful it is to “shame” others into compliance. The second book is Hold on to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Garbor Maté. Their thoughts on viewing every interaction with our children through the lens of connection or “attachment” resonated with me.

I’m going to intertwine some of the concepts from these two books, and use some of Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Maté’s principles of natural discipline (chapter 16) in Part 2; but first, I want to establish a baseline understanding. We must relinquish control of the outcome.

Relinquish control of the outcome.

Yes, this seems counterintuitive and potentially contradictory to what I have previously recommended. I admit that this can even seem like advice from a defeated father. Contrarily, I couldn’t be more inspired and motivated to deepen my relationship with my children as I lead them to become self-disciplined! I still believe that we should begin with the end in mind like Dr. Steven Covey recommends in his books; however, I believe we’ve become unhealthily obsessed with how our children will turn out. A combination of this obsession and failing to embrace our own vulnerabilities associated with what appears to be our children rejecting us can taint our relationships and diminish our influence.

Children are living beings… not robots. That means that no matter how much you attempt to control the environment or manipulate external factors, only the child can determine the person he or she will become in the future. I highlighted the words “manipulate” and “determine” because these two contrasting concepts underpin my entire philosophy. Another word for manipulate is “coerce,” which is to persuade someone to do something by using force or threats. This kind of leadership may actually be effective in getting your child to do what you perceive to be the right thing–garnering praise from the untrained eye.

I counter by explaining that this type of leadership usually restricts creativity, damages the relationship, and often develops individuals who are unable to solve complex problems–especially in the absence of direct supervision and guidance. The negative impact on the relationship is arguably the most crucial aspect because it creates a vulnerability for the child that is filled by immature people with no vested interest in the child’s success in today’s peer-oriented society.

The bottom line:

There’s no code you can enter that will develop your child into what you assess to be the perfect being. Attempting to do so will only cause emotional distress for you and your child.

Relinquishing control of the outcome isn’t an excuse to become disconnected or give up leading your children; it’s a freeing mindset and daily commitment to doing your best to mentor and guide your children without attempting to control their actions. Many metaphorically describe this phenomenon as “teaching a man to fish” or “leading a horse to water.” In both scenarios, you lead the individual towards what’s best for them, but you cannot attempt to force them to take a certain action. They must determine their own fate.

Punishment vs Redemption


This foundational belief or “baseline” is what forced me to reexamine my take on punishment. Oxford Languages describes “punishment” as “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense.” I cringe at the eerie parallels between that definition and what the United States Department of Justice describes as a “response to crime” within the criminal justice system construct. Therein, offenders are apprehended, tried, and punished. Some would argue that rehabilitation and restitution have received recent attention. However, the fact remains that “an estimated 68% of released prisoners are arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years.

This highlights that the crime-punishment methodology becomes cyclical, and it has the potential to condition one’s mind to persist in this dangerous cycle. For example, when my oldest daughter was three, her daycare implemented what was called “the red chair.” The teacher could send a child to the red chair for 1 minute of time-out for every year of the child’s age if he or she committed an offense. Well, there was this young man who loved to hit others. So much so, that he would hit someone and immediately begin walking to the red chair to serve his sentence…without being told. My wife and I still chuckle about this, but it is one of many examples of how punishments only lead to immediate compliance, not the change in behavior we seek.

A different approach.

Leading our children to become self-disciplined requires a different approach. This approach should help them recognize what they did wrong, understand why it is wrong, and determine they will not do it again. That’s why I encourage parents, teachers, mentors, and caregivers to remove the word “punishment” from their vernacular. Instead, teach your children that there are positive and negative consequences for our actions.

I also encourage leaders to implement rules and restrictions that keep the child focused on their daily priorities and maintaining a connection with those who share common values with the adult. As I’ve said before, there are a lot of people and things grasping for our children’s attention to influence their behavior. Either we can combat those influences or collaborate with them. Either way, we must be intentional about how we lead and guide our children.


My dad has always given me wise advice even if I pretended I wasn’t listening. One piece of advice he gave me was, “always give your children an opportunity to redeem themselves.” We cannot overlook this important note. To “redeem” is to regain possession of something. So what is lost when our children do something wrong? Nothing! No matter how frustrating their behavior may have been, you still love your child unconditionally. The problem is your child may perceive that they are disconnected from you, and their perception becomes their reality.

I’m not suggesting that we pamper each of our children’s fleeing emotions. This would be an exhausting and fruitless endeavor. However, we must be keenly aware of the moments our children feel disconnected from us. Strengthening the connection to our children should always be the focal point of any interaction with them. This leads us to our first principle of discipline in Part 2 of this series: Use connection, not separation, to bring a child into line.