Annoyed, you shout and, worse, feel yourself getting angry and nearing a power struggle. Then come the threats — no TV for a week, no friends visiting for a month, and whatever else you can think of in your fury. The incident costs everyone dearly: Your child feels angry and demoralized, and you feel like anything but a loving parent. And for what? A pile of clothes in need of a washing machine.
Later that evening, during a quiet moment at the kitchen table, you think back to what happened — and what has been happening for months now. You wish you had used more effective communication and question whether you love your child any more, whether you’re a fit parent. Don’t worry: You do and you are.
You’re feeling the emotional turmoil and stinging regret every parent experiences when trying to love and discipline a child. Here are some strategies that will help you feel less like an ogre and more like a mom the next time your child needs some “enlightenment”:
Discuss why it’s wrong. Make sure your child understands how his action — or inaction — has hurt someone or goes against the grain of your expectation. Then ask him if he thinks it would be a good idea to apologize, suggesting that he would probably want the same courtesy extended to him if his feelings had been hurt.
Be reasonable when grounding. If your child or teen abuses a privilege, remove the privilege — briefly. Depriving a teen access to the cell phone for a month because she exceeded the plan’s calling minutes is overkill. She is your daughter after all, not a criminal. Withdrawing the privilege for a short time — and allowing your teen to “earn” it back by developing a credible game plan for not abusing the privilege next time — teaches the necessary lesson.
Say it a couple of ways. Different kids respond to direction in different ways. When giving your child a task—such as putting his CDs back in their cases—state it two ways. Say, “I’d like you to stop leaving your CDs all over your desk. You paid good money for them, and you want to take care of them, right?” Then state the same request in a positive way: “Please put your CDs into their cases.” Chances are, he will get the message.
Schedule pit stops. Racecar drivers periodically pull their cars into the pit — to change tires, add fuel, and talk over race strategy with the pit crew. Do the same with your child when things get tense and you feel the urge to yell. Tell her you want to have a pit stop — a private conversation in a quiet area of the home where nobody will interrupt — or, better yet, at her favorite coffee place. Scheduling pit stops cuts off an ugly exchange that you will regret later.
Figure out a better way. Turn discipline moments into learning opportunities. Remind your teen that we all make mistakes, then invite him to brainstorm better ways to deal with a similar temptation or stress in the future. Listen to his ideas and value his input. It shouldn’t just be your way or the highway.
Encourage a redo. When your child screws up, patiently reenact the situation — doing it the right way. If your child spills a glass of soda while clowning around at the table, have her wipe up the mess and pour another glass. Then ask her to place the glass in a better location on the table and be on her best behavior.
Take a moment. Count to 10 before opening your mouth; it will short-circuit a great deal of verbal nastiness.
Strengthen the bond. The best discipline combines a firm expectation of how to behave or act, along with basic respect for the worth and dignity of your child. Bedtime tuck-ins, listening to her concerns, empathizing with her feelings, and defending your child when necessary all show that you are more than a drill sergeant. You’re a loving parent.
Reaffirm your love. Always remind your child, no matter what she’s done, how much you love her. Love and leadership are the twin functions of effective parenting — so make it clear that disciplining her doesn’t diminish your affection for her.