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Did you know that it takes experiencing a new skill approximately 2,000 times in a variety of contexts before it becomes part of your role memory? What does this have to do with discipline? Well, it takes a child as many times to learn a discipline rule as it does to learn the color red.

The word discipline comes from the word disciple, which means "to teach".

In other words, if we "discipline" our children, we must "teach" them.

The very large majority of parents want their children to exhibit self-discipline and to have a positive self-esteem. You can do that by using techniques that discourage the use of control and/or fear. "A psychological truth: the more you use power to try to control people, the less real influence you will have on their lives. Power methods create resistance, rebellion or lying." (Gordon, 1989) Power methods do not work with adults; why should they work with children?

Here are some techniques that may be helpful (Remember it will also take you approximately 2,000 times before it becomes rote; therefore, don't give up after your first try).

Engaging Cooperation:

  • Describe what you see or describe the problem, without using judgmental statements. When grownups describe the problem it gives the child a chance to tell themselves what to do and correct the problem.

  • Say it with a word. Children dislike hearing lectures and long explanations. The shorter the reminder, the better.

  • Talk about your feelings. Make no comment about the child's character or personality. Children are entitled to hear their parents' honest feelings. Use words like "I" or "I feel..."


Alternatives to Punishment:

  • State your expectations clearly and simply so the child understands what his/her expectations are.

  • Show the child how to make amends without attacking the child's character or personality.

  • Give the child a choice. Give two valid choices that are acceptable to you. Example: "You may eat with your fork or your spoon. Which do you choose?" Be careful of the choice vs. non-choice. Example: "You may eat with your fork or go sit in your room and not get dinner." This is not a choice unless it is perfectly acceptable to you that the child sit in his/her room without dinner.

  • Avoid threats. Discipline problems occur as a result of conflict between the adults and child's needs and/or wants. As a result this puts you and the child automatically into a power struggle. You may eventually win the battle, but at the cost of your child's self-esteem and your emotional well-being. If you find yourself using a threat, "If you don't keep your hands to yourself, we are going home!" You better be prepared to go home; otherwise you will be repeating the threat and upping the ante before it is all over. Try using a valid choice as opposed to a threat.



  • Describe what you see instead of evaluating. "I see you picked up all your toys and put them away. A lot of work has been done and it's a pleasure to walk into this room." Try to stay away from evaluative statements such as "good boy/girl" or "this looks nice."

  • Describe what you feel instead of evaluating. "I feel proud to walk into this room because..."

  • Sum up the praiseworthy behavior with a word. "I see you stacked your toys neatly on the shelf. That is what I call organized."



  • Listen with your full attention. Stop what you are doing and look directly at your child. If you really cannot stop what you are doing, tell your child you will be with them in "___" minutes. Then keep your promise.

  • Acknowledge with a word "Oh... Mmmm. I see... etc.," instead of questions and advice. Words like these couple with a caring attitude are invitations to a child to explore his/her own thoughts and feelings, and possibly come up with a solution.

  • Give the feeling a name instead of denying the feeling. The child who hears the words for what he is experiencing is comforted.



Ginott, Haim. (1969). Between Parent and Child. New York:Avon Books.

Gordon, Thomas. (1968). Teaching Children Self-Discipline. New York:Times Books

Faber,A. & Mazlish. (1980). How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. New York: Avon Books

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