The Biggest Discipline Mistakes Parents Make

Correcting Your Discipline Errors

Young boy playing on slide
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To err is human, and making discipline mistakes is a part of being a parent. Your child misbehaves and you find yourself losing your cool, yelling, or reacting in a way that you think could have been handled better. There are ways to fix these common blunders. Visualize yourself reacting differently to your child the next time he does something to make you crazy, and be confident in your ability to change his bad behavior—and your reaction to his behavior.

Remember to give yourself a break. These discipline mistakes are common because most parents make one or more of these at one time or another. Remind yourself of the advice you might give your child when he makes an error. Mistakes are what you learn from so that you can grow.

1. You Weren't Respectful to Your Child

Parents ask their children to respect them, but they sometimes forget that respect should be a two-way street. One of the most common mistakes parents make when disciplining children is yelling, speaking in a harsh and angry tone, or even insulting their children. Giving and asking for respect in return is one of the cardinal tips to remember about disciplining children.

The Fix: Think about how you would like to be spoken to if you were working out a conflict with an adult, such as a co-worker or relative. Get down to your child’s eye level, and discuss the problem at hand in a gentle (but still firm) and respectful manner. No matter how angry you are, try to remain calm. Do not yell, and never belittle your child.

2. Disciplining While Angry

There are some things that just should not go together, like drinking and driving or writing a heated email to someone who’s made you angry before you’ve had a chance to cool down. Disciplining a child while angry is definitely in that category of don’ts. When you reprimand your child while you're mad about something they did, you are more likely to shout or say something you don’t mean.

The Fix: Take a few minutes (or more if you need it) to calm down and collect your thoughts before talking to your child about his bad behavior. Remove yourself or your child from the immediate situation. Take a walk. Giving yourself and your child some time to reflect on the conflict may help you both deal with the situation in a calmer manner.

3. Being Inconsistent

You reprimand your child for not cleaning his room, but ignore it when his room is messy for days. Then once again you scold him for not keeping his room clean. Your child is getting a very inconsistent message. One of the best ways to help children correct their behavior is by giving them clear instructions about what is expected of them.

The Fix: Give your child clear and simple directions and a realistic list of expectations. For instance, if you want him to clean his room every week, mark it on a calendar and make that “room clean-up day.” Set him up for good behavior. If he does not follow through, give him a consistent set of consequences. Don’t give different degrees of punishments for the same misbehavior. Be constant and consistent in enforcing the rules.

4. Talking or Explaining Too Much

Giving a lengthy and detailed explanation of your child's inappropriate behavior is not a good idea. Children, even grade-schoolers who are getting better at paying attention, can easily lose track of discussions that go too much into detail.

The Fix: Be as direct as possible and break it down into basics for your child. With older children, talk about what went wrong and discuss possible scenarios that could have been better choices. With younger children, simply state what the behavior was and why it was wrong (“You went into your brother’s room and played with his toy without his permission, and that made him feel like you didn’t care about his feelings.”)

5. Going Negative

Hearing a string of “don’t” and “no” isn’t any fun for anyone, especially a child. Focusing on what a child did wrong or what he should not do instead of emphasizing what a child should do can put a negative spin on things and set the tone for your interaction.

The Fix: Approach things from a more positive perspective by talking about what can be done better. If your child is whining or talking back to you, show her some examples of how to speak in a nice and more friendly manner. After tempers have cooled on both sides, try a lighthearted game of speaking nicely to each other to express yourselves better. If your child is fighting with a sibling, suggest some ways they can build a good sibling relationship, such as by having them work together on a project.

6. Thinking That Disciplining Means Punishing

Often, parents forget that the point of disciplining children is to give them firm guidelines and limits so that they do not need to be punished. Disciplining means setting up boundaries and expectations so that kids know what is expected of them. The primary goal is to have kids learn to eventually regulate themselves so that they do not need to be punished.

The Fix: Re-think the way you view discipline. When you discipline a child, you are showing her how to make good choices and choose behaviors that are positive and ultimately good for her. And by showing her how you handle her misbehavior—in a loving and constructive manner that emphasizes learning rather than punishment—you are teaching her how to one day interact with her own children when they demonstrate bad behavior.

7. Not Practicing What You Preach

You tell your child not to tell lies but routinely fib to get out of things you don’t want to do like join that school volunteer committee or attend an unimportant meeting at work. You yell at your children and angrily tell them to speak nicely to each other. The problem is that you often do not see your own behavior and forget that your children are watching your every move and learning how to behave by using your example.

The Fix: As much as possible, be a good example of the behavior you want your child to emulate. If you occasionally break one of your own rules, explain to your child the particular circumstances and why you behaved the way you did. Explore how you could have handled it better and talk about how you may do things differently the next time.

8. Not Fitting the Discipline Technique to Your Child

When it comes to child discipline, one size does not fit all. What worked on a child’s sibling or the kids of friends may be the wrong approach for a child. Repeatedly trying to use a certain approach to correct or guide a child’s behavior might not work best for an individual child.

The Fix: Remember that children, like adults, have their own personalities, temperaments, and quirks. One kid may be more stubborn than others or be more likely to have a meltdown when things don’t go his way. Try different approaches to tailor discipline techniques to each individual child. For instance, while one child may be able to focus and stop dawdling after a few general reminders, another child may need charts, schedules, and closer supervision to keep him on track. One child may stop misbehaving after a warning that he will lose privileges (a toy or an activity), while another child may actually need to have those things taken away and experience the consequences of bad behavior before he learns to follow the rules.

9. Not Disciplining Children at All

Among the many important reasons why you need to discipline children is the fact that children who are raised with clear limits and guidance are more likely to be happy, pleasant people who have good self-control. When children are not disciplined, the effects are clear, and in most cases, quite catastrophic. Children who are not given any limits or consequences and are spoiled are often selfish, unable to self-regulate, and unpleasant to be around.

The Fix: Give your child rules, limits, and clear and consistent consequences when they don’t do what they are supposed to do. If you are worried that disciplining your child may make him angry with you, keep the bigger picture in mind. Not disciplining a child is not good for him. As long as you handle his misbehavior with love and firm guidance, your child will learn and grow from his mistakes.

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