10 Unhealthy Reasons Parents Avoid Disciplining Children

Little girl looking up

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Disciplining children is hard work. It requires constant vigilance, consistency, and thought-provoking effort. So if you're a little lax on those days you're tired or overwhelmed, you're not alone. A lack of discipline, however, can be a serious problem. And while it may be tempting to make excuses for your child's behavior, limits and consequences are important.

Reasons Discipline Gets Derailed

Don't let these 10 excuses get in the way of giving your child healthy discipline.

Your Child Is Under Stress

Parents sometimes feel guilty when kids have had to endure rough times, such as a divorce or being bullied at school. It’s natural to feel bad. After all, who wants to see their child hurt? Allowing misbehavior to slide, however, isn’t the solution. In fact, stressed-out kids may need discipline more than ever to help them feel secure. Show your child that you're able to keep them safe by setting limits.

Your Child Didn't Mean to Do It

Kids shouldn’t be disciplined for accidentally spilling a glass of milk, but they can take responsibility for their actions by helping to clean it up. Allowing too much leeway because something was an “accident” prevents kids from accepting full responsibility for their behavior.

If you decide, “He didn’t really mean to push his brother that hard,” and excuse it, they're likely to learn they can talk their way out of things by using the “It was an accident” excuse. But a police officer won't excuse them for "accidentally speeding" and their future boss isn't likely to shrug it off when they say they "didn't mean to" lose that big sale.

You Haven't Spent Much Time With Them

Allowing your child to misbehave because you feel guilty won’t do either one of you any good. If you feel bad, look for other ways to resolve your guilt about discipline. For example, do you need to create more time to spend together? Or do you need to remind yourself that it is good for your child to have healthy discipline?

Make your time together count by following through with clear limits. Then, you can spend more time enjoying one another's company when you have time to be together.

You Were Hard on Your Child Yesterday

If you offered up some harsh discipline earlier, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discipline them now. It’s essential that you’re consistent with discipline. Inconsistency confuses children and leads to increased behavior problems. So even if you were a little extra hard yesterday, show your child that you're still going to enforce the rules today.

Kids Will Be Kids

There is certainly such a thing as normal misbehavior. However, it’s important to distinguish between normal and abnormal child behavior problems. Allowing kids to get away with misbehavior by chalking it up to “normal kid stuff” can be detrimental if you’re letting your child get away with too many rule violations. Kids need to learn how to make healthier choices so they can become responsible adults.

You Don't Want Your Child to Be Upset

It can be tempting sometimes to look the other way when your child’s having a good time and you know placing them in time-out will upset them. However, teaching children to deal with negative feelings is one of the six life skills your discipline should be teaching. You’ll be doing them a disservice by not helping them learn how to regulate their emotions. So follow through with a consequence and help your child learn emotion regulation skills while you're at it.

You're Too Tired to Deal With it

There will be days that you just feel too exhausted or drained to give out one more negative consequence. However, it’s important to muster up the energy to offer consistent discipline. Devote extra time and energy into behavior problems now and it’ll reduce the effort needed down the road. Think of the energy you put in now as an investment that will pay off later.

Your Child Won't Listen Anyway

A lack of confidence in parenting can prevent parents from stepping in. They fear their child won’t go to time-out or won’t listen when privileges are taken away. If consequences aren’t effective, examine the reasons why your discipline isn’t working. Avoiding discipline will only make the problem worse and it’s essential that you gain parenting skills to discipline effectively.

Your Child Will Think You're Mean

One of the four biggest parenting mistakes is only looking at the short-term. In the short-term, your child might think you’re mean for taking away their toy or not letting them play outside. However, in the long-term, it’s the best thing for them and is essential to helping them learn.

Sometimes, when your child is angry with you, it means you’re doing your job well.

You Always Have to Be the Bad Guy

If you’ve got a partner who lets your child get away with behavior problems, it’s likely you’ll feel like the bad guy when you lay down the law. Learn how to discipline together with your partner so your child doesn’t view one of you as the “bad guy.” Establish household rules and work together to enforce these rules consistently. Your child's behavior is likely to improve when you show a united front.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.