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The Truth About Discipline: 5 tips to setting healthy boundaries

When it comes to modifying a child’s difficult behavior, it’s no surprise that many parents feel overwhelmed, anxious, and confused. In this day and age, parents are continuously inundated with information coming from every angle and even suggesting conflicting approaches.

The truth is that what may work within one parent-child dynamic may not work in another. So what are parents to do with all of this information bombarding them? How do you decide which techniques will work best for you and your child(ren)?

Start with the basics- Family Values & Healthy Boundaries

Truth #1: Family values matter!

In order for children to understand their role in the world and develop a healthy self-concept, they must know what values to strive for. This begins at home, within the family unit. It’s important that these values are defined based on your family member’s needs and desires so they may look different from one family to another. The imperative part is that these values are defined and discussed regularly. This will set you up for success when creating solid boundaries for your child.

Truth #2: Children need boundaries!

Research tells us time and time again that children with healthy and consistent boundaries at home, thrive socially, emotionally, and even academically. Boundaries tell a child they are safe. This is why children tend to test boundaries by acting out in times of transition and change. They are essentially testing to make sure they are still safe and secure. Discipline is essential to a child’s development.

Understand the meaning of Discipline

When you hear the word, discipline what do you think of? What type of feelings does it bring up? For many of the parents I work with this word brings up feelings of tension, anxiety, dominance, fear, or stress. Perhaps it provokes repressed memories from their own childhood or maybe it makes them think of all the pressure and responsibility that comes along with raising a child. Many parents are even afraid of being judged based on their form of discipline.

So now let me ask you, what do you think of when you hear the word, disciple? Does it provoke the same feelings and memories? Surprisingly, many parents associate this word with more positive feelings and memories. It seems to be more closely linked to words like mentorship, encouragement, and guidance.

Many parents fall into the trap of thinking discipline is a negative thing, when in fact, discipline comes from the root word “disciple” and it means to learn from a teacher, a mentor, or a leader. Through discipline, we have an opportunity to teach, lead and guide our children on a path toward a happy and healthy future. Strong discipline and boundaries are absolutely necessary for children to develop a positive self-concept and strong self-esteem.

So, how then?

Truth #3: You can set and enforce boundaries while still expressing love for your child.

Yes! It is possible. I promise! So often we think it must be one or the other. Perhaps because of our own experiences as a child we believe that we must be loud, mean, overpowering, and even scary in order to maintain strong boundaries for our children. In fact, the research actually shows that this authoritarian style of discipline can have a detrimental impact on a child’s self-concept.

The key to effective discipline lies within this magic concept: empathy.

Empathy allows us to show our children that we understand it’s not favorable to experience consequences, but that we care enough to enforce them. It allows the child to take responsibility for their own actions, while giving us the opportunity to come along-side them and confirm that they are still loved through the process.

I compiled an entire guide for setting boundaries within loving limits and you can find it HERE!

Truth #4: Assertive communication sets clear expectations and produces effective results.

Quite frequently we tend to use very passive language when attempting to set boundaries. We say things like, “Can you please calm down? Mommy is tired.” or “Can you get your shoes on so we can go?”

Assertive communication sounds like this, “You may keep playing with that toy as long as you are gentle with it.” or “I will listen when your voice sounds calm like mine.”

Passive communication teaches children that they are allowed to set the tone and take the lead. On the contrary, assertive communication teaches children that they are responsible for their choices and that regardless of their behavior, we will still remain the authority figure. It also teaches them that they must respects other’s limits, which is a crucial concept in the success of future relationships.

Truth #5: Offering empathy before the consequence produces the best result.

There are two common pitfalls parents are prone to when reacting to their child’s misbehavior: Frustration or Fear.

When we react to our child’s poor behavior out of frustration we can tend to trigger a fight or flight response. Typically, this will only escalate the situation. On the contrary some parents will react out of fear; fear of damaging their child’s ego, of onlookers judging them, or of making the matter worse.

The good news is that providing empathy before the consequence can prevent these spiraling situations between a parent and child. This approach provides a more productive trigger in their brain to stop and think about what is coming: the consequence. Empathy gets the child’s attention, and keeps them in “learning mode”. Then, when the consequence is delivered, the child is required to take responsibility for their own actions and to learn from their mistakes.

Here are some examples of what this might sound like:

“Oh, this is so sad… you’re going to have to give that toy to me since you used it for hitting.”

“What a bummer! You will have to have a little time in your room now.”

“Awwww… since you’re wasting time not listening, we will only have time for 2 books


“Aw man. You will have to ride in the cart now instead of walking through the store.”

Empathy can also be communicated in a non-verbal way by getting onto the child’s eye level, face to face and showing them a sad look on your face.

The goal in offering a dose of empathy is to connect with the child on a deeper level before delivering a logical consequence for their poor behavior. However it is communicated, it’s important for the empathy to be sincere. In order for it to be most effective, the parent must resist the urge to lecture the child about their misbehavior.

Many times, parents underestimate their child’s ability to understand the consequences to their actions. Lecturing tends to create feelings of resentment, which then steals away the opportunity for the child to truly learn from their actions. The good news in this is that you don’t have to waste your energy lecturing. You can save your energy and let the consequence do all of the work!

Boundaries = LOVE

You might be surprised that an article on child discipline would include so much loving advice! You might also be surprised that you don’t have to be harsh or mean in order to enforce boundaries with your child! Feeling relieved? I hope so! Love and boundaries really do go hand in hand.

Of course it all begins with the family values you wish to instill in your child, so be sure to define them. This will give you clarity and a framework for the boundaries that must be set. Remember that empathy is a pathway for you to empower your child to learn from their mistakes.

I hope that after reading this you have a refreshed perspective on the role of discipline in your home! The truth is that boundaries are really most effective when they are enforced with loving limits.

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