8 Tips for Disciplining Your Child

Sarah Hamaker

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Updated May 08, 2023
8 Tips for Disciplining Your Child

In other words, your child can still choose to do the wrong thing in the face of severe punishment, but you, as the parent, must still choose to do the right thing. This is one of the hardest things for parents to learn because we want to believe if we just find the right consequence, our child will stop doing the wrong thing.

Why do we correct our children? This is the question to answer before delving into tips for disciplining your kid. If we don’t know why we’re doing it, we’ll get muddled in the execution of the discipline. And if we’re not clear about why, our kids are more likely to be confused and not respond well to our guidance.

Why do we discipline our kids? There are two reasons—to help a child feel bad or uncomfortable about what he did and to be a determent against future wrongdoings. Children sometimes don’t feel bad about misbehaving for various reasons, including an undeveloped conscious and their own selfish nature. Consequences for doing the wrong thing should make kids feel like what they did was wrong. Punishments should also serve as a check for when the child is presented with another opportunity to misbehave—hopefully, the previous discipline will make the kid pause and choose to do the right thing.

Two Reminders

Now that we’ve tackled the why of discipline, I want to give parents two reminders when approaching punishments. The first is no matter how you parent, your child is still capable of doing something depraved, disgusting, and despicable on any given day. In other words, your child will misbehave and sometimes in a way that will shock you. This isn’t because you’ve failed as a parent, but because of the sinful nature we all have, including our precious children.

The second reminder is when a child misbehaves, and the parents respond with a consequence, it’s entirely possible the child will continue to misbehave despite the parents consistently meting out discipline. In other words, your child can still choose to do the wrong thing in the face of severe punishment, but you, as the parent, must still choose to do the right thing. This is one of the hardest things for parents to learn because we want to believe if we just find the right consequence, our child will stop doing the wrong thing. Again, I point you to your child’s sinful heart as the reason for the persistence in misbehaving.

Now, here are eight tips for disciplining your child.

Discipline Tip #1: Do what you can when you can.

We often make mistakes as parents when we rush into punishment in the heat of anger or frustration. This is when we’re likely to say things like, “You’re grounded until you turn 18” to our kindergartner.

Except with a two or three-year-old, we don’t have to punish our child for doing the wrong thing immediately. We can wait until we’ve calmed down, returned home, the next morning if it happens before bed, etc. Use the time to think carefully about what punishment should be given for the infraction.

Discipline Tip #2: Have a variety of consequence options.

This is key because not every child will respond the same way to the same type of punishment. There are six categories of consequences (I’ve adapted these from the National Center for Biblical Parenting) you should have in your parenting toolbox.

Natural consequences are when you allow your child to learn from experience rather than from you directly. For example, you tell your kid to put his bike in the shed, and he leaves it on the front lawn, and someone steals it. Logical consequences are closely related to natural ones, and this is when your kid doesn’t put away a backpack, so you don’t let him take it to school the next day, and he has to carry his books.

Tighter parental control is when you use your parental authority to monitor the child more closely. For example, your kindergartner won’t stay by your side when crossing a parking lot, so you make her hold your hand. Freedom restriction is when you confine the child to a smaller circle of space than he’s used to. For instance, if your middle schooler keeps “losing” track of time playing with friends, you restrict his movements to your house and yard for a time.

Others in authority are when you allow teachers, pastors, counselors, and coaches to correct your child—and you don’t interfere. For example, if your child’s soccer coach decides Junior’s bad attitude at practice means he won’t play in Saturday’s game, you bring Junior to the game to sit on the sidelines. Training can be a very effective means of correcting a child’s behavior. This is when you role play and practice how to behave to replace the wrong actions.

Discipline Tip #3: Never threaten—simply deliver.

Save yourself time and effort by stopping with the threats. Your children do not need warnings to straighten up—they need consequences for when they step out of line. Parents who no longer threaten will often find their children will shape up quicker than those who deliver threats instead of discipline.

Discipline Tip #4: Mean what you say and say what you mean.

This goes along with tip #3 in that you don’t say things you don’t mean. My kids know if I tell them to do something, they’d better do it because I mean what I say, and I only say what I mean. There’s no guesswork for them to know if Mom’s serious this time or not. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle in the long run if you mean what you say and say what you mean.

Discipline Tip #5: Know your children.

For consequences to be effective, we must know what our children enjoy. What makes them smile? Brings them joy? What do they spend their free time doing? What afterschool activities do they do? These things will be fodder for effective discipline, which I’ll explain in tip #6.

Discipline Tip #6: Be willing to make your child unhappy.

It’s hard when our kids are unhappy, isn’t it? But in order to guide them into becoming civilized members of society, we have to be willing to make them unhappy at times. Here’s how it relates to discipline. When our oldest (now a college freshman) was in fifth grade, one of her daily chores was to refresh the cats’ water dish. However, despite having plenty of time in her morning routine to do this, she consistently “forgot.”

Tired of nagging (and tired of seeing the cats go thirsty some days), I thought about what made her happy. When she came home from school, there was a 30-day chart on the fridge with her name on it. Naturally, she asked me what that was for, to which I replied, “I’m glad you asked! If you refill the cats’ water for 30 straight days without prompting, you’ll get your books back.” A shocked silence followed, then wails of dismay as she realized I was taking away one of her favorite activities—reading—and making her decidedly unhappy in the short term to motivate her to “remember” this daily chore. I am happy to report that she didn’t miss one of those 30 days or any days that followed.

Discipline Tip #7: Renew your connection with your child.

If you find yourself constantly correcting your child, you might have a frayed connection with him. When your child feels your love and affection, he will want to please you more than when he feels all you ever do is nag or complain about him.

At times, we all find ourselves with a less-than-strong connection with our kids, but it’s easy to repair it. Start by writing down five things you love about the child. Read the list to yourself several times a day to remind your own heart. Then tell the kid specifically what you love about him daily, using one of those five things.

Also, add a couple of positive encounters each day with the child, such as talking about their hobbies or other interests. For example, when my sons were younger, they loved silly jokes. In seasons of more discipline, I made it a point to look up a joke or two to share with them out of the blue. They loved it, and it helped to keep our relationship strong even though I had to correct their behavior often.

Discipline Tip #8: End every discipline session with love.

If you get nothing else from this article, I hope you’ll leave with this—every time we have to correct our kids, we should remind them of our love. They won’t always be receptive in the moment, but it’s important they hear those words from us. I also remind my kids one of the ways I show them love is by disciplining them. In other words, I love them too much to let them continue on the path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

The word discipline has its roots in the word disciple, so when disciplining your child, think about how you’re discipling your child in the ways he should go (Proverbs 22:6). Keeping this in mind will help guide you along your discipline journey with your child.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Gravity Images

sarah hamaker author bio picSarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of two teenagers and two college students, a therapeutic foster mom, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She coaches writers, speakers and parents with an encouraging and commonsense approach. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.