Monday, July 6, 2015

Mom-ing Through Faith: On Discipline, Part 2

Last week, on Mom-ing Through Faith, I wrote about the stages of discipline through parenthood, which has truly transformed the way I view parenting. Now, it's time to dive in to the goods: effective discipline methods! I hope you'll continue to follow along over the next few weeks as I offer specific information and advice on discipline, learned through my education, training, efficacy-based practice, and experience.

Let me start, right off the bat, with what I consider the cardinal rule of parenting; one that can be, and should be, applied, throughout all ages and stages of childhood and parenting. One that I was taught, and subsequently trained other parents in how to use,  during my graduate school years by a supervisor who is very well known in the child psychology field. You ready?

Be consistent and persistent. 

Huh? Say wha? Let me explain. 

It is vital that children learn what is okay and what is not-okay behavior. This has absolutely everything to do with effective communication (comin' at ya live, next week) but also the fact that rules are very consistently and persistently applied. 

Mommas and Daddys need to be a cohesive team--both should be in agreement on what the rules of the house are so that they can be consistent in maintaining those rules. 

Rules should be consistent across children, across settings, across situations, so that all are held to the same standards at all times.

And parents need to be persistent over time in sticking with the rules, rewards, consequences, and disciplinary techniques. 

It is easy to let things slide sometimes. But this is a very slippery slope. Because then, your child becomes unclear on when the same behavior is allowed and when it is not. This is why it is crucial to be persistent in discipline.   

And let's be totally honest here: this is MUCH easier said than done. But it is critical.

One very specific behavior modification method that is commonly used by parents is also often commonly incorrectly used by parents, so I thought I'd highlight it here as a concrete example of being consistent and persistent in parenting. It can vastly improve a child's particular behavioral problems but only when consistently and persistently (and correctly) applied. So many parents used to tell me they had used this method and that it didn't work. I'm here to tell you, if you do this correctly, and consistently and persistently, you can modify just about any problematic behavior in favor of more appropriate ones. 

So what am I referring to? Behavior charts. 

Behavior charts can be effective for kids as young as toddlers to as old as teenagers (and beyond), as long as they are adapted for the child's developmental stage. 

Let's pick an example target behavior: Using a "big boy" voice (aka not whining). Here's how it works.

What you want to do is having an actual, visual chart that lists all seven days of the week and is broken down into time segments. This allows the child multiple opportunities to demonstrate good behavior (in this case, using a "big kid" voice [i.e., not whining]) throughout the day. And, even if the child slips up during one of the time segments, additional opportunities are available throughout the day to continue to try and demonstrate the good behavior because the day is broken down into specific time segments. Every time the child shows the target behavior for the duration of the time segment, they earn a sticker for that block of time on the chart. So, if on Sunday morning, Johnny used a "big boy" voice (i.e., did not whine) from the time he woke up until it was time for breakfast, he would earn a sticker for that block of time, which would be put in that space on the chart.

In addition, working together, the parent and child should come up with a rewards menu of items the child is working toward. This means, the better of a job the child does at demonstrating the target behavior, the more stickers he/she will earn and the better of a reward he/she will be able to "buy" with the stickers. Here is a quick example I drew out just to give a concrete idea of what I mean by all this cognitive-behavioral psychology jibberish: 

You can also google "behavior charts" and tons will pop up; however, try to make them as simple and straightforward as possible. It's all about clear communication (again, an important post on this topic coming next week). 

A couple key points: 
  • The way the system works needs to be clearly communicated to the child at the outset, and the behavior of focus should be clearly defined.   
  • Lots of praise should be offered in response to good behavior. 
  • Children respond best to immediate gratification. So, while they are working toward a larger reward at the end of the week, it may be helpful to have small rewards at the end of the day (a hand stamp; a small piece of candy; etc.). 
  •  For young children, focus on one behavior at a time. Only once that behavior has changed (e.g., no more hitting of siblings) should a new behavior be addressed. This may take one week or it may take several.
  • You MUST find your child's currency. In other words, what is of value to them? What would they be willing to work for? Because what may be a valuable reward for one child (e.g., a small new toy; a candy bar; solo time with momma; getting to choose the movie during movie night) may not be valuable to another. 
  • Put the chart in a place where it is easy to access and easily viewable to all. The chart itself serves as a good reminder to the child of what he/she is working on. 
  • Decide ahead of time whether the child is allowed a reminder of the behavior you are addressing if they slip. For example, if Johnny whines once, you are allowed to remind him once per day to use a big boy voice without him losing his sticker for that block of time. However, if he does it again, no sticker. And be consistent and persistent in maintaining this rule. Children should not get multiple warnings. One warning/reminder and that is it. None of this, "I'll give you one more chance," and then giving them eight more chances (I hear parents do this all.the.time.). Why would a child stop misbehaving if they KNOW more warnings are coming without actual consequences? They won't. Be consistent and persistent. One warning and then actually follow through.

Well, I think that's enough to chew on for this week. As always, as Christians, we mommas should allow ourselves (and our children!) plenty of grace. See you next Monday for the next Mom-ing Through Faith post, which should prove very, very helpful for mommas (and non-mommas, too). Basically, if you interact with humans on a day-to-day basis, this will be one you don't want to miss!

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11.


  1. i love this! and it's so helpful to remember to only focus on one behavior at a time. i know i'm guilty of listing a whole plethora of behaviors and then getting frustrated when i'm not seeing any positive progress. but, duh. they're too overwhelmed to even begin to work on anyone thing. thanks for the reminder and for the other helpful tips/encouragement. i'm loving this series! :) keep it up, momma!

    1. Amy, this means so much coming from YOU, a momma whose faith truly inspires me. Thank you for the support and encouragement. <3