How to Discipline a Child: Discipline for the 3 Ds!

While speaking in Kelowna last weekend at a FamilyLife marriage conference, I was listening to the other speaker couple share about their lives. Keith and I are still the “young” speaker couples, since we’re only in our 30s, but Pete and Shirley Unrau, with whom we were speaking, have been married fifty years and are in their 70s. So they have a wealth of wisdom.

Shirley at one point was delivering a talk to mothers on how to discipline a child. She said there were three things that they used to discipline their four children over: dishonesty, disrespect, and downright disobedience. The 3 d’s!

I love that model! It makes sense, and it’s easy to remember. So let’s go over them.

But first let’s talk about what we don’t discipline children for?

The next paragraphs may make it look like you discipline a child for just about everything! But actually, if you parent appropriately, interact with your children well, and talk with them throughout the day, you’ll find less need for discipline. For instance, I didn’t discipline my daughters if they were simply whiny and bored. That was a problem with me, not with them. I found ways to distract them, and I started talking with them. I didn’t discipline if they were overtired, or even if they had a temper tantrum. I simply left them in a safe place to control their emotions.

Often kids act up not because they’re being bad, but because they’re tired, bored, or hungry. These aren’t things that are appropriate to discipline for. In all cases, look at the root: Is it a heart issue? Or is it an environmental issue? Heart issues need discipline. The other issues likely just need your attention!

Now let’s get into the 3 Ds!

Discipline a Child for Dishonesty

If you don’t have honesty, you don’t have anything. Without honesty you can’t trust your children. You don’t know if they’ll confess if they’ve done something wrong, or follow through when you ask them to do something. We’ve always come down hard on dishonesty. So sneakiness is a no-no. I’m struggling with this right now because my 14-year-old likes to keep her door closed while she works, etc. I’m not a fan of closed doors. I think it inspires secrets. Occasionally it’s okay, but normally it’s not. I believe in giving children space (and when she’s in her room, it’s not like we’re standing over her), but you still need to be part of the family. So I’m trying to figure out if I’m being mean or not. She is an honest kid, but I don’t believe in creating conditions where dishonesty could flourish.

Discipline a Child for Disrespect

Another cornerstone of family life is respect. Children must respect their parents. Too often parents treat their children as equals, but family is not a democracy. Parents get the final say, which is the way it is supposed to be. We know how the world works. We know what’s best. We pay the bills. We get the final say. People struggle with this, but it’s foundational in parenting.

So don’t let your child whine at you or talk back to you! I’ve been in the nursery at church when a 3-year-old yelled at his mother, telling her she was mean and all sorts of horrible things, and she just stood there and tried to whisper to him and say “it’s all right”. It wasn’t all right! He was disrespecting his mother, and that should never be allowed.

This is one of those things that if you come down hard on early becomes much less of a problem later. So watch how they talk to you when they’re three and four. Make a big deal out of whining at you or talking back. And then they’ll learn that you are to be respected!

I honestly don’t think, though, that many parents recognize disrespect. They think it’s just a child throwing a tantrum, or that’s just the way 3-year-olds are. No. A child is not allowed to talk back to his/her parents, or call them names, or yell at them. These are specific things that need to be dealt with.

When children act up, we often try the distraction method. Just get them thinking about something else and they’ll stop whatever they’re angry about. That may work if the problem is that they don’t want to share a toy. But if the problem is that they’re yelling at Mommy, distraction is not appropriate. Discipline is.

Discipline a Child for Downright Disobedience

When you tell them to do something and they don’t do it, that’s a reason for punishing them. This one’s the most obvious. Many discipline for disobedience, but not for the other two. Ironically, though, if you discipline for the other two, this one is less likely to happen!

Here’s a post on how we parented so that downright disobedience and whining was rather rare.

Now what do you think? What do you discipline your children for? Let me know in the comments!

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