The Three Biggest Discipline Myths, and How They Could Be Affecting Your Parenting.
Have you ever walked out of the store when your cart was still full of groceries because your child was having a temper tantrum? Or spanked or yelled at your child and then felt terrible because you’re convinced you’ve scarred them for life? If you have, you’re in good company.
All parents struggle with discipline. The word itself might even make you cringe. When I was a young mother, I hated discipline. I wanted to be the nice mom, for my kids to like me. I even did the “just wait until your father comes home” threat so I could avoid doing the discipline myself.
But after 30 years of watching children grow up through my medical practice and as a parent, I’ve learned that we can’t afford to sidestep or skate by when it comes to discipline. There’s just too much at stake— discipline teaches your child to have healthy relationships, a good work ethic and a happy and balanced life.
But most parents aren’t aware of this. They just think of discipline as harsh and mean, so they shrug it off. The truth is, there are so many misconceptions out there about what it means to practice effective discipline and why it’s important. I’ll walk you through the three biggest discipline myths, and how you can overcome them to parent more effectively.
Myth 1: Discipline is about instilling fear in your kids to stop bad behavior in the moment.
When you think about the moment right before your child acts up, every parent wishes a fear of discipline would stop them from following through with the bad behavior. But we don’t want our children to be afraid when they think of us; that would be a disaster.
Here’s the thing most parents don’t know— discipline is an act of LOVE, a kindness to our children. It’s a commitment we make to use rules and boundaries to teach the child self-control and strong character. Every successful adult, whether they’re a businesswoman, professional athlete, or doctor, practices self-control so that they can push through obstacles and move toward their goals. Without it, they would just give up the first time the going gets rough.
Remember, discipline isn’t just about enforcing boundaries in the moment. It’s about using that moment as a lesson so that you can set your child on the track to success later on. Disciplining your child—in the right way—actually communicates love. It shows them you care about their well-being and future. It shows you are paying attention.
Myth 2: Children who are undisciplined have an issue with rules and authority.
We’ve all seen those kids running around a store or party while their parents chase after them (and sometimes we’re those parents!), and we assume those children are rule-breakers. But this isn’t always the case.
Kids act up for a whole variety of reasons. They could be frustrated, feeling out of control, looking for attention, or struggling with an issue you’re not aware of. Is your child having a tantrum or an explosion? Do you know the difference? (Check out my article on the three most common parenting dilemmas here.)
Let me tell you about a boy named Charlie. His parents came to me because he’d been having trouble sleeping at night, and as a result, was suffering in school and acting very ornery with his family. His fatigue was making him a menace at home, and his parents didn’t know what to do.
I sat down with him and asked about his bedtime routine. He said, “After I get ready for bed, I have to read three paragraphs of my book with no mistakes, and if I mess up, I start over. It takes me a long time but I can’t sleep until I read it perfectly.” Charlie was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and it was forcing him to stay up all night, making him tired and moody. Once I realized this about him, I was able to help his parents address the situation correctly.
Just because your child is acting up, doesn’t mean they’re a bad kid and it doesn’t make you a bad parent. They could be frustrated, require extra attention, or maybe your discipline is not clear or consistent enough for them to follow. Locate the root of the problem, and then you can find the solution.
Myth 3: Kids hate discipline.
This last myth comes from a belief that children want freedom. Parents, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Children not only need boundaries, but crave them. Your child might cry and pull away from you while you’re grocery shopping, but would be completely terrified and traumatized if they were left in the grocery store alone.
Here’s the thing: Children want freedom over themselves, but not freedom over the world. Boundaries provide comfort because there’s still so much about the world they don’t understand, and it communicates you care for them. You care enough to tell your daughter she can’t cross the street alone, or your son that he can’t spend all day playing video games when he has homework to do.
Enforcing boundaries teaches your child you care about their safety and their future. And there’s an added benefit— a child trusts a parent she respects far more than one she doesn’t. And when a child trusts her parents, she not only respects and leans on them more, she asks for their advice more readily and feels more secure about her own life.
All of these benefits are possible once you reframe your perspective on discipline. When you understand discipline as a sign of love for your children and an investment in their lifelong success, then you can focus on parenting more effectively. You won’t ever want to run out of the store at the first sign of a temper tantrum again, or feel guilty that you approached a parenting moment incorrectly.
I’ve spent years helping parents across the country practice consistent discipline, and it’s why I created the Discipline with Courage and Kindness course. This course is completely online and self-paced with the busy parent in mind, and I use a combination of lectures, videos, podcasts, and downloadable worksheets so you can learn on the go.
In the course, I cover principles of discipline that parents often get wrong, answer the most common parenting questions, and provide tactics for improving communication and creating a more peaceful home. It’s never too late to become a better parent; your family will thank you for it. To learn more about my Discipline with Courage and Kindness course, you can explore the course contents and bonus features here.