The 11 Essentials Of Successful Discipline

By Dr Faye Snyder and her team at PaRC

Things to Think about before You Start
Why You Must Use a Progressive (Six Level) Approach to Discipline
Level One: Modeling
Level Two: Coaching
Level Three: Using Time Outs
Level Four: Using Natural Consequences
Level Five: Using Related Consequences
Level Six: Disciplining Defiance With Their Currency
Rites Of Passage – How to Implement these New Approaches Effectively
Discipline Special Cases – Handling Ethical And Safety Issues
The Importance of Sticking to Your Guns

1) Things To Think About Before You Start

Ideal Discipline: If you begin effective discipline very young, and if you are consistent, you can raise a child who barely needs discipline. You can just simply respond immediately, get their attention, and coach or model the change you want.

Weakness: You cannot be weak. Weakness and inconsistency encourages your child to test you as they seek understandable, clear, and consistent boundaries.

Loving Your Child: You cannot discipline a child who doesn’t feel cherished. A child who doesn’t feel loved will rebel.

The Carrot And The Stick: Be aware that positive reinforcement is always much more effective at getting good behavior than punishment. Wherever possible, catch your child doing things right and make sure they know you appreciate the good things they do. When trying to get them to change a behavior, praise them for first steps, even if they seem small.

Being Aware: Think carefully about why your child is misbehaving. Have you let this behavior go without consequence before? Is there something else going on that is driving them to rebel? If they are very young, are they too tired and late for a nap?

Introspection: Finally, as you plan how to make your discipline more effective, think carefully about the style of disciplinarian you have been. Have you been soft and set few boundaries? Have you been overcontrolling, rigid and strict? Has your discipline been delivered in anger and frustration, or calmly and without emotion? All these things should enter into your decision of how to discipline going forward.

The Real World: While starting early and disciplining correctly from the beginning is the ideal formula for raising a low maintenance, ethical, well-behaved child, most of us parents don’t know any better. As a result we get off to a rocky start and need to learn corrective discipline techniques.

2) Why It Is Necessary To Use A Progressive Approach To Discipline

There are six ways to teach discipline, and they are progressive. We don’t use a sledgehammer to kill a flea. Escalate only when you need to, but do not be afraid to escalate.

If you lag before escalating, you may inoculate the child against your consequences. That is, if you have a pattern of going too lightly without results, serious problems may develop. When your child is relentlessly misbehaving, if you increase the consequences reluctantly, your child will not be impressed and will look for more loopholes. She will begin to think she is smarter than you. She will act out even more, daring you to take charge. Gradual escalating allows your child to adjust slowly to your consequences, making any price for bad behavior almost irrelevant now. Therefore, if your child seems immune to your consequences, you need to escalate substantially and immediately.

Dr. Faye recommends that you start disciplining with a combination of the first three primary methods of successful discipline- modeling, coaching, and the use of time-outs. As your child reaches school age, she suggests that you incorporate natural consequences, and when these consequences are not available to you, “related” consequences. Finally, when necessary, you may need to discipline truly defiant behavior with your child’s “currency,” as Dr. Phil calls it.

Some parents never need to escalate from modeling, coaching, time out and natural consequences. Other parents have to employ disciplining with related consequences and using their child’s currency, because they need to reverse longer standing problems rooted in previously ineffective discipline.

Fear and intimidation are never used effective discipline. While they may teach fear-based obedience, these disciplines become imprinted into the character of your child. A dominated child learns to dominate. An abused child learns to abuse or bully. An intimidated child may become overcautious for the rest of his life.

3) The First Level – Modeling

Never forget that you are always your child’s role model. Your children take in everything you do, and the way we do them. Your child is wired to imitate you. We call this “Imprinting.” Just remember that however you want your child to be, you must also be.

Children’s mirror neurons record how they are treated by those closest to them and leave them with the drive to reenact those behaviors. Our children take in how their parents treat each other and how you treat them. These are lifelong impressions that become part of their personality, and they develop an actual drive to reenact what they have experienced.

You never want your child to see another adult treat you badly or you treating someone else badly. If you want your child to clean up after themselves, then you need to clean up after yourself. If you want your child to develop the habit of doing homework consistently, make it a point to do your own work at the kitchen table while they work to ingrain the habit. If you want your child to become someone who is punctual, you need to be punctual. If you want your child to become polite, you must be polite. On the flip side, recognize that if you have a drive to argue, accuse, ignore or defend, your child will develop those traits and attitudes too. Later, those who know him will say these traits too are his personality.

Be the person you want your child to be. The more socially cooperative your family is, the more your child will imprint good social skills and amicability. Develop family time, a perfect opportunity for your child to spend with you at your best, imprinting you, when you are interactive and being yourself. Feel free to talk about people in your life and in your child’s life in caring ways. Include your thoughts about how something could have been done differently or why certain things turned out the way they did. Talking about movies or television shows is another opportunity to create higher intelligence, and develop better coping and communication skills. You are modeling being a person interested in the world and in other people.

4) The Second Level – Coaching

Modeling is more subliminal. Coaching is more directive and involves a teaching dialogue, much like a hands-on, one-on-one teacher would do. Coaching by a parent often includes doing things together and discussing the process as you go through it. If you want your child to brush their teeth after every meal, go with them to the bathroom, and you brush your teeth too or wait with them while they brush their’s, and discuss teeth brushing, including how we do it and why we do it. Of course, after you have discussed it all, you don’t want to teach ad nauseum, but as you stay with your child in during the process, your child experiences the rest as practice. Further, they don’t feel abandoned while learning how to do new things, and most important of all, they develops good habits for life.

It is especially useful to model while you coach, a one-two combination that makes sure that the learning really “goes in” via imprinting. If you want your child to put their dishes in the sink, do it together, putting your dishes there too. If you want them to put their homework by the door every night for the next day, go with them as they take their school books to the door, and bring your briefcase to the door too. When you do these things with them you are modeling and coaching. If you want your child to be good at getting homework done as a habit after school, sit with them while they does their homework and pay bills or write letters or have them work at the kitchen table while you cook dinner. When you think your child has internalized the habit, you can gradually drop away, telling them how proud you are of their choices. Once your child has good habits, they have them for life.

Think of parenting as being an intimate coach. Let your child know that you are there to guide them whenever they seek advice. Don’t try to become their friend. They are not your confidante, and never should be in that role. You are not a their playmate. You are a guide. You can play with them to help them practice.

Stay apprised of their experiences. After school, ask them, “What was the best thing that happened today, and what was the worst?” This can also be a topic for the dinner table. Try not to be critical of what you hear, but ask questions.

The most valuable asset a coach has is the ability to talk soul to soul. It is a way of relating to your child, in which your child feels truly safe, seen and understood. You talk to them almost like a grownup, in that you relate honestly and respectfully. You use reason to break through any destructive patterns you notice. You may even use persuasion and use examples from your life and theirs. Most importantly, find a way to talk about life’s lessons.

5) The Third Level – Time Out

One of the most important skills your child will need for the rest of their life, if not the most important one, is self-regulation (also called self-discipline or self-control). If your child cannot control their own emotions and drives, they are in trouble.

When you set an expectation for your child’s behavior and the child flips out or disregards your expectations, you must use these times as an opportunity to teach self-regulation. Dr. Faye has been teaching the use of “time-outs” for years. There is an exceptionally good online resource to learn this technique- videos from the American television show “Supernanny.” Available as both full episodes and shorter clips, Supernanny Jo Frost demonstrates the time out technique under many circumstances. Parents can watch, study and master the techniques.

Click here for more information and to view Jo Frost’s website.

The most critical aspect of the “time out” process is that when you the parent put your child on the “Naughty Chair” or “Naughty Step”, you set the timer and walk away (with your back turned). You will find that your child will either stay (showing the ability to self-regulate) or “sneak” away. If your child sneaks away, you return them to the Naughty Chair, re-set the timer without dialogue, and walk away again. You glance over your shoulder at some point to discover if they have left the chair again. If so, you repeat the process. This may take hours, but eventually, your child will choose to stay. That is the key: Choose!

Note: This silent, persistent, technique is the same technique you would use if your child won’t stay in bed at night.

6) The Fourth Level – Using Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are the way of nature. In the real world, when we are rude to people, they don’t like us. If we don’t shower, we stink and people avoid us. If we don’t do good work, we get fired. Wherever possible, let the world teach lessons for you. If your child is late for dinner, dinner will be cold or almost gone. If your child is mean to a friend, the friend does not choose to spend time with them. If your child breaks their toy by being too rough with it, the toy is gone for good or at least not replaced any time soon.

Standing back and watching your child make mistakes or learn the hard way is difficult. It’s a hard concept for a parent to learn, but it will make your child wiser if you don’t explain everything. Stand by thoughtfully to help when need be, but allow your child to make mistakes and to learn from them. If your thinks they won’t need their jacket, then let them go out without it and get cold. If they forget to bring their gym clothes to school, then don’t bring them. A hard lesson is a lesson for life. An experiential lesson is a lesson for life.

7) The Fifth Level – Using Related Consequences

Natural consequences are not always available to you. In addition, some times you do not want to wait for nature to react. You don’t want to wait the months and months it may take for your child to get a cavity to teach them that they should have brushed their teeth. And you certainly don’t want to wait for them not to get into college or not be able to get a job to teach them that they should have worked harder at school.

In these cases, you need to help mother nature and discipline with Related Consequences- sort of like inventing an additional, more immediate set of natural consequences. If your child is rude to a visitor spending the night, you may call that child’s parent and send the overnight guest home. If your child doesn’t earn good grades, they can’t have nice new things or get their allowance or have their celebrating night out with Daddy and Mommy. If they don’t clean up their toys, their toys disappear (for a month?). If they don’t tell the truth, no one believes them for a week. When natural consequences are not available, think of consequences that seem related to the “crime”.

You need to be creative. Start with feathers. If feathers don’t work, escalate quickly to pebbles, then rocks, then bombs if need be. Make your child aware that you are escalating, since they are ignoring your admonition. Work with related consequences that get through, sooner than later.

When discipline techniques work well, you should not have to repeat and repeat. Ideally, you discipline your child three times in their entire childhood. Since things are not likely ideal, you just want to get each lesson learned, and learned quickly, so you don’t create calluses on your child.

8) The Sixth And Final Level – Disciplining Defiance With Their Currency

If your child is arrogant and defiant, this level is for you. It is the most complex, and involved. Some parents actually think that cockiness and bossiness in a child shows a very secure and self-confident child. They think it’s cute or a sign of potential greatness. But it is not cute and it will not lead to greatness. It is born of major insecurities in disguise- insecurities often stemming from abusive parenting, weak parenting, poor modeling, attachment issues or some combination thereof.

There is a possibility that your child is deeply angry. Determine if there is some valid reason. Have you been rejecting, unavailable or abusive? Determine if your child is daring you to be strong, because you have been weak. If your child had a broken attachment with you when they were very young (which creates a fundamental lack of trust) your child may have decided to protect themselves by being the boss of their own life. Or, maybe your child is modeling the anger they see you express. First address the injury behind the behavior. The defiant child may need therapy, and you may need parenting classes.

The defiant child has two critical behavioral lessons to learn: the ability to become humble and teachable, and the ability to accept personal responsibility for how people react to them. The defiant child is often a “blamer”, but they must learn that they create the results of their actions.

Becoming A Humble And Teachable Child

A child is supposed to be dependent, not independent. The most destructive thing about your child’s defiance is that they presume power in order to insulate them from adult authority. Yet, children need to be in the childlike, humble state of learning and compliance. Childhood is their time to take in new information.

Many arrogant and defiant children come into secondary school too proud to learn, and then they get behind in school. Then, they get embarrassed and cover up their shame with a tough exterior. It’s a vicious cycle. Eventually, school authorities will be prone to label this child with a learning disability or move them onto a slow learning track. To reverse this, the most important goal is to insure you have a childlike child. Then it is essential to identify the missing educational foundations, rebuild and catch up.

Accepting Personal Responsibility

The second most important goal for your child to learn is how to self-reflect. Defiant children tend to be blamers. They think they are suffering because of the way others have treated them. While there may be so much truth in this, this is a world view that, when when projected further, will get them into trouble. These children create self-fulfilling prophesies. They treat others badly and then complain about how they have been treated. They think that if they can control the environment or others, they will finally be safe. Parents need to help them see how they create the problems in their life by their attitude. This is a delicate dialogue, because you need to insure that your child feels understood, while tackling this issue.

Consequences Measured In Their Currency

The defiant child needs to become self-regulating. This child needs to learn how to take responsibility for their actions and to choose to do the right thing when it is in front of them to do. The defiant child will not respond to scolding or lectures. This child needs consequences that matter to them.

“Know your child’s currency”, as Dr. Phil says. There may be something really valuable that the child has and loves or really wants to have. This is your leverage. If they don’t have something they love, buy it for them if you can. It will become something you can take away for major offenses. If your child’s cell phone is their treasure, take it away when they act irresponsibly. If their video games are their treasure, take them away, when they defy your coaching or instruction. If they have no specific currency, you can strip their room until they give up the contest with your authority.

The defiant child is already out of control, so be careful. Do not to set them up to fail by imposing more requirements than they are likely to be able to meet. If rules are too many and too specific, or your expectations are way too high, your child can become hopeless and more defiant. Consider giving them something back for every hour of good behavior. And remember to insure that they feel cherished.

Create a time when you can love your child up, unconditionally, even for a special day or two away together. (See Oliver James, Love Bombing). Remember how we started this article? You cannot effectively discipline a child who doesn’t feel cherished.

You may want to pick up Dr. Faye’s book, Healing Your RAD Child, which deals with many of the issues related to raising defiant child especially those who have experienced significant attachment breaks in early life.

9) Rites of Passage

As William James wrote in Varieties of Religious Experience, there are two primary types of change in a person. One is gradual and one is sudden. If you want to implement gradual changes to your disciplining as you learn new ideas that is fine. If so, you might want to explain to your child each time you adopt a new idea what the new rules will be. Alternatively, you may prefer to wait until you can make a sudden, major change by waiting until you have a clear idea in your head of all the changes you want to make at once.

If you are not a single parent, you want to include your spouse in the new system. Since it could be confusing to your children if there is no preparation, both of you may want to plan how to proceed together. Or, one of you may handle the children’s discipline while the other agrees to support the new system.

So, how do you prepare your children for a major change in the way you discipline them? Create a rite of passage. Make the change a celebration and something to mark the end of the old and the beginning of the new system. There are lots of ways to signal this right of passage, but here is one of many possible approaches.

Have a special dinner. Make such a big deal out of it, that the natural question is “What are we celebrating?” Maybe it’s dinner at a nice restaurant with a presentation to the child(ren) of a ribbon-tied scroll with the new rules listed. Maybe it is a special dinner at home with candlelight, a special dessert and a symbolic present.

Tell the children you have been studying up on how to raise the best possible child into the best possible adults. You have learned that there are some things that should be changed in the family. Then, describe what you have been doing (incorrectly) followed by what you will be doing in the future. (Don’t tell them what you have been doing is incorrect. That’s not necessary.) For example, you could say, “I have been spanking you to teach you a lesson. After the change, I will not spank you anymore. I will talk to you about your behaviors and what I want to see. If you seem open to change, that will be it. If you seem unwilling to change, then I/we will give you a consequence for your actions. The change will begin this Friday at dinner.”

10) Discipline Special Cases- Handling Ethical And Safety Issues

There are times when you must react swiftly and energetically. That is the case when your child’s safety is at risk, or when they have done something unethical and mean-spirited.

Here are some examples of dealing with danger. If a toddler runs toward the street, you yell, “Scott STOP! STOP!” You run and grab him and say, “Scott! Car BIG! (Holding your arms wide). Car HURT baby.” You show your child your own fear and hold such a big reaction that you personally represent the consequence, which is too big (getting hit by a car). Dr. Faye once told a young school-aged child to move out of the way of movers bringing down a couch in the stairwell. He didn’t move. His mother was standing there, and she did nothing. Dr. Faye picked him up, moved him and said, “When I say move, you move. That sofa could have been dropped and you could have been badly hurt.” There are other similar, but predictable, lessons a toddler must learn about “Hot” and “Electric Shock”, which are covered more in depth in Dr. Faye’s book, The Manual.

There is also difference between behavioral problems and ethical issues. The former are often unlearned etiquette or hygiene, such as brushing our teeth, spending too much time playing video games, forgetting homework, and the like. The latter, the ethical issues, can be mean-spirited, but can also be selfish and thoughtless in such a way as to impact others. Ethical issues might include kicking the family dog, hitting another child, destroying property, lying and stealing. They can also include disregarding others.

In the event of clearer ethical issues, such as hitting another person, your reaction should be swift, immediate, and breathtaking (as the consequence should be memorable and associated with the deed)! Your tone of voice, your words and your expression should show disdain or disgust for the action, not the child. Depending on your child’s age, you might apply a three-minute scolding, or a trip to the Naughty Chair for a time-out, or social banishment that ends in an apology or an amends.

Even for an ethical issue, you want your child to still maintain their resilience and self-esteem, so you forgive after the scolding. They can recover and change their behavior and identity on a dime. Assume they have learned until you see otherwise.

Note: There may be an overlap between ethical and behavioral issues. Many behavioral issues have an ethical component, and you might have to make a judgment call as to which way to treat them. It can also be said that most issues start out behavioral and become ethical. For example, tracking mud into the house is both a behavioral and an ethical issue. It destroys property, and it often includes an assumption that someone else will clean up your mess. Similarly, when a child is very young, not finishing chores can be the result of a distraction. Later, not finishing chores can be the violation of a contract. If your child agrees to do certain work and fails to finish it, your child is violating a contract, while acting uncooperative and entitled. It’s unethical.

Dr. Faye suggests initially looking at such behaviors as purely behavioral issues, if they are simply unlearned or thoughtless. As such, you would start with natural consequences or related consequences to address the issue. But, if you sense that the behavior is not thoughtless and rather is defiant, it is time to quickly raise the stakes and treat them as ethical violations, including scolding and significant consequences.

11) The Importance Of Sticking To Your Guns (Even If You Overreacted)

All consequences must be upheld (unless they are abusive), because if you reverse a prior decision, your child will believe you are weak and will begin to focus on wearing you down by whining, pleading, bargaining, arguing or ignoring you. Whenever you communicate a consequence to your child, even if you do overreact and choose a consequence too punitive for the situation, you must follow through. Otherwise, you will create a child who challenges you more and more. Your credibility, and your effectiveness in future situations is at stake.

If possible, you should plan the consequences you impose in advance of the problem- especially for anticipated or recurring problem behaviors. This gives you a chance to make sure your consequences are appropriate to the behavior. It’s ideal to be prepared, because swiftness is a useful tool. It creates an association between the act and the consequence.

If you are not prepared with a consequence when your child misbehaves, it can be a good idea to delay defining the consequence until you have time to settle down and give clear thought. You don’t want to give a consequence in anger that you will later regret. Discipline doled out on the spot, in the emotion of the moment, may later seem inappropriate. This can set you up to appear unreasonable, as well as weak if you later retreat.

If you feel angry and unprepared, tell the child to go to their room while you think about their consequence. You can say, “I’m very upset by your behavior and I am going to think about the consequence this behavior deserves.” Waiting in their room to learn their consequence gives them time to think and self-reflect.

Don’t make them wait too long, and when you come to their room, ask them what they have been thinking about. If you detect a true self-reflection, you may want to modify the consequence you had planned before giving it. You might also ask your child what they think would be a good consequence. Children often make suggestions more severe than they need. Don’t go there. Just use the suggestion to check on their thinking.

Beware of your child learning to tell you what you want to hear and then going forward without changing. Also, watch out for your child defending their behavior.

Remember, The purpose of discipline is to change the child’s behaviors and to create a self-regulating child. That’s all. Sometimes all you need to do is explain once or have a heart to heart conversation. Discipline is never for revenge. If the child gets it, that’s good enough. Most children are able to simply learn.


Parenting is a creative process. It should be fun. It is an adventure into your child’s psyche as well as your own. It’s an experience in life that helps us learn about the laws of cause and effect. It is a journey into personal responsibility and intimacy, as well. Enjoy your new family, and for further guidance, you may want to purchase Dr. Faye’s Miracle Child Parenting Course (in audio or video formats), or purchase her book, The Manual.

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