Misbehavior.  Ugh… we all have to deal with it.  So what do you do when your little guy misbehaves and throws sand at his brother while playing on the beach?  Before you answer that question, I want you to consider what I have been talking about for the last couple of weeks.  So far in this series, I talked about how easy it is to fall into the habit using punishment, how it can sabotage a child’s ability to learn pro-social behaviors, how punishment can undermine a child’s intense need to belong, and how it can also rupture the parent/child relationship.

To illustrate my points, I have been using a story about a mom who punished her son, Joey, for throwing sand at his brother with verbal threats, guilt, shame, physical pain, and the silent treatment. If you are open to at least thinking about a different approach, then keep reading because today, we are going to discuss how the mom in the story could have used discipline rather than punishment to express her disapproval to her son, Joey.

So what do you do with misbehavior?

Let’s remember that the term “discipline” comes from the Latin word that means “to teach” or “to disciple.”  For little Joey, the goal is to train, teach, or condition him, so that he will learn pro-social behaviors.  It involves challenging him to think, act, and feel a certain way, even in the heat-of-the-moment.  To help Joey behave better, mom could have said something like, “It seems to me that you want to play with your brother, but it’s hard to ask him.  Sweetie, what do you think might happen if you use your words and ask your brother to play instead of throwing sand at him?”

In contrast, as Joey’s mom relied on punishment her goal was to stop Joey’s unwanted behavior by imposing physical and emotional pain to force him to stop throwing sand.  Rather than teaching her son pro-social behaviors (discipline), she focused on telling Joey what not to do (punishment).  At one point in the story she declared, “If you don’t quit throwing sand, I’ll give you a good reason to stop!”

In the heat-of-the-moment, using discipline requires a big dose patience and understanding (which is not easy when you are upset with your child).  The social research is very compelling because children whose parents employ this style of parenting rear children with higher levels of self-esteem and better academic performance.  Even more, these same parents raise kids who tend to be better adjusted as they venture into adolescence and young adulthood.

So what do you do with misbehavior?

The key is to become an attractive teacher to children, not through force but by being warm, emotionally responsive, and respectful of their unique needs. With discipline, children are typically praised for good behavior.  In other words, you want to catch ‘em doing good on a fairly regular basis.  At the same time, when they misbehave, it’s dealt with in a relational yet firm manner. In some cases, discipline might mean letting a child know ahead of time what you expect from him as a means of support:  “children who throw sand at each other have to sit on the towel for five minutes.”  Other times it may involve telling him how you want him to act in advance rather than waiting for him to misbehave or “catch him in the act.”  It sounds something like this, “Sweetie, I’d like you to be my helper today and play nicely with your brother.  Playing that way means working together on your sand castle.  It does not involve throwing sand at each other when you get frustrated.  Can you do that for me?”

Before Joey’s mom expressed her disapproval on the beach that day, I would want her to ask herself these three questions:

  1. Why is he acting that way?  (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, other?)
  2. What do I want him to learn so I can turn this into a teachable moment?
  3. How can I correct Joey while staying connected to him at the same time?

A Point to Ponder:

When you are about to show disapproval for your child’s behavior, take a moment and answer those three key questions.  Doing so will 1) help you achieve the immediate goal of getting kids to do the right thing at the moment; 2) achieve your longer-range goal of helping them become good people, who are happy, successful, kind, responsible, and even self-disciplined.  It will also strengthen the emotional bond between the two of you so you can become a “resourceful mom” instead of a scary mom.


If you are wondering about how to calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture a family that thrives you are in for a real treat.  I’m launching a digital product focused on those specific issues in just a few weeks!

Stay Tuned…

In my next article, I’m going to show you a simple way in which to answer all three questions at the same time.  Even more, you are going to learn concrete examples of how Joey’s mom could have preserved the relationship and expressed her disapproval to him by using discipline methods rather than punishment.


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Steve Cuffari

Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more affective. He is the founder of inTouch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today's parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here...

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