Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

How to discipline your children in a positive manner

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 1997

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If we remember that the purpose of disciplining our children is to educate them, communicate with them and prepare them to return to our Heavenly Father's presence, we will find it more likely that discipline will be a positive experience for everyone involved. I suggest the following:

- Model the behavior you want your children to follow. Teach correct principles.- Like your children as well as love them. Do not make your love/acceptance conditional on your child's behavior.

- Do not provoke your children to anger. (Eph. 6:4.) Use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned. (See D&C 121:41.) Show forth increased love after disciplining your children. (See D&C 121:43.)

- Be consistent in your approach to discipline. Be firm, yet kind and merciful.

- Pray fervently and often for enlightenment and inspiration on how to deal with vexing behavior problems.

- Always take time to listen to a child's side of an issue before deciding how to proceed. Judge as you would want to be judged. Do not overreact. Do not sweat the small stuff. Make sure any punishment is appropriate for the action.

- Stay in control of your emotions. Utilize time-outs, etc., and avoid disciplining, if possible, when tired or out of sorts. Do not be afraid to admit you are wrong if you do overreact or lose your cool.

- Always keep in mind the dignity and worth of the child being disciplined. Do not threaten or intimidate. Don't call him/her names. Avoid embarrassing children, especially in front of their friends.

- Reason with your children according to their age, ability and understanding. Make your children allies in matters of discipline. - Romney Burke, West Linn, Ore.

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What we did:

Set example

Our Sunday School class of 16- and 17-year-olds enjoyed a lively discussion on this theme. We were interested in the way the Lord disciplines us and noticed that in the scriptures He uses a variety of methods depending on our ability to hear Him. We came up with the following ideas:

- Set an example. Parents should be willing to live the standards they expect from their children. If, for example, everybody is watching too much TV and a limit is set for children, then parents should be subject to the limit, too. This applies to other behaviors, such as smoking, swearing and cheating.

- Find other ways to discipline children besides spanking. Nurture a relationship of "love-love," not one of "love-fear." In other words, children can learn to do what is right because they love their parents and do not want to hurt them, rather than "doing the right thing" because they are afraid of their parents. Creating an atmosphere of trust helps this kind of love-love relationship develop.

For us, when we know our parents trust us, we want to be worthy of that trust because we love our parents. - Santa Rosa 1st Ward, Santa Rosa California Stake

Teach children

Always remember that the goal of discipline is to teach children how to direct and control their own behavior. It is my experience that loving, serious discipline should begin when the child is about 18 months. Adults and children are much happier when reasonable standards are set and kindly, but firmly, enforced by the adults.

Make sure the children know you mean what you say and are to be obeyed the first time you say something. Letting a misbehavior continue, responding with repeated threats, then becoming angry is confusing to a child and frustrating to the adult.

Children tend to repeat behavior that brings a desired reward. A child who is allowed to run freely in halls when he or she fusses in Church quickly learns to fuss. A child taken to an empty classroom and gently but firmly held learns that it is more interesting to stay in Church.

Praise good behavior. However, never present one child as an example for another child to emulate; such comments build resentment and can be very divisive. - LaJean P. Carruth, Louisville, Ken.

Learning experience

First, acknowledge that all of us make mistakes. Look at discipline as a learning experience for both the child and yourself; pray together about the problem.

Second, involve the child in the discipline process by asking three questions:

- What happened? (Identify the problem.)

- Is that helping all of us? (Make a value judgment.)

- What should we do about it? (Allow the child to suggest the solution; caution, the child's solution might be much harsher than yours would be.)

This process allows the child to help solve and carry out the solution to the problem. Using these steps relieves the adult from being the accuser, judge and disciplinarian. At the same time, the child learns and practices valuable problem-solving skills.

In addition, forgiving the child helps him/her understand the process of repentance. - Reta R. Hall, St. George, Utah

Choices, results

As a single college student, I did an educational internship at a behavior unit at a children's hospital. Little did I know the powerful lessons that I would learn that would influence my parenting for the next 21 years. The way I knew whether some method was right was by how closely it coincided with the way our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ deal with us.

Throughout the scriptures and modern revelation, the Lord tells us if we choose to obey His commandments we will find happiness, but if we choose to not obey, unhappiness will result. Then He lets us decide and reap the consequences. It is the same with our children. We let them know what the choices and consequences are before the crisis occurs. At the behavior unit, a "power" chair was always provided in a corner for a misbehaving child. One minute for each year of age was sufficient for the child to regain self-control.

The focus was always on the act, not the person. Therefore, never make sweeping statements like "bad boy" or "good girl."

In our married student branch, a high councilor once said that the consistent effort you make to get up off the couch and follow through with your children now at a young age will save years of effort later. - Kaye Horman Babcock, Salt Lake City, Utah

The need to teach

When I asked my 4-year-old son why he wrote all over the pages of a new book, he said, "I didn't know better."

Children don't know how to meet our expectations, so instead of punishing we need to teach. When they do something other than what we wish they would, we should lovingly tell them, "We don't do that. Instead, we do this." - Annette Avery, California, Md.

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How to checklist:

1. Pray for guidance; deal with children as the Lord would.

2. Be an example; be willing to live the same standards you expect from your children

3. Be consistent; teach consequences, then forgive.

4. Maintain control, don't overreact; separate act from worth of child; be loving.

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For information

Write Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Route 1, Box 100, Ajo, AZ 85321-9626, or call (520) 387-6849.