057: How to TELL and discipline a child?

I am often asked for my opinion on disciplining a child. Typically, the conversation centers on whether I believe in spanking or punishing children. The caregivers  want to know if you focus on T.E.L.L.ing your child, can you still discipline him or her? I thought I’d respond to this question in today’s Show & T.E.L.L. blog.

First, I’d like to clarify the purpose of any disciplinary action, whether it be a spanking, timeout, sent to a room, taking away a privilege, etc.

You discipline a child in order to teach him or her to make a better choice. You want the child to gain a better understanding of how actions also choose consequences. You discipline because you believe the child should develop more self-control in a particular situation.

When a child is disobedient, making poor choices, he or she requires discipline. The child needs instruction to teach him or her to make a better choice. He or she needs to gain a better understanding of how this action has negative consequences. If the disobedient behavior is not addressed, the child will more than likely continue thinking and therefore behaving this way given similar circumstances.

Because children need correction, they need discipline. Adults must T.E.L.L. children to behave in appropriate ways! If not you, then who?

T.E.L.L.ing a child means you focus on changing the child’s mindset. You teach and encourage the child to think in ways that allow him or her to make better choices. So when you discipline, if you also wish to effectively T.E.L.L. your child in this moment, consider these ideas:

1) Discipline promptly because a young child’s mind is in the present. You want to connect the inappropriate behavior with discipline. You want the child to link the action to a consequence.

2) The punishment, i.e., spanking, time out, etc., may get your child’s attention and get them to link the inappropriate behavior with the punishment; however, to effectively T.E.L.L., you also give time to work on changing your child’s mind. You Teach, Encourage, Listen, and Love new ideas about how to better behave in this situation.

3) When you T.E.L.L., focus on one or two good ideas to help your child better understand positive and negative consequences, as well as allow your child to make a better choice in this situation. Most importantly, make sure the ideas make sense to your child so the child will more likely remember the new ideas in the future.

4) T.E.L.L. without anger because children will focus more on your negative emotion than your words. Discipline of any kind is most effective when you remain calm.

As my children were growing up, I most often used timeouts. At first the timeout location was in a chair in the same room.  Rather quickly, my children learned the timeout rules were they had to sit quietly until the timer went off; the timer did not start until they were quiet and calm, and once the timer went off they had to tell me why they believed they were put in timeout. I followed the general rule I’d heard somewhere, never more minutes than their age, most often less than that. For example, at 2 years of age, put anywhere from 1 minute to a minute and a half on the timer, never more than 2.

Once the timer went off, we would talk about why they were put in timeout as well as what they could do differently and why. If appropriate, we would practice the situation using the new ideas.

As my children got older, the timeout moved to their room. I would send them with a piece of paper and pen to write me a letter about what just happened and what they may need to think about doing differently in the future. How I wish I still had those letters!

Bottom line: you discipline a child in order to teach him or her to make a better choice. Try and do more than just punish the child. Try and help the child gain a better understanding of how actions have negative and positive consequences. Help the child develop a sense of self-control. That is how you discipline and effectively T.E.L.L. your child during those moments.

My opinion? Children need discipline. We all need discipline. I can think of areas in my life where I should be more disciplined. Can’t you?

So let me know, what strategies do you use to discipline your child? What strategies do you use to discipline yourself? Send me an email with your strategies.


About the author of this post:  Denise Forrest, Ph.D.

Denise is a mother of three grown children and has been a teacher to thousands of students.  She is the creator of the TELL message and Founder of TELL Our Children, Inc. Denise also serves K-12 schools as an educational consultant focusing on mathematics education and instructional decisions for student learning. You can contact her by emailing denise@tellourchildren.org.








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040: Consequences give children a concrete stepping stone on journey of growth

The Show & T.E.L.L. Blog shares ideas about interacting with children. The TELL Our Children mission is to inspire and mentor caregivers to understand how every interaction can teach children ideas, encourage some ideas more than others, and how to listen better so you are better able to build the thinking in a child. You must first hear what ideas a child currently has in order to offer better ideas. And, finally every interaction is done with love. In upcoming blogs, I will speak in more depth about teaching, encouraging, listening, and loving while interacting. Today, I wish to continue with the idea of consequences. Last post, I introduced the thought:

Interact with consequences in mind. Proper consequences can make the interaction more real for the child. Choose consequences the child understands so the child is better able to choose beneficial behaviors over limiting ones.

You can click on the title to link to this post. These posts are part of the “How can I T.E.L.L.?” series which started in May.

We T.E.L.L. a child so we can help develop a child’s thought system. Thinking about and including consequences in our interactions is a concrete way to help children connect ideas. A child can relate a certain situation to something positive, or something negative, and this can help the child understand and make a better decision.

Can you think of areas in your life where you choose because of the consequences? For example, you may avoid drugs because the negative consequences. The positive consequences are also obvious. Or you may relate improvement to success, which causes you to keep learning.

As children gain life experiences, they are learning about the consequences explicitly and implicitly. We can explicitly use consequences to help shape a child’s choices. Many have asked specifically about disciplining a child, usually in reference to a punishment. When a child misbehaves, explicit consequences can help shape the child’s choices. The question discussed last post is relevant here: what is in it for the child?

When my children were young and I felt a time out was needed (usually for both of us!), I would often ask after the time was up, “Do you know why you were in time out?” I wanted to be sure my child connected the time out with a specific situation.  Then, I may ask “Should we try again?” to give my child a chance to do better. Then I could point out how nice, or job well done. They key is to link not just negative consequences (avoiding time out), but also the benefits of choosing better.

As children get older, you can ask them to think about the positive and negative consequences for a specific behavior. For example, in the past I have asked students to write down 10 things answering, “If I continue to miss class and not put forth effort, then…” The list usually includes ideas associated with bad grades, not being ready for next class, not ready for college, just to name a few. After talking about the negative consequences, I shift the conversation and ask something such as, “Now what if you start coming to class and put forth effort, what could happen then?”

This gave students freedom to consciously choose. In the end, I could say something like, “Now you know what can happen positively and negatively here; it’s your choice. I will continue to encourage you to make the better choice, but ultimately it’s up to you. Let me know how I can help you choose better.”

To discipline a child in a T.E.L.L.ing way, we think most about disciplining the mind in a beneficial way. A disciplined mind allows for better choices. When you T.E.L.L., you build a child’s thinking. You don’t force the child to think a certain way; he learns to think for himself. He learns to recognize positive and negative consequences.

This week:

Think about the consequences you use to shape your child’s thinking. What is your tendency? Do you point out positive consequences as well as negative ones? Do you help connect beneficial behaviors with positive rewards? Make a point of finding opportunities to connect positive behaviors with beneficial consequences.

If you find you have to redirect a child’s behavior, consider using the time out strategy mentioned above, or if you have an older child, use the make a list of consequences strategy. Another form of the time out strategy is to ask the child to write a letter about what happened and what may need to be thought about next time.

Raising a child is a wondrous journey. Helping children learn about consequences, positive and negative, gives them a concrete stepping stone to grow toward something better.

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039: What’s in it for the child?

The last two Show & T.E.L.L. blog posts focus on evaluating interactions as positive or negative and how experiencing both positive and negative are important for a child’s personal growth. The posts explain how a positive or negative interaction depends on how your words and action impress upon the child’s mind and personal development. If you ignore or focus predominately on the negative behavior, the evaluation is negative. If you redirect a child’s thinking or behavior, or you focus on the positive behavior, the evaluation is positive. Every interaction is positive or negative; your words and actions will favor the positive or negative direction. If you want to read more about positive and negative interactions, you can link to the posts below by clicking on the title.

Your interactions are positive or negative depending on how you t.e.l.l.

Continue learning and knowing more about positive and negative interactions

Today’s post will focus on considering the types of consequences you offer when interacting with a child.

We have a tendency to think about consequences as punitive. I often hear adults speak of children needing consequences for doing something wrong. Of course, consequences can be in the form of a punishment. But consequences can also be in the form of a reward. Either way, consequences help reinforce behavior, and a consequence makes the interaction more real for a child.

Children need to know and understand how the behaviors they are demonstrating are beneficial (or not). They need to know and understand how they can do better. Consequences can also be the rewards based on which behaviors you want to embrace and advance in the child’s personal development. It does not have to be complicated.

Today, start thinking about the consequences you use to make your interactions more real for the child. Begin asking yourself, “‘What is in this for the child?”

Begin recognizing that you can huff and puff all you want about the desirable behaviors you want your child to demonstrate, but when it comes to whether (and which) behaviors are desirable for your child’s personal growth, a consequence can make it concrete and real. When you include a consequence that a child clearly understands, it speaks louder than a hundred speeches.

I was in a grocery store the other day when I noticed a father with two children, a son and daughter. The daughter was older, probably around 4 years old. The father was rushing to get the groceries and the children were trying to keep up behind him. While he was looking for something on the shelf, the young girl must have done something to her brother. I see the father grab the young girl and start smacking her on the behind, saying “I told you to leave your brother alone, quit picking on him.”

The young girl stopped for a moment and gave her dad a blank stare. Within a minute, she poked her brother again. Dad didn’t even notice.

Do you think the young girl understood her father’s words and consequence? Do you think she understood why her father smacked her for poking her brother? How real was this interaction for the young girl? Can you think of a better way to handle this situation? What could the father say and do to make this interaction more positive and beneficial?

Consequences do not have to be complicated. I will continue addressing this in the next blog post. Today, start thinking more about the consequences you use to impact your child’s thinking and behavior. What is in it for the child? How do your words and consequences relate, and how does it help the child think and choose better?

Realize this fundamental precept for T.E.L.L.ing a child:

#5: Interact with consequences in mind. Proper consequences can make the interaction more real for the child. Choose consequences the child understands so the child is better able to choose beneficial behaviors over limiting ones.

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