Creative Child

The Messages Behind Discipline

by Rebecca Eanes


Let’s say 9-year-old James knows that he is supposed to sweep the patio before he can ride his bike. His father, Ben, comes outside to find the patio filthy and James biking. He motions to James to come over, and tells him, “Why didn’t you sweep the patio like you were told? I’m tired of having to tell you to do something several times before it gets done. You never take responsibility.”

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What Ben wants is to teach James responsibility. The message James gets is “you are irresponsible.” Clearly, the intent doesn’t match the message. To more effectively instill these values, our messages need to be consistent with our intent, and this all starts within our own minds.

If we view our children as selfish, aggressive, irresponsible, lazy, etc., we will often speak forth the negative thoughts we allow to swirl. As always, change begins within. As I’ve been going through the Connected Families Spring Course, I’ve been taking notes of some of the negative thoughts I’ve allowed to fester in my mind. Thoughts which have made their way out of my mouth at times. “You never shut the door behind you!” “Why can’t you ever sit still for 5 minutes?”

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What’s the message behind these words? Do they build a positive identity or negative? “Please shut the door.” “Please try to sit still.” These are requests without the baggage, yet how easy it was to spew the negative message with my requests!

How could Ben have handled the situation with his son in a way that gave a positive message to James, or at least didn’t give a negative message?

“I asked you to sweep this off before you got on your bike. I’d like you do that now please.” He hands him the broom. “Thank you for doing that. I like seeing you be so responsible.”

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Here are a few more examples:

Negative message: Don’t hurt your brother like that! That was naughty of you.

Positive message: Uh-oh, you lost your temper and hit your brother. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. Come sit with me and I’ll help you get control.

Negative message: You need to stop crying and toughen up. It’s not a big deal. There are worse things in life!

Positive message: I can see you’re upset. How can I help?

Negative message: Whine, whine, whine. That’s all I ever hear from you! One more time, and you’ve lost television for the rest of the day!

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Positive message: You’re a big girl now with a big girl voice. Let me hear your big girl voice so I can understand you better.

Negative message: Why can’t you be more like your sister? She works hard and passed all her classes.

Positive message: It looks like you’ve been struggling in this class. What can we do to help you succeed?

A subtle shift in our language makes a large impact on how our children view themselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking harsh words somehow motivate children to do better. Gracious words that encourage and build up, even during – especially during – times of correction will have a far more positive impact on who our children grow to be.

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the bestselling author of 3 books. Her newest book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, is more than a parenting book, it's a guide to human connection. She has also written The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parentingand co-authored the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early ChildhoodShe is the grateful mother to 2 boys.


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