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What to Do When a Discipline Method Stops Working

What to Do When a Discipline Method Stops Working

As I was reading through some Circle of Moms conversations this week, I was struck by a great question posed by Amy K.: "How do I punish bad behavior without hurting feelings?” That’s a complicated question, and I’m hoping this article will help.

New Stages, New Behaviors

Did you know that your child shifts the way he or she looks at things after each developmental change?

When your daughter emerges from a developmental cycle she seems like a “new child.” She has a new set of skills and fresh eyes to see the world. She also seems to have a deep need to re-look at the rules and boundaries you thought were already mastered.


I know you’ve experienced it. One day you correct her and she accepts it like it’s nothing, and the next day she collapses into a crying puddle on the floor. You begin to realize that something has changed and the way you’re dealing with her is producing more tears than changes. You begin wondering what to do.

Some parents think, “Maybe I should get louder?” Or, “Maybe I should be firmer?” Some even think, “Maybe I should use more punishment?” Don’t get me wrong; there are probably some situations where that line of thinking may be valuable. Usually, however, that line of thinking only causes things to get emotionally more intense, instead of better.

Time for a Parenting Upgrade?

Just like a computer gets an upgrade when you install a new program, parents need to upgrade their parenting when their child gains a new perspective. Here are three well-known times when a child’s perspective changes.

  • When a child moves from the terrific 2’s to being a three year-old, most parents wipe their brow and say, “I’m glad that’s over!” What they don’t realize is that 3 is a lot more complex!
  • Most children are pretty compliant during the preschool years. It may not feel that way, but for the most part your child realizes that you’re the boss and what you say goes. And then comes the age of negotiating! Parents can begin to feel as if they’ve lost all control.
  • Then there’s the moment when you see your child openly testing your boundaries and blatantly defying you. Most parents tend to rush toward a heavy punishment to stop that from ever happening again.

Would you treat all three scenarios the same? If so, consider a change of perspective to match your child’s new perspective—a parenting upgrade, if you will.

Adjusting Your Responses

I believe parenting methods need to include who your child is yet to become. Using the same parenting methods you used before your child morphed into a “new child” doesn’t allow that to happen. It makes her feel as if she’s still a “baby,” so she tends to act that way. She doesn’t begin taking responsibility or mastering the rules you’ve laid out for her.

A way to remedy that, or get a parenting upgrade, is to slowly begin letting your child experience the results of her choices, as long as the situation is completely safe. When she learns from the results of her choices, it can be far more of a teaching than your words could be. Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way saying not to use boundaries, rules and consequences. What I am offering is a blend of the two.

During a family meeting create a list of situations you deal with and assign a consequence to them. Then post the list on the refrigerator. When you think learning from a choice isn’t enough, add a consequence from the list. You can say, “Sweetie, you did (fill in the blank). What does it say will happen on our list? I love you and my job is to teach you, and I will never stop doing my job.”

As this is all unfolding you get to show your love, support, empathy. I think that’s a great upgrade for the whole family.

Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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BrittanyLeFebvre BrittanyLeFebvre 5 years
When disipling my 4 year old daughter I have a three step plan that seems to be working fairly well. 1.) Ask your child do to something. This shows them that you repect them and you're not being demanding. If they fail to listen to step one go to step 2. 2. Tell your child to do what was requested in step one. This shows them that you are only going to repeat yourself once, and you mean business. If this STILL doesn't work proceed to step 3. 3. Time out. Put them in time out until they decide that they are going to do what was requested in steps 1 and 2. Usually for my daughter it takes a good 15 minutes but I dont consider her time out to start (4 minutes, because she is 4 years old) until her tantrom and crying has stopped which may take time. Also, I dont yell at her. If I yell then she feels the need to out do me and yell louder then I am. Two people yelling back and forth don't get far. If I talk in my normal voice, this teaches her that I dont have to scream to mean business, and it teaches her to settle down so that she has to listen to what I'm saying because I'm only going to say it one more time.
MistiJorges MistiJorges 6 years
Sonal, have you tried talking to him and asking what's wrong? You have to get down to why he isn't behaving and only he knows that. I would not discipline a child that old with physical punishment. Ground him or take away stuff he treasures for a set amount of time. But the biggest thing that will probably help you is to have a discussion with him and try to get his point of view so you both can move forward. He isn't a small child anymore that will do anything you ask or say and maybe talking with him and showing that you value his opinion can change things around. Good luck!
SharonSilver SharonSilver 6 years
Please do not smack her. She is trying to tell you that she is hurting, missing dad or not understanding the rules. Read this weeks article Getting Kids to cooperate Without repeating Yourself. 18 months, which is what she is, is a typically difficult age. Hang in there. Take a look at my book or "Gentle Ways to Correct Toddlers" on my site. The link for the site is at the end of this article. Good luck. Let me know if you need anything else.
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