Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
We began applying our professional knowledge to develop practical strategies that helped us become calmer and more effective when disciplining. As we “field-tested” these ideas in our own family, we were equipped to help thousands of parents defuse their explosive reactions as well.
Parents who learn to calm themselves before disciplining usually find they are much more effective as they access their wisdom and good intentions for their kids. We suggest that parents stop, breathe, and get perspective. But what does that look like? Here are six practical ways to “get perspective” as you calm your heart for discipline that connects with your child’s heart.
Although “pray first” may sound like the “Sunday School answer,” it’s incredibly powerful! Simply taking a moment to stop and pray can work wonders for calming yourself and remembering your larger goals for disciplining your child. For example,
- “God, give me wisdom and compassion.”
- “Lord, help me forgive and let go of my anger.”
- “Father, give me Your heart for my child.”
2. Name your feelings.
Do you know what you’re feeling? All too often parents’ intense feelings don’t get named or understood, the focus just stays on the child’s behavior. The parent doesn’t take time to process what they are feeling. Other times, if feelings are identified, they are blamed on the child: “You make me so mad!” But the truth is, our feelings are our responsibility. Learning to name feelings and say them out loud helps parents take responsibility for their own feelings, providing a great example for their kids: “I’m mad! And I want to settle down before we talk about this.”
3. Recite scripture or a memorized saying.
One mom’s favorite verse to combat parenting stress is Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these… you did for Me.” When she was especially upset, she’d say it out loud, which seemed to help calm her child as well. Another parent repeated, “God is here. God’s grace is for me!” One wise dad simply reminds himself, “Ah, I love this kid!”
4. Buy time.
When physical safety is not a concern, do whatever you can to slow everyone down and give tempers time to cool. Just taking a step backward first instead of charging in helped Jim tremendously. You can practice some simple scripts: “We’re all pretty upset. Let’s talk about this later when we can solve it better.” OR “I need some time to think. I want to make sure the consequence for this is really helpful.”
5. Walk in their shoes.
We can’t help our child until we can understand them. A helpful question to ask yourself can start with, “What’s it like to be my kid right now?”
More detailed questions might include:
- What is my child feeling right now?
- Have I ever felt similar emotions?
- What’s important to them?
- What might my child need right now?
Taking a moment to see things from our child’s perspective gets us much closer to working through our conflict.
6. Look for the opportunity.
Prepare to make the most of a difficult situation: ask yourself, “What opportunities are there for unconditional love or building life skills?” Difficult times can provide the best arena for personal growth. As we say, “Don’t waste a good crisis!” The simple prayer, “Lord, what’s the opportunity here?” became the practiced default that really decrease Lynne’s “bursting all over” her kids and empower wiser parenting.
There are certainly many more than six ways to “get perspective” when you’re about to discipline. The most important thing is that you learn to stop, calm yourself, and leave room for God’s mercy and grace to wash over you and your children.
- When have I felt successful in calming myself down? Have any of these strategies been part of that?
- Is there a new strategy that excites me that I want to try?
- How will I remind myself next time the heat is on?