Are you struggling? Whatever you do, you’re at logger heads with your child and discipline isn’t working? You’re in the right place.

Today we’re talking about the difference between discipline and punishments.

Essentially they are both all about control. They’re all about how the adult feels they are able to maintain their children’s level of behaviour which fits within their boundaries. When children go outside of boundaries they are given punishments.

Punishments are a last ditched attempt at maintaining control of a situation. Teens do not like being controlled which then leads to conflict. Let’s see if we can find a different path so you can communicate in a way so your kids listen, there is less conflict and more co-operation.

Often when you punish your child it can lead to conflict, anger, resentment and lies from your child. All these feelings are all aimed at you and the actual misdemeanour they were punished for goes out of the window. The punishment doesn’t have the effect you intend it to.

Why do teens misbehave?

They are exerting their independence – it’s their biology preparing them to fly the nest.

Their brains are still developing. This whole process stops, for girls, in their early 20s, and boys, in their late 20s. The last part to develop is decision making – the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that helps them to think rationally. Whilst this part of the brain is developing, the amigdala (the more impulsive part) is working overdrive. It’s your role to help guide them on the best course of action.

They’re also pushing the boundaries and pushing your buttons – it’s their job! They’re questioning authority and trying to work out if this is their way of thinking or just yours.

Take a moment to think – are your boundaries realistic? If not, your teen will spot this immediately.

Consider if there is more going on? Look for the triggers – is there a pattern? Dig a little deeper. Most of us act with a positive intention – are they looking for your attention? Is it a cry for help? Is something going on that you weren’t aware of?

In my opinion punishments backfire. Teenagers don’t always play ball – they have a mind of their own and if not careful they can exert their authority by voting with their feet. If this gets out of control it can be scary. The alternative? Teamwork with you and your child. Remember who the adult is and remember your long term goal.

It’s likely your ultimate goal is to create healthy, well adjusted kids who can deal with what life throws at them.

The best way to achieve this goal? Get them on board – let them be captain of their ship with your guidance. Educate your child that actions have consequences. Once they get this – it allows them to start making their own choices and taking responsibility for their decisions. Aim to work together in their upbringing. As long as they have a say, they will co-operate.

Be specific about both you and your child’s expectations. For example – if they ask to go to a party and you say “Yes, you can go but don’t be late home” – consider how both your expectations could differ? Agree the ground rules in advance.

By helping them to understand consequences you start to develop their decision making process and also their internal discipline.

They will get it wrong from time to time and so will you. By supporting them you’re helping them to develop and you give them some control and responsibility for their own decisions.

Don’t forget to be a good role model for your child. Keep your word. Mirror the behaviour and responsibility that you in turn expect from them.

We all learn from our mistakes.

If they make a poor decision they need to know you love them regardless. Don’t make the mistake of assuming they know this – tell them.

If you take nothing else from this, know that they need your positive acknowledgement and your support. Offer them your advice instead of just telling them what they should do.

Here are some pointers to help with consequences rather than punishment:

  1. Know your child & understand the chaos in their brains. Remember it’s their biology.
  2. Respect – show it and it will mirror back to you. They’re young adults who need to be loved, understood and respected.
  3. Spend 1-2-1 time with them. Take a walk, watch Game of Thrones, etc. It doesn’t matter what it is they just want to be with you.
  4. Set and discuss the expectations. Eg “I expect all your homework is completed the day before it is due.” Discuss them with your child and be very specific. If there is a loophole it will be found.
  5. Support your child. Help them where you can. (Remember teamwork!)
  6. Accountability. As they know what’s expected of them they have a responsibility – “If you miss the bus home, text me.”
  7. Write things down so your child can’t “forget”.
  8. Be consistent.
  9. Make sure all adults in your child’s life are on the same page. Agree the approach and ground rules to ensure as much consistency as possible.

If you feel the need to punish your child, it’s the point of no return – you already feel like you’ve lost control. If you set your expectations and start treating your child like an adult – it won’t be perfect but it will be a lot easier.

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