Imagine that you’ve just discovered that your middle schooler hasn’t be turning in any of her homework and has been lying to you about it.  You’re probably furious and want to yell, take her phone away, and ground her for the rest of her life, right?!  Before you do that, take a moment and think about the following:  What do you hope to accomplish when your child misbehaves? What is your overall goal?  One thing that may help you answer this question is to come up with an intentional parenting philosophy that you draw from when misbehavior arises.  In addition, you’re going to need a clear and consistent strategy that you use when responding to misbehavior.

I’ve stated in an earlier blog that one of the main purposes of discipline is to teach our children how to behave in the short term, while also giving them important life skills for the long term. One skill-building technique that I like is called “The Three Questions.”  This technique requires you to ask yourself the following three questions before you respond to any misbehavior:

  1. Why did my child act this way?

In your anger, you might answer “because she doesn’t care about her grades, doesn’t listen in class, and just wants to make me angry” but when we pause and approach with curiosity, we might be able to look deeper and begin to understand your child may have been trying to express something, might be overwhelmed, needs help with organization,  or wanted to get something, but went about it in a completely inappropriate way.  There are so many reasons!

  1. What lesson do I want to teach in this moment?

The lesson might be related to self-control, time management, responsibility, or frustration management.

  1. How can I best teach this lesson?

Here is where we consider the child’s developmental stage, age, and the context of the situation.  Here is where you think about how you can best communicate the main point that you want to get across.  We often make the mistake of immediately responding with a consequence here when there are many other loving and more effective ways of getting the point across. Maybe it’s letting the natural consequences of the child’s actions occur , or maybe it’s time to have a heart to heart conversation when you’re both in a receptive state of mind, or maybe it actually is time to put limits on screen time or come up with a time management routine.

I’ll be honest, there isn’t always time to ask yourself these three questions when chaos ensues.  No parent is perfect and no situation is perfect.  However,  this is just a more effective approach.  Different kids will require different answers to the three questions because there is no one-size-fits all way to discipline.  The key here is that it’s helpful to think through the overall goal of discipline and your overall parenting philosophy when disciplining your child.  Doing this increases the chances of parenting in a way that will bring about long term change.  Instead of just reacting, ask the three questions!

Written by: Charity Livingston, MA, APC