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Common Discipline Mistakes

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Parenting is probably one of the most challenging undertakings that a person can ever do. It can be very rewarding but it can also be very frustrating. One of the things that makes it frustrating is that nowhere do we learn effective parenting skills. Good parenting training would normally include information about appropriate child development, brain growth and emotional development. Fortunately, we can always learn new and often more effective ways to parent.

One of the biggest mistakes for parents is that they confuse discipline with punishment. Punishment is about implementing an arbitrary consequence that is associated with pain or fear. With Punishment there isn’t any learning occurring, rather the child learns to fear the punishment but often doesn’t connect it to the behaviour error for which they are receiving the punishment.  

Discipline, instead, focuses on teaching a child how to think and be responsible for the choices they make. Discipline teaches that choices do have consequences both good as well as bad and children must learn to choose appropriately.

Another issue parents often struggle with is to emphasizing obedience over teaching their child to make choices and learn the natural consequences of those choices. While having an obedient child in the short run may seem desirable, obedience does not teach thinking. Rather the parent does all the thinking and the child executes a parent’s order without really having to think about the choices and consequences because the parent has done that for the child.

In today’s complex world it will be necessary to use critical thinking, endure years of schooling and be able to make good choices, a child needs to learn to think for him/herself independently. If a parent is always doing the thinking and doesn’t teach the child to think, the child will not be able to take over this skill effectively, when the parent finally pulls back. Parents that emphasize obedience find in later years that  they have to nag, complain and keep motivating their children to do school work, chores or be considerate as the child didn’t learn how to do it him/herself.

Another common mistake is that parents think that their child has the same mental capabilities to use reason and logic of an adult. Reason and logic really don’t fully common line until around age 12. It takes around 25 years to grow a human brain and there are specific skills and abilities that come online with each age. So, not understanding child development and brain capabilities can lead parents to expect more from their child than is age appropriate resulting in frustration. Parents are also more likely to implement age inappropriate interventions to correct behaviours.

Parenting skills need to change as a child gets older and a common mistake is parents don’t enhance or update their parenting skills to reflect the age and developmental capabilities of their child. Parents will need to update or enhance their skills as their child gets older. Parents will keep doing the same parenting skills they did when their child was a toddler and this no longer works with an adolescent. As children get older and obtain more cognitive skills they’ll want to experiment with increased freedom and choice that comes with more brain capabilities. The parent will need to modify how they parent to reflect the child’s new skills.

Children need to experiment and risk failure. Failure is one the best teachers to learn. Children who get to try things just a bit out of their capabilities and keep practicing until they succeeds directly develops increased self-esteem and confidence. A common mistake parents make is not letting children experience failure or make mistakes. Often parents will do for their child what the child can do and the underlying message the parent send to the child is “I don’t think you are capable.” While this may not be the parent’s intention, behaviour is the biggest form of communication and this is what the parent’s behaviour is communicating.

Learning about your child’s development and updating your parenting skills can lead to a more rewarding and fulfilling parenting experience. It can also improve your relationship with your child.


5 Principles of Discipline:

· Build the self-concept

· Share the control

· Offer empathy, then consequences that provide teachable moments

· Share the thinking

· Enforceable statements


Tammy M. Fontana, MS, NCC, CTRT

All in the Family Counselling


9030 7239


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