Disciplining a Child

By Terry Wardle

February 28, 2011

I was asked an important question yesterday. How do you discipline a child, guiding them toward right behavior and attitude, without wounding them? Great question. I have a simple answer to the question, but one that is very important.

Never place a core longing at risk when disciplining a child. For a child to move into adolescence and beyond in a healthy way, he or she needs to have a deep sense of belonging, significance, safety, purpose, acceptance, security, and love. Be sure those are not put at risk through the process of disciplining.

For example, a child needs to experience unconditional belonging from the parent. So, do not discipline the child in ways that threaten that, such as sending them away from the family as punishment for wrong behavior. Or, because a child desperately needs safety, do not use discipline that communicates that they are at risk of harm. Children need to know they are significant. Words that communicate disdain, such as “you are stupid, dumb, and shame on you” send deep identity messages to a child that can wound them for life.

All to say, we parents and grandparents need to deeply commit to providing the necessary core longings and not threaten the core longing as a way of motivating a child to change behavior. It happens all the time sadly, and when it does it sends the child into adulthood with serious issues that can emotionally handicap them. Many of us were disciplined like that and know the bad fruit that has resulted. Let’s not pass that bad harvest on any longer.

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