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The Reason Your Discipline Techniques Aren’t Working

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If you ask my husband about the discipline techniques he used for my stepson, he’ll probably ask you to pick one of the 50. He tried everything, including leaving him with nothing in his room but a mattress, a pencil, and a sheet of paper.

Some popular discipline techniques (you’ve probably tried most of them) don’t work for a lot of parents and they might actually make a child’s behavior worse. Learning why they don’t work with some kids is like an ah-ha moment that will help you feel less frustrated and alone. Here are 5 you need to know about and the reason they are failing you.


For some parents, a time-out works to bring a heightened situation down to a manageable level. If it’s not working for you, it could be that separation is the opposite of what your child needs. When you send your child to time-out, his or her brain will experience a surge of stress-related hormones (because separation from parents is biologically not what a child wants), which prompts more acting out. Then, Mom or Dad responds with more separation. We circle around and around.

Yelling and Nagging

Every mom has done it. I’m sure I nagged this morning and there are some days I yell more than I speak at a normal volume. “How many times do I have to tell you to put your shoes away?” Our constant picking just tells our kids that we will be there to remind them again and again. It doesn’t build responsibility; it just causes them to tune us out and damages our relationship.

Tightening the Reins

A lot of parents think getting more strict is the answer when the rules they have in place aren’t producing results. But piling on more rules and threats keeps children in a state of anxiety, anticipating the next mess-up and subsequent punishment. Some kids who are constantly yelled at for breaking a rule walk through life tense and scared. Yes, rules are necessary, but when more rules lead to more yelling, we need to go back to the drawing board.

Throwing Away Toys

Restricting games or toys definitely can work and every parent has the right to take a cell phone away or restrict video game privileges. But when this move doesn’t work, parents often up the ante by throwing out or giving away a toy or technology. This is not only traumatizing for a child, but it’s also a violation of trust. If someone who knows you well threatens to harm something important to you, it might scare you into compliance—but at what cost?


Screaming at a kid in public or sending a kid to bed without dinner erodes his or her self-worth and kids who think nothing of themselves won’t care about pleasing Mom and Dad. No matter what a child has done, we still can show him or her we care about his or her physical and emotional well-being.

Now that you’re frustrated, are you wondering what discipline techniques do work?

Parenting is so hard, especially in the heat of the moment. But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is relationship. Some of the discipline techniques above work well if you do them without sacrificing love. But if you’re removing love and relationship, you’re creating a discipline vortex, which is what Vanessa Lapointe calls it in her book Discipline Without Damage. A discipline vortex is a cycle of behavior in which neither the child nor the parent is getting what he or she wants or needs.

The level of influence we have over our kids (and their desire to please us and follow directions) is determined by the strength of our connection with them. So aim for connection, even in the midst of discipline.

What form of discipline have you seen work or not work? Does it strengthen or weaken your relationship with your child?


What’s the worst part about getting in trouble?

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