The 3 C's for Effective Discipline

"Our kids just won't listen. I'm so tired of repeating myself."


Most of my clients come to me in search of the "secret" to good discipline techniques. They have researched methods, tried them for a short while, realized it wasn't improving things and moved on to another method. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The kids are still not listening and the parents are even more frustrated.

Here's the deal, all the methods in the world won't make a difference if you aren't using the 3 C's of Discipline: Clarity, Consistency, and Consequences. Kids don't come with instruction manuals. Even if they did, more times than not we would have to get creative with those instructions because no two children are alike. When we use the 3 C's it changes how we approach discipline as a part of our family interactions. What we sometimes miss is the importance of "how" we are parenting and the impact it can have on our child's behavior.

A discipline dilemma Tim and Abbie are the parents of 2 boys, ages 5 and 7. The boys tend to play well together at the beginning of the day, by mid-day their 'play" turns into roughhousing. These sessions usually end with one of the boys hurt and the other claiming innocence. Day after day it's the same thing. When asked how they handle this situation, Tim and Abbie told me they tell the boys to play nicely and they don't really address the specific misbehaviors until after someone is hurt. The parents are so tired of this problem they'll just send the boys to their respective bedrooms until things calm down.

The approach

Just as in any good marketing plan, effective discipline is all about the approach and message. In our example, the boys are getting the following message: "It's okay for us to do what we want to. We don't have boundaries unless one of us gets hurt." There are two approaches to discipline: Proactive and Reactive. Proactive: Parents set down guidelines and boundaries prior to a situation occurring. As the leaders of the family, they let the children know what is expected and acceptable behavior and the consequences should an inappropriate behavior choice is made.

Reactive: Parents address the negative behavior choices after the fact and serve as judge and jury handing out punishment. Tim and Abbie are definitely using the reactive approach, which is catching the behavior after the fact and not guiding the boys to better choices. How to use the 3 C's for effective discipline

This is where the messaging piece comes in using the 3 C's. Think of it as a building process, starting with clarity. Clarity:

When I work with parents, one of the most common mistakes I see is a lack of clarity. Kids need boundaries, I say it a million times, but they need those boundaries set clearly so there is no "muddy middle." When our kids know what is expected they can fulfill that expectation. Left to their own decision making, you're asking for possible trouble! For Abbie and Tim's boys, there needs to be a family discussion about appropriate and inappropriate play. "You guys can jump on the trampoline, but you may not jump at or try to