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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 hurt each other." This sets parameters for what we expect of the kids in a particular situation. If addressing a problem behavior that is repeated often, then I suggest getting very specific about what the child can and cannot do. Clarity is key.


This is a two-part topic. We need to start by making sure we are on the same page with our partner regarding the issue. If we aren't in agreement of behavioral expectations, then the kids will receive mixed messages. If we express our expectations, but our partner is more lenient, the kids will take the "more fun" parent's rules and then tell us, "Mom said I could!" It is imperative parents are on the same page for parenting. If not, kids will play one parent against the other. Another part of consistency is always keeping to the rules we set. When we get "wishy-washy" about our expectations, the kids learn they can work the system. "But you let us do it last time!" will be their battle cry. Does this mean there's never any wavering from what we've said? No! On special occasions or if the need arises we can change our ways with an explanation of why we're making an exception. For example. Let's say bedtime is 8:30 pm each night. We have the routine and it's just what we do as a family. For Fourth of July festivities, we change bedtime to after the firework display that night. It's an exception for a special event. I've worked with couples who have one spouse who travels for work, so when we work on family rules, we make an exception for the night Dad gets home from a trip. Those nights we set an extra half hour before bedtime for Dad to spend reading with the kids before they were tucked in for bed. Consequences

This piece of the equation can be an entire article on its own! For purposes of this blog, I'm going to give you a few rules.

  • Always relate the consequence to the behavior (i.e., If a child makes a mess, he should be responsible for cleaning up the mess. Sending a child to bed without dinner because he didn't clean up his toys after lunch will not relate for the child.)

  • Let kids know beforehand what consequences will be. "We are going to meet some of your friends at the park. As long as you play kindly, we will be able to spend the afternoon there. If you push your friends like you did last time, we will have to leave. It'll be up to you to decide which way you want to behave."

  • Follow through on consequences! This might be the biggest downfall in discipline. If we expressly state a consequence we have to follow through or our kids learn we don't mean what we say. That is setting a costly precedent for their teen years, trust me! We want our kids to know we mean what we say.

One note for stepcouples

The more consistency of messaging you have between your child's two homes, the easier things will be for all involved. I understand this can be a huge challenge for some co-parenting ex's, but I want to encourage you to keep the door open for any opportunities to discuss this and make it a plan for all adults involved. If there is too much animosity for consistency between the homes, at least keep it consistent in your own home. Stepparents, disciplining your stepchildren can be a "hot button" topic for some couples. Depending on the age of your stepchildren, how long you've been a part of their lives and the warmth of your relationship, you may or may not step into the role of disciplinarian. This is a topic too huge to cover here, please connect with me if you would like to discuss this issue.

Putting the puzzle pieces together

Discipline is an expansive parenting topic. When we have "tools in our toolbelt" to build a solid family foundation then we can reduce family stress and enjoy the parenting journey more. The 3 C's of discipline help you build the foundation of an effective discipline plan. Remember, be clear, be consistent and follow through on consequences. If you and your partner are struggling to figure out a discipline plan, let's chat! Book a complimentary discovery call today! Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

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