Lovingly Discipline Your Kids with These 9 Parenting Tools
When I first became a dad, I was overflowing with enthusiasm (and a good amount of ignorance). I thought that my love would be more than enough to succeed as a father. Afterall, “love is all you need,”1 right?
Hi fellow human! Thanks for visiting my personal blog. I’m an intentional family man who is currently passionate about parenting, family culture, homeschooling, and self improvement. This blog isn’t a business. It’s just my way of connecting with people with just as much passion for these topics as me. So, if you enjoy my musings, be sure to reach out.
THE MORE PARENTING TOOLS, THE BETTER
I quickly discovered that love by itself often failed to provide me with answers to daily parenting challenges:
- “What should I do if my son is getting into the cabinets at someone else’s house?”
- “What if he won’t stop crying while we are out to dinner with friends?”
- “What if he refuses to go to bed and it’s two hours past my bedtime?!”
Love is definitely the most crucial part of the solution, but in such scenarios I personally needed something more concrete, something actionable.
One thing that helped tremendously was reading the book Love and Logic. This popular parenting book suggests offering your kids a logical consequence when they are misbehaving: “Do you want to stop playing in the cabinets, or do you want Daddy to hold you in his arms?” It seemed like the solution to every parenting challenge I might possibly face. I worshipped it as the end-all, be-all of parenting tactics. With logical consequences in my parenting toolbelt, how could I possibly fail?
Well, as any parent can attest, as soon as you get comfortable as a parent, your children find a way to throw a curveball at you. I soon realized that while logical consequences work beautifully in some situations, they don’t in others. So, I read more and more parenting books, each one providing me with a new tool or two that I could try out in different situations.
Over time, I discovered that the more tools I had in my parenting toolbelt, the less likely I was to “lose it” (you parents know what I mean…). With more tools, I also find that I am more able to adapt my parenting style to better fit my kids’ ages (more on this at the end of the article). And best of all, I feel like my kids are learning more since each tool teaches them something different.
Make a list of the parenting tools you currently use. As you go through this article, add any new tools you'd like to start using to your list.
9 EFFECTIVE PARENTING TOOLS
In this article, I want to cover the 9 parenting tools that currently help me the most in handling the daily mayhem of raising my two toddlers. I hope that in reading this article, you’ll find another tool or two to add to your own parenting toolbelt.
Parenting Tool #1: Say Thank You
This is how a standard dictionary defines discipline: “to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience.”2 I think this definition is far removed from our ultimate goal as parents. Put simply, my goal as a parent is to raise happy, healthy, independent adults. This kind of punishment-oriented discipline may provide immediate relief, but it fails to produce the long-term result we are hoping for.
I think a better definition for discipline might be: a parent’s reactions to a child’s behavior. Our reactions are powerful. If abusive, they can negatively impact the rest of a child’s life (often in ways they are unaware). If loving, they can help a child develop a lasting sense of safety and self-confidence.
When we look at discipline in this way, I think it makes sense to first talk about how we react when our children do the right thing. Parenting is extremely stressful, which makes it easy to burn out and focus on what isn’t going well. It takes a conscious effort to focus on and applaud our children’s efforts. The more we can do this, the better our children will feel, and the better they will behave.
I believe that a simple thank you is one of the most effective disciplining tools in our parenting toolbelt: “There’s a strong scientific support that [thanking] ignites cooperative behavior… This is because thank-you’s aren’t only expressions of gratitude; they’re crucial belonging cues that generate a contagious sense of safety, connection, and motivation.”3
Parenting Tool #2: Ignore It
There are three possible ways to react to a child’s behavior:
- Positive Reaction
- Negative Reaction
- No Reaction
This third option is often overlooked, despite it being one of the most powerful tools in raising independent children. If we react to everything our children do, we get in the way of our children learning for themselves. It is helicopter parenting in all of its glory.
I think a good rule of thumb is to ignore all behavior that doesn’t negatively impact others. For instance, every morning my 4- and 2-year-old boys accidentally spill milk on the table while they are eating cereal. When they spill milk, I ignore it because hey, I spill milk sometimes too. When they draw with it, I still ignore it because it really doesn’t make it that much harder to clean up. Once they start splashing, though, that’s where I draw the line because it negatively impacts others (the milk might splash on someone’s clothes or on a piece of furniture near the kitchen table).
Parenting Tool #3: Childproof
I would guess that childproofing is the most underutilized parenting tool out there. Yet, it is SO powerful. I would guess that childproofing decreases the amount of discipline needed in a home 10-fold. Afterall, you could discipline your child every time he draws on the wall with a crayon OR you could put the crayons up high where your child can’t reach them. Endless, frustrating discipline with no end in sight OR one simple act of childproofing. Your choice.
3 Reasons You Should Childproof
Despite how easy it is to use this powerful parenting tool, I know of some parents who refuse to childproof their home. They want their children to learn not to grab things that they are not supposed to. Here are three powerful reasons why I don’t buy into this reasoning:
- Children learn much faster when they are developmentally ready
- A safe environment provides children with more freedom to explore
- As parents, we have a limited amount of parental resources
1. Children learn much faster when they are developmentally ready
I want my children to learn how to say no to drugs, but that doesn’t mean I want drugs being offered to my 4-year-old. I want him to face this dilemma when he is ready for it. Similarly, learning to not throw everything out of a cabinet is something I’d like my kids to learn, but they seem to learn it much easier when they are 4 years old compared to when they are just 1 year old. At such a young age, they are mentally incapable of understanding that when they throw everything out of a cabinet, it means mommy or daddy will need to spend ten minutes cleaning it up. They are just not ready to learn this yet.
2. A safe environment provides children with more freedom to explore
If I had to monitor both my kids closely all the time to keep them safe, they wouldn’t be able to roam around our house as freely as they do. I’d likely need to force both of my children to play in the same room all the time, which would limit their ability to self-direct their play.
Let’s say I’m pretending to be a monster with my 4-year-old Joseph in the family room, and my 2-year-old Will starts heading upstairs to grab a toy that he wants to play with. It is so nice to know that he will be totally safe up there without my direct supervision. He is free to explore and self-direct his play, crucial to him developing independence.
3. As parents, we have a limited amount of parental resources
There’s only so much we can handle at one time. If my 4-year-old Joseph is downstairs using scissors and glue while my 2-year-old Will is simultaneously trying to get a drink of water in a regular cup upstairs, my parental resources will be maxed out. This is why we keep the scissors, glue, and regular cups where the boys can’t access them on their own. I still give them opportunities to use these items to help them develop independence, but only when I have enough parental resources to handle it.
Each act of discipline requires parental resources, and with each drop in parental resources, my discipline worsens because I am getting closer and closer to burning out. Whenever we go somewhere that isn’t child-proofed, I have to discipline much more often, resulting in a much faster drop in parental resources. I’d prefer to expend less parental resources disciplining, and more parental resources playing and learning with my kids.
I’d prefer to expend less parental resources disciplining, and more parental resources playing and learning with my kids.
So, whenever you find yourself sounding like a broken record, try to remember the wise (and snarky) words of Walter Barbe: “If you’ve told a child a thousand times, and the child still has not learned, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.”
Examples of Childproofing
Childproofing is much more than simply using baby locks on cabinets. Childproofing is noticing when certain items or situations tend to result in misbehavior and then adjusting the environment accordingly. Here are a few examples:
- You notice that your kids keep arguing over who gets to play with a remote control car. Put the remote control car up high in a closet where they won't see it or be able to get to it. Then only get it out when only one of the kids are around.
- You notice that your 3-year-old and 5-year-old tend to get on each other's nerves when they are sitting next to each other at the dinner table. In this case, simply make sure to set the table in a way that they are sitting as far away from each other as possible.
- You notice that your two kids are both cranky in the mornings and need a lot of personal attention. Instead of getting them out of bed at the same time, stagger their wake up times. Make sure the first kid is happy and content before getting the second one up.
As you can see, childproofing is simply about preventing misbehavior before it even happens. It is SO helpful in decreasing the stress in your everyday life as a parent. As a parent, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure.
Make a list of misbehavior you've noticed recently. If possible, make a plan to modify the environment in order to prevent that misbehavior next time.
Bonus Parenting Tool: Set Expectations
Another way to prevent misbehavior is to set expectations. If your child has a meltdown every time you say it is time to leave the park, try giving them a few warnings (i.e. "We're leaving in 10 minutes... 5 minutes... 2 minutes..."). Or if your child begs you to buy them stuff in the store, before going into the store you might say, "If you want anything, you can buy it with your own money. I won't be buying you anything, so please don't ask."
Bonus Parenting Tool: Role Play Challenging Situations
One final tool for preventing misbehavior is to role play challenging situations. You might practice it the wrong way and the right way (i.e. let's pretend it is time to leave the park and you don't want to leave. What shouldn't you do? What should you do?). If your kids are little, you might even do it with stuffed animals to make it more fun.
As a parent, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure.
Parenting Tool #4: Remove & Redirect
Another tool that often gets overlooked is removing and redirecting. It’s very simple. Let’s say your child starts banging a block on your nice wood floor. Instead of yelling or punishing, simply take the block away (remove) and provide something softer for banging with (replace).
For example, let’s say your child doesn’t like to leave the park when it is time to go home. In such situations, I’ve seen many parents argue with a toddler for over 10 minutes. I simply pick my child up (remove) and take him to the car where I give him his tablet to play on the way home (redirect). No arguing needed.
As another example, if my kids are not playing well together, I’ll simply remove my youngest son, and redirect him to a different activity where he can play by himself for a little bit. Simple, yet very effective.
Feel free to get creative with this. A friend recently told me that when their toddler is using a loud voice or yelling, they say, “You sound like you need to go to your room to find your calm voice.” They then walk their child to their room and back. Similarly, you might simply invite your child to come with you on a short walk or to take a snack break.
No matter how you do it, the key is to get your child away from the challenging situation (remove) and focused on something else (redirect).
Parenting Tool #5: Express Empathy For Your Child
As a parent, it can often feel like you are living in a zoo. You are surrounded by wild animals who have no rhyme or reason for their misbehavior. Yet, there is always a reason.
I really like the analogy given by Judy Arnall in her book Discipline Without Distress. She suggests that a child’s behavior is simply the tip of the iceberg. To truly understand our children, we need to consider the rest of the iceberg: the feelings and needs that resulted in the behavior.
For example, let’s say I’m trying to get my kids ready to go to the park to meet up with some friends, and my 4-year-old Joseph is yelling at me that he doesn’t want to go. If I just focus on his behavior, I might think, “What kid doesn’t want to play at the park? What is wrong with him? Sheesh!”
If I really try to understand him, however, I might realize that perhaps he is feeling frustrated because his need for autonomy isn’t being met. Perhaps he simply wants to be in charge of deciding what he does today. This way of thinking allows me to truly understand Joseph’s behavior and have compassion for him.
This is what empathy is all about: understanding another person’s feelings and needs. Not only does empathy allow me to better understand Joseph, but it also helps me calm him down. I might say, “Are you upset because you want to choose what we do today?” When I reflect back his feelings and needs like this, he feels understood and cared for.
I find this to be far more effective than saying something like, “Stop whining. We can’t always do what you want to do.” This won’t help him address and deal with his feelings and unmet needs. Instead, it will teach him to ignore his feelings and needs, which will not result in the healthy, happy, independent adult I am trying to help him become.
Empathy is something you can learn, but it takes a lot of conscious effort and practice. Oftentimes we may think we are being empathic, but we are really just making things worse. I think it helps to consider what empathy isn’t. H. Holley Humphrey suggests that Empathy is not:
- Advice Giving: “Please stop crying, Joseph. You’ll have a great time at the park if you just have a better attitude about it.”
- Explaining It Away: “We can’t always do what you want to do. Sometimes you have to do what other people in the family want to do.”
- Correcting: “But you love going to the park.”
- Consoling: “At least we are going to the park and not the grocery store. It could be worse.”
- Story-Telling: “When I was a kid, I remember not wanting to go to the park once. I was so glad I did though. I ended up having such a great time.”
- Shutting Down Feelings: “Cheer up. There’s no reason to be so upset. How can you possibly not want to go to the park?”
- Interrogating: “Why don’t you want to go to the park? Do you not want to see our friends?”
- Educating: “I’m sure you will have a great time at the park. There’s nothing to be upset about.”
- One-Upping: “When I was a kid, we had to drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest park. You are so lucky to have one nearby.”
- Sympathizing: “It’s so hard to not get to do what you want. I always feel so frustrated when that happens to me. I know exactly how you feel.”4
It can be so easy to resort to this kind of talk instead of using true empathy. The book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg really enhanced my ability to use empathy with my kids. It is a great place to start in developing this crucial parenting tool (See “How Nonviolent Communication Completely Transformed My Relationships”).
Bonus Parenting Tool: Meet Your Child's Needs on a Regular Basis
You can either wait until your child is screaming at you for food, or you can feed them meals on a regular basis. The same goes for emotional needs. So much of misbehavior could be prevented if we made meeting our kids needs on a regular basis a priority. Here are a few needs our kids have that commonly result in misbehavior if they are not met regularly (See "30+ Human Needs: A Comprehensive List" for the full list):
- Rest and Relaxation. We all know our little ones can turn into monsters if they skip even just one nap. As your child grows out of napping, it can be easy to forget they still need rest and relaxation. For this reason, even as our kids have gotten older, we still enforce naptime, during which everyone needs to be napping or playing quietly in their rooms. I notice a major difference in the behavior of my 5-year-old when he misses this quiet time. It is also essential for us as parents to have a nap or some quiet time each day.
- Physical Activity and Play. As we all know, kids don't do well with long car or airplane rides. They need time to get their wiggles out. Make sure your kids get enough playtime each day, and I'm confident you'll notice less misbehavior.
- Affection and Attention. I'm sure we've all noticed when our kids are only misbehaving because they want our attention. To prevent this, it is important to put our phones away and spend quality time with our kids. If you can include some kind of physical touch along with the attention, even better.
- Autonomy and Control. How would you feel if someone followed you around all day telling you what you can and can't do? This is how our kids feel when we don't give them enough autonomy. It can be as simple as letting them choose which shirt they want to wear or which color floss to use. Little choices like this really do add up.
Bonus Parenting Tool: Take Turns Counter
Giving your child enough attention and a sense of autonomy can be especially challenging when you have more than one child. One thing that has helped me with this is having a take turns counter. When both of my boys want to do different things with me at the same time, I pull out my phone and check whose turn it is. If it is Joseph's turn today, it will be Will's turn next time. I also keep track of how many turns I've used (this comes in handy when I want them to go on a playdate or to run an errand and they are both not wanting to go). Now that they've gotten used to this system, there is a lot less complaining about not getting to choose. They know their turn will come.
Parenting Tool #6: Express Empathy For Others
As parents, it can be difficult to remember the higher aim of discipline when we are in the heat of the moment. Asking myself the following question has really been helping me a lot in these moments: "What do I want this person's reasons to be for doing what I'm asking?"5
I think this question is worth considering regularly and deeply. What do you want your kids’ reasons to be for doing what you want them to do? Do you want them to do it out of fear, obligation, or guilt? Or do you want them to voluntarily do it out of love and compassion for themselves and others?
Expressing empathy for your child (Parenting Tool #5) should help your children develop compassion and understanding for their own feelings and needs. The goal of Parenting Tool #6 takes it one step farther: help them develop empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
The best place for this to start is in the parent-child relationship. When I am feeling frustrated by something my child is doing, I try to express myself using the four components of Nonviolent Communication:
- Observations - Behaviors that you can see or hear. They are observed, non-disputable, specific facts.
- Feelings - The emotions we are experiencing.
- Needs - Unmet internal desires and needs. They are the cause for the feelings we feel (See "30+ Human Needs: A Comprehensive List").
- Requests - Specific actions we’d like the other person to take so that our needs will be met.
For instance, let’s say Joseph and I are wrestling, and he accidentally pokes me in the eye. I might say, “Ouch. I just got poked in the eye (observation), and it really hurt (feeling). I don’t want to get hurt playing this game (need). Would you please be careful not to touch my eyes from now on (request)?”
My kids usually respond very well to this kind of talk, and they seem to really gain a feel for my internal experience. While punishment tends to create a hierarchical wall between parent and child, I find that Nonviolent Communication creates a bridge of understanding.
Punishment tends to create a hierarchical wall between parent and child.
In addition to expressing my own feelings and needs, I may also use Nonviolent Communication to express empathy for other people my children are interacting with. For instance, “Will was crying when you were sitting on him (observation). I think he was really sad (feeling) and he wanted you to get off of him (need). Would you please step away from him the next time he sounds upset (request)?”
Whenever I can, I try to express all four components, but that isn’t always possible. Sometimes, I might just express one component at a time:
- “Your bowl is about to fall off the table.”
- “You splashed milk on me.”
- “The floor is slippery.”
- “Will is crying.”
- “I’m feeling sad.”
- “I’m feeling frustrated.”
- “Will looks upset.”
- “Grandpa looks tired.”
- “I need some time to calm down.”
- “I want to play where I can see your brother.”
- “I need to finish making lunch before I can help you.”
- “Mommy needs to work right now.”
- “Will you please stop yelling?”
- “Will you please clean up the milk you spilled?”
- “Will you please put away your shoes?”
- “Will you please put your shirt on?”
Expressing empathy takes a conscious effort, but it is totally worth it. I can see it slowly transforming my kids over time. For instance, Will bonked his head during lunch today. While my wife was comforting him, Joseph grabbed a grape and went over to Will and offered it to him. He did it out of compassion for his younger brother, the best reason for a behavior I could ever ask for. This kind of result is impossible to obtain through punishment or prodding. It was one of those moments that melts your parenting heart… before the chaos begins again… 😉
Parenting Tool #7: Problem Solve Together
As my children get older, I’m trying to put them in charge of solving their problems more and more often. My goal is to help them figure out the feelings, needs, and requests of the people around them on their own.
For instance, I might ask Joseph, “Will was crying when you were sitting on him. How do you think he was feeling? Next time you are playing with him and he starts crying, what can you do?” Or perhaps I might ask, “If Will gets in your way, what can you do next time instead of pushing him next time?”
I think it is important to keep in mind that this kind of mental workout is impossible for a child who is flooded with emotions (i.e. having a temper tantrum). When a child’s emotional brain is active, it is hard for them to access their logical brain.6 For this reason, before trying to problem solve together, I’d recommend providing your child with empathy (Parenting Tool #5) until they’ve fully calmed down.
Parenting Tool #8: Offer Logical Consequences
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’ve found logical consequences to be an extremely useful parenting tool. A logical consequence is exactly what it sounds like: a consequence that makes logical sense. For example, if Joseph is hitting Will with a toy, I might say, “Joseph, stop hitting Will or I’m going to take that toy away.” The consequence makes sense: If you can’t use something nicely, that thing will be taken away.
Logical vs. Natural vs. Illogical Consequences
To better understand logical consequences, I find it helpful to consider two other types of consequences:
- Natural Consequences
- Illogical Consequences (aka Punishments)
Natural consequences occur without any intervention on the part of the parent. For instance, when my son is eating his cereal sometimes he spills milk on himself. He doesn’t like the feeling of milk on his body, so this acts as a natural consequence that helps deter him from spilling milk on himself again. No parental intervention needed. I can simply ignore it (Parenting Tool #2).
While it would be great if natural consequences were enough to ensure family harmony, this is simply not the case. There are many things that our children do that negatively impact the needs of others without any natural consequence for them to learn from. This is where logical consequences come in. They are imposed by the parent in an effort to help children understand the consequences of their actions.
Illogical Consequences (aka Punishments)
It is important to remember that logical consequences need to be logical; otherwise, they are illogical consequences. For example, “Joseph, stop hitting Will or I won’t let you watch any TV for the rest of the day” is a completely illogical consequence. What does watching TV have to do with hitting Will? Absolutely nothing. When logical consequences become illogical consequences, we start to cross the boundary from loving discipline into threats and punishment.
We must keep in mind that children are barely capable of logical thinking (i.e. “if A, then B”). For this reason, I think it is crucial to make sure your consequences are based on very simplistic logic. The connection needs to be as clear as day. Think caveman simple: “I hit man with stick. Stick get taken away. If hit, no stick. Aha! Me understand!”
I think it is also important to keep in mind that our intent in using logical consequences is not to hurt our children so badly that they won’t do that thing again. Our primary goal is to simply protect the needs of other people (i.e. protect Will from getting hit with the toy).
Examples of Logical Consequences
Over time, I’ve found that most behaviors can be addressed using these three logical consequences:
- Taking It Away
- Time Outs
- Paying For It
1. Taking It Away
As previously discussed, taking away an object that isn’t being used appropriately is a logical consequence that works well. Usually, I’ll start by giving a clear warning, “If you don’t stop squirting Joseph in the face, I’m going to take away the squirt gun.”
Then as soon as the offense is repeated, I will take it away. If I feel like I can trust them to use it appropriately after just a minute or two of the object being withheld, I’ll give it back with a warning, “If you squirt Joseph in the face again, I’ll take it away for the rest of the day.”
Remember, the goal here is not to punish but to protect.
Recent parenting books give time outs a really bad rap, which makes perfect sense: timeouts are used too often and too severely. If you are constantly locking your child up in his/her room for 5+ minutes each time, I would highly recommend re-evaluating your use of this parenting tool, perhaps taking a break from using it for a while.
If used appropriately, however, I think timeouts can be very effective. They act as a great logical consequence in situations in which one of my sons needs to be separated from someone or something. This is true to real life: If you can’t act appropriately in a store, the store owner has the right to ask you to leave the store.
Here are 3 keys to using timeouts appropriately:
a. Hold Them
Instead of trapping a child somewhere by his/herself, simply hold them in your arms during the timeout. Children are not developmentally ready to calm down by themselves, so leaving them to calm down on their own is completely ineffective. The physical touch and presence of their primary caregiver is essential in helping them regain their bearings.
b. Use Other Parenting Tools While Holding Them
The goal of the timeout is twofold: (1) Protect whoever/whatever needs separation from your child, and (2) Prepare your child to re-enter the situation. So, while you are holding your child, you may find it helpful to use other parenting tools to prepare your child. I personally like to start with empathy for my child and the person they were negatively impacting (Parenting Tools #5 and #6). I may also use it as an opportunity to problem solve together (Parenting Tool #7): “If Will takes your toy again, what can you do next time instead of pushing him?” Once I feel confident that my child is ready to re-enter the situation, I’ll put them down. Most timeouts only last a minute or two.
c. Use the Bedroom or Outdoors as a Last Resort
On a rare occasion (once every couple months), I need to physically separate Joseph from myself in an effort to protect myself or others within his vicinity. For instance, I might do this if he is yelling really loud over and over again with no sign of stopping, or if he is kicking or hitting me while I hold him for a timeout.
In these situations, I’ll give him a warning, “If you keep yelling, I’ll need to give you a timeout in your room.” Usually that’s more than enough to bring him back to reality and stop hurting the people around him. Once in a blue moon, though, I’ll need to take him to his room. I’ll leave him in there for as little time as possible, just enough time for myself to calm down and to help any victims calm down. From there, I’ll continue the timeout in my arms. I’ve never had to put him back in his room a second time.
As you can see, the goal is not to hurt Joseph into being good. The goal is to protect others and prepare the child to re-enter the situation. If you can keep this in mind, I’m confident that timeouts can be a useful logical consequence in your parenting toolbelt.
3. Paying For It
As an entrepreneur, I’m very passionate about the idea of opportunity cost. Very early on as a father, I realized that there was a very big opportunity cost for cleaning the house ourselves. I could spend an hour doing the dishes myself and miss out on an hour of play time with my boys (priceless) OR I could pay someone to do the dishes for me and spend that hour playing with my kids.
Understanding opportunity cost was the driving force behind me developing passive income businesses. Why spend another hour working for money when I could spend that hour learning to be a better dad or enjoying a special moment with my kiddos? Money can’t compare to priceless.
Because it has been so impactful for me, I want my kids to understand the power of opportunity cost from a very young age. For this reason, I try to provide them with many opportunities to see it in action. As an example, let’s say Joseph makes a mess that I know he is capable of cleaning up. I’ll say to him, “Do you want to clean it up, or do you want to pay me to clean it up?”
Sometimes he will willingly pay me to clean it up, in which case he’ll pay me 1 cent for every second it takes me to clean it up (I simply count 1, 2, 3…). Most of the time, though, he will simply clean it up himself because he’d rather save up his money.
This logical consequence also comes in handy if Joseph breaks something or causes damage to something. The other day he somehow got a hold of a permanent marker (we didn’t babyproof good enough I guess), and he drew all over the walls and carpet in his room. Because we felt he was developmentally old enough to know that he shouldn’t do that, we charged him for it. Similarly, we might charge him for purposefully breaking a family toy.
We pay a solid allowance so our kids have enough money to pay for things like this. We pay $1 per week per year of their age. So, since Joseph is 4 years old, we give him $4 a week. I’ve seen so many benefits come from giving Joseph an allowance. When we are at the store, and he asks me to buy something for him that I don’t want to buy for him, I just tell him to buy it for himself. I can’t remember a single time that Joseph whined or begged for me to buy something for him. He simply understands that when you want something, you have to save up for it and buy it.
Because it can be hard to think of logical consequences beforehand, you may find it helpful to create a list of family rules with behaviors on one side and logical consequences on the other. Feel free to make a copy of these family rules and then edit them to fit the needs of your own family (Click File and then Make a Copy). We don’t actively maintain a written list of rules, but writing them down can be very helpful in getting you and your co-parent on the same page. And if your kids are older, having them help decide on the logical consequences can be helpful.
Bonus Parenting Tool: Logical Rewards
Similar to using Logical Consequences for misbehavior, you can use Logical Rewards for positive behavior. I'd recommend using them sparingly so your kids don't become lab rats, expecting a reward around every corner. They come in handy for rare situations in which you really need immediate compliance from your child. A classic example is a family photo and you need your little ones to hold still and smile. It's a rare occasion, a small reward isn't going to spoil them, and the family picture will be treasured forever. The reward could be a candy, a small toy, a quarter, or my kids' favorite: a Pokemon card!
Before, During, and After Logical Consequences
I want to briefly share a few tips regarding the three stages of using logical consequences:
Before you ever give a child a logical consequence, I’d highly recommend clearly warning them first, giving them two options (worded as choices when possible): “Joseph, do you want to put toothpaste on your toothbrush or do you want me to do it for you.” In some cases, I find it helpful to do a countdown after giving them the options: “3, 2, 1, 0.” My kids know that once I reach zero, the logical consequence will be applied immediately.
I think it is important to apply the logical consequence right away without any hesitation. If you hesitate or fail to even give the logical consequence, your child will end up confused. Consistency is key.
When you apply the consequence, your child might throw a fit. That’s okay. It is important to accept them completely, their upset feelings and all. It helps to show them empathy at this point (Parenting Tool #5). You can show them empathy without blaming yourself. Remember, you gave them a clear warning and they chose this. You are simply carrying through with the logical consequence they chose.
Bonus Tip: Compromise Whenever Possible
I believe flexibility is important when it comes to enforcing logical consequences. If your child has a strong negative reaction to a logical consequence, listen to their feelings and see if there might be another option that still works.
For instance, today Joseph was squirting water into the air and the water was landing on me. I quickly thought up a logical consequence and said, "Stop spraying water in the air, or I'm going to take the squirt gun away." He really wanted to squirt the water, though, so he did it anyway. I took it away, and he was inconsolable.
While listening to his feelings, I realized that if he would just squirt the water down, it wouldn't land on me, so I said, "I'll give you back the squirt gun, but only shoot it down, okay? If you shoot it in the air, I'm going to take it away." This compromise met both of our needs.
Remember, the goal is not for the child to obey you. The goal is to consider and respect everyone's feelings and needs (those of the parent, child, and others nearby). Thinking of the right logical consequence in the moment is not easy, so don't be afraid to revise it when possible.
After giving your child a logical consequence, I think it is important to consider what unresolved needs your child might have. A logical consequence will likely not meet the needs they were trying to meet through their challenging behavior.
For instance, let’s suppose you have to take away your child’s toy because they kept throwing it at you. Think about why they might have been throwing it at you in the first place. Is it because they wanted to play with you? Is it because they wanted to punish you for something, and they needed to resolve a conflict with you? If you can find a way to meet their unmet need, their misbehavior will most likely stop.
In Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles, she provides a great analogy for this. A child’s feelings cause their challenging behavior much like the flames on a stove cause a pot to boil over. You can put a lid on it temporarily (using logical consequences or another form of discipline), and it may temporarily prevent the water from boiling over, but unless you address the root cause by turning down the heat (helping the child meet their unmet needs), you should expect that water to boil over again and again and again.
In addition to thinking of ways to meet your child’s unmet needs, I’d also recommend thinking about how childproofing might prevent you from needing to discipline this behavior in the future. For instance, after we found out our son had drawn all over his room with a permanent marker, we made sure to put it where he would never be able to find it again. As parents, we have a lot more power to prevent bad situations than we give ourselves credit for.
Parenting Tool #9: Make It Fun
After going through all these parenting tools, you may be thinking to yourself, "man, parenting is so much work!" And it certainly is. The key is to whistle while you work. If you aren't having fun with your kids, you are missing the whole point of being a parent (and perhaps life itself). Additionally, having fun while you parent can make your job as a parent easier. This is because having fun:
- Helps Meet Your Child's Needs. Watch kids for just a little while, and you will notice that they crave attention and fun. Having fun with your kids on a regular basis can help meet these essential human needs. And as we just discussed at the end of Tool #8, when their needs are being met, misbehavior is far less likely.
- Makes Challenging Situations Less Troublesome. I recently noticed that my 3-year-old was misbehaving a lot during the bedtime ritual. At the end of the day, I'm very tired and running out of parental resources, so I found this to be very frustrating. One day, I just started making bedtime into more of a game. I told him to open his mouth as big as a T Rex while brushing his teeth. I made up a silly song while changing his diaper. And when he ran away (a common occurrence), I raced him back to his bed. I noticed his compliance went way up, and his misbehavior went way down. So, if you notice more misbehavior in certain situations, try infusing them with some fun and see what happens.
- Can Help Your Child Calm Down. In addition to empathy (As discussed in Tool #7), laughter can also help calm down your child's emotional brain. You have to be careful here, though. If you try to make a joke or tickle your child when they are in a bad mood or really upset, they will just get more upset as it will seem like you are mocking their pain. Instead, provide them with empathy until they are mostly calmed down, then try doing something to get them running around or laughing. This will help them burn off the remaining steam, calm down their emotional brain, and allow their logical brain to regain control.
PROTECTIVE VS. PUNITIVE FORCE
The 9 parenting tools I’ve shared with you in this article are examples of protective force. Their purpose is to protect our child and the people around them. An example of this would be holding your toddler back from running into the road. This stands in direct contrast to punitive force, which is used to punish. For instance, spanking a child for running into the road.7
Parenting is stressful stuff. I mean really stressful stuff. And when you start burning out, it can be easy to slip up and allow your protective force to become punitive. In such moments, there is no need to beat yourself up. You are doing the best you can at the toughest job on the planet. It’s okay.
Whenever you find yourself slipping up, look at it as a signal to yourself that you need a time out. It’s simply a warning sign that you are burning out and need a breather. To get better at catching yourself, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the punitive tactics outlined in my article, “100+ Tactics Used to Control, Manipulate, and Verbally Abuse.”
ADJUSTING YOUR DISCIPLINE AS YOUR CHILDREN GROW
As your children grow up, it is imperative that you adjust which parenting tools you rely on. Try to use gentler, more-positive, and less-controlling discipline over time. You should slowly increase the amount of freedom your children have. Independence is the goal (See "How We Teach Our Kids Life Skills Using 150+ Badges").
If you are having a hard time giving your child freedom, you may want to consider pairing freedom with logical consequences (tool #8). For instance, my 2-year-old son recently fought for independence from his high chair. Even though he is still a very messy eater, we decided to give him this freedom with the added responsibility of needing to stay at the table during mealtimes. If he leaves the table, he knows that the consequence is that he will need to go back in his high chair for the remainder of the meal. In this way, logical consequences allow us to provide more freedom, sooner.
As portrayed in this comic, it is extremely important to slowly provide our kids with greater amounts of freedom over time. In Love and Logic, this is known as “The V of Love”:
In an effort to provide your children with increasing amounts of freedom, here’s how your use of each of the 9 parenting tools might change over time:
- Say Thank You - Hopefully you can maximize your use of this tool at every stage of your child’s development. The more positive, the better.
- Ignore It - I would hope that this tool becomes your go-to by the time your children are teenagers. Hopefully by that point, they can be free to learn on their own (natural consequences) with their home as a safe place to recover.
- Childproof - This tool will likely be the only tool you’ll need when your child is still crawling. It should be your primary tool for decreasing the amount of discipline needed for toddlers. From there, I would recommend using it less and less over time. By the time your kids are teenagers, I’d think they should have full access to everything out there so that they can fully experience the natural consequences of their actions.
- Remove & Redirect - This is a great tool for babies and toddlers as they redirect very quickly, forgetting whatever it was they had before almost immediately. Your use of it will likely decrease from there and will hopefully be retired by the time your kids are teenagers.
- Express Empathy For Your Child - This is a great tool for all ages, but will become especially important as you phase out your use of other parenting tools as your kids reach the teenage years. Expressing empathy for your teen no matter what natural consequences they are putting themselves through provides them with the unconditional love they need from you during such a turbulent time. Your relationship with them is of primary importance, and once they leave home, it is all you will have with them.
- Express Empathy For Others - This tool is also great for all ages, but as your child reaches their teenage years, you’ll want to limit yourself to expressing your own needs and feelings as well as showing empathy for your child. Expressing empathy for other people that your teenager is negatively impacting instead of your teenager may give them the idea that you are not on their side. You need to protect your own feelings and needs while letting your teenager know that you are there for them no matter what.
- Problem Solve Together - This is another tool that is great for all ages, but when your child reaches their teenage years, it may be best to only use it when they request your guidance. It’s best to let your teen solve their own challenges. Remember, guiding them is less important than maintaining your relationship with them at this stage.
- Offer Logical Consequences - This tool is great for all ages, but hopefully natural consequences can replace the need for most logical consequences once they reach their teenage years. The more independence you can give your teenager, the less you will feel the need to create logical consequences. For instance, if you put your child in charge of buying their own car, they can learn from the natural consequences of poor driving and car maintenance without you needing to come up with logical consequences for damaging the family car. For any logical consequences that do need to exist for your teenagers, they may react better to them if they have a say in what they are (i.e. creating family rules together).
- Make It Fun - Having fun with your kids should be a priority no matter their age, but this tool can be especially effective with toddlers.
Bonus Tip: Immediate Compliance is NOT the Ultimate Goal
If you use a tool and your kids don't immediately comply, it doesn't mean the tool isn't working. And even once you've mastered all of these parenting tools, you should still expect some misbehavior. They are kids after all. The real goal of these parenting tools is to slowly shape our children into happy, independent adults. That will never happen if we are controlling them into behaving perfectly in every moment. We need to be okay with our kids making mistakes, and be there to provide them with empathy, love, and attention all along the way.
CONTINUALLY ENHANCING YOUR PARENTING TOOLBELT
By this point, you should have a pretty solid list of parenting tools to use in a variety of situations. Making a list of parenting tools is one thing, implementing them in a heated moment is another. For this reason, it can help to make a plan for specific situations.
Recently Lindsey and I were noticing more misbehavior than normal and were getting burnt out. So, we sat down and made a list of all the misbehavior we were noticing. For each misbehavior, we wrote down a cause for the misbehavior, and a plan for addressing it. We kept our list of parenting tools handy to help us brainstorm. Here's a short excerpt of our list:
- Throwing things at meal time caused by wanting attention or needing to get wiggles out - Invite them to sit on our lap. Encourage them to finish eating so they can go play.
- Throwing diaper during changing time caused by wanting attention or being tired - Babyproof by not leaving diaper sitting next to him.
- Throwing things at the car caused by wanting attention - Ignore it initially, giving them attention in other ways. Later, express sincere worry for the car.
Doing this exercise together helped so much that we are planning on doing it once a week to address any new behaviors that crop up (See "How We Do Weekly Family Meetings"). I'd highly recommend sitting down with your partner and going through this exercise.
Sit down with your partner and make a list of any misbehavior you've noticed recently. For each misbehavior, think of a potential cause and make a plan to address it. Keep your list of parenting tools handy to help you brainstorm. Decide on a time to do this exercise with your partner on a regular basis.
These 9 parenting tools currently work very well for me, but that doesn’t mean they will all work for you. In the many different parenting books I’ve read, I’ve encountered lots of parenting tools that I’ve found little to no use for. But, every now and then, I’ll stumble upon a gold nugget.
You may have to search high and low to find the tools that will work for you. The key is to keep searching for and refining your tools over time. When you run into a scenario that leaves you feeling like a tool is missing, pick up a parenting book or two, and start searching. Parenting is tough work, but having a variety of parenting tools can make it just a little bit easier.
Finalize your current list of parenting tools. Are there any parenting situations you are currently facing that you don't have an adequate tool for? If so, set some goals to find the missing tools.
Hi fellow human! Thanks for visiting my personal blog. I’m an intentional family man who is currently passionate about parenting, family culture, homeschooling, and self improvement. This blog isn’t a business. It’s just my way of connecting with people with just as much passion for these topics as me. So, if you enjoy my musings, be sure to reach out.
- Love is All You Need by The Beatles
- ”Discipline” by Merriam-Webster
- The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle
- ”Empathic Listening” by H. Holley Humphrey
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
- I’d highly recommend reading The Whole Brained Child by Daniel J. Siegel for a detailed understanding of a child’s emotional vs. logical brain
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg