Imagine if we didn’t have to yell, scream or resort to desperate measures in order to help our children manage their sometimes explosive emotions – aka temper tantrums…
Well with the right tools in your toolkit, you don’t have to. The answer is simple – discipline.
Now to me, discipline isn’t about yelling, “Go to your room!” or asserting dominance.
It’s all about teaching communication, teaching regulation. It’s all about conscious and humble leadership that demonstrates trust.
So, here are my six tips to discipline without tantrums or tempers!
1. You can’t have double standards
We don’t have a relationship where I’m allowed to do one thing and he’s not.
I can’t yell and he can’t yell, I can’t hit him and he can’t hit me.
I’m teaching him responsibility, and I stand by that so I don’t act in a way that I wouldn’t appreciate him acting.
I’ll give you an example, just this morning he came up to me, carrying this big plastic sword he loves.
He pretended to stab me and I laughed, then he got a bit over excited and whipped me across the back with it, and it bloody hurt.
Writing this now, I’ve still got a pretty gnarly mark.
He could tell I was in pain and he’d gone a bit far, but I didn’t raise my voice.
I got on his level and looked him in the eye, and told him that he’d hurt me. And he said, “Sorry Dad”.
So I asked him, “Why should we not have done that, mate?”
“Because I hurt you, sorry I hurt you, dad.”
That there is also a perfect example that you can discipline without making your kids feel bad by yelling, screaming, shaming, or smacking them.
I’m teaching him that you don’t get your way by force or manipulation, you get it by communication and compromise.
2. Manhandling can lead to tantrums
Another pretty common one in our household is in the morning when I’m trying to get out the door, we’re in a hurry to go somewhere, and he’s just wandering around going “la de da de da”.
He’s off opening a toy box I just packed up, getting his favourite toy from the bottom, all while I’m standing at the door begging him to hurry up.
Even then, I will never, ever pick him up and manhandle him.
I’ve done it once or twice in the past, and he’s actually said to me “Dad, stop I don’t feel safe.”
When you manhandle a child like that, you’re invading their space and it’s just gonna end in a tantrum.
It’s also just a massive violation of consent.
If a child is in a state for whatever reason and you physically dominate them, they’re suddenly going “Oh god, I’m completely powerless. I thought I was safe with you but now you’re my greatest threat.”
No-one wants their kid to feel that way about them, right?
3. When kids are in chaos, we stay calm and present
Another one I think a lot of parents can relate to the classic “I’m not going to bed” stand-off.
Maybe he wants to play with his toys or he’s refusing to go to bed if he doesn’t get dessert (when he didn’t eat his veggies and I must’ve told him a hundred bloody times he doesn’t get dessert if he’s not gonna choke down some greens).
In most cases he won’t want to talk, or he’ll pout and be all like “Go away, you’re mean and I’m not talking to you.”
The key is for me to be patient. I literally just say “OK mate, I’ll just sit over here”.
I give him time and space, I sit patiently and presently, and eventually- whether it’s one minute or 40 minutes later- he’ll do what I say.
That’s why building trust with your kids is so important because they eventually learn to trust that your decisions and your instructions are in their best interests.
In that situation, he’s got a good little workout for his willpower and resilience, but he’s also complied without any trauma or emotion.
4. Communication and understanding are the best response to conflict
Noah is a really good kid, but on the rare occasion he does something that’s really not on, it requires a bit of special discipline.
We’ll sit down and I’ll go, “Right, what happened?”
And he’ll explain to me what happened and I’ll say, “Why did you do that, what was driving it?”
Once he’s offered an explanation, I’ll say, “What do you think you could have done differently?”
After that, we’ll go, “Right, what will you do next time? If you’re in the same situation next time, what will you do?”
In that whole process, I’m asking why he feels like he needed to do that, I’m not actually making him feel wrong. I’m just exploring why he did that, what he could have done differently and what he’s going to do next time.
So in the process of asking him, I’m going, “Just think about why you’re doing that. Okay. Now think about the consequences of doing that. You did that now, so here are the consequences, think about those consequences, and now let’s think strategically, next time this happens, what do you think you could do differently?”
Kids aren’t taught based on right and wrong, good and bad, pain and pleasure.
When kids experience violence, whether they’re being disciplined or they’re the ones acting out, it’s totally senseless.
There’s no thought process, no executive function, no neurons being activated. If you take the time to teach them how to think, then they start behaving differently without you needing to impose warnings and conditions all the time.
5. Kids need firm boundaries
I wouldn’t say I’m a strict dad at all, but I definitely believe it’s important to set clear boundaries.
Kids are hectic little things, and as much as they might want to watch TV all night and eat ice cream for dinner, they actually do want boundaries.
Noah takes after me in that he’s persistent, which is a bit of a blessing and a curse.
And I do sometimes give in, but it depends on the boundary I set at first.
When he wants a treat or to stay up a bit later, I’ll either say yes or no, and I’ll mean it.
If I give a soft, wishy washy no, I’ve opened myself up for 15 minutes of hell and “but whyyyyyyy?”
If there’s a really firm and solid, definitive no, with a solid reason, 50% of the time he’ll take it. The other 50% he’ll keep nagging, but at least I know I’m making myself clear.
6. Emotional regulation is the greatest gift we can give
Kids can be chaos, I know that Noah is super energetic and I really had to focus on teaching him how to regulate.
He would get so hyperactive playing with other kids or playing with me, and that energy would build up and be uncontained, and he’d get so excited he’d hit. It would literally be like “Ahhh I love you so much”, WHACK! And hit the kid or something.
As young as two, I was teaching him how to regulate and how to breathe. When I could see him getting hyperactive, I’d say “Noah, buddy, deep breath with daddy” and we’d take a deep breath together.
I’ve been teaching him that for literally the last four years or so, and now whenever I see it, I get so proud.
All those years of saying “Noah, regulate” and now I see him doing it autonomously.
He’ll be running around in the yard with a friend and I’ll see him stop and take a deep breath, and that’s him regulating in that high intensity moment.
That behavior is driven by a thought process. All I taught him was to slow down, think, and breathe whenever his emotions get out of control. That’s regulation.
So, all we’re doing here is connecting neurons in a way where over time, he can coordinate his own thinking.
When it boils down to it, discipline is more about teaching than it is about punishment, authority, or getting them to do what you want.
When we teach our kids to think and break down their behaviour and actions, we can set them up for success, and that’s all every parent really wants.