3 steps to disciplining your child without killing their spirit

How to guide and govern your child’s behaviour so that THEY take responsibility for their actions and make more effective choices, AT ANY AGE – even toddlers!!!

Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if you could only master the ability to somehow teach your child to become so conscious of their behaviour and the choices they make, so that you didn’t have to constantly remind them and nag them about the same thing over and over, end up losing your cool, yell, hit, or crush them with your words by acting out of anger (and then dealing with the guilt afterwards)!!!

Again, I would like to recommend and give credit to Chick Moorman, who wrote the book “Parent talk”. This was the most pivotal book for me personally, in regards to my parenting. I highly suggest you get a copy! Alot of what I will write here, I learned from this book!

Children often choose behaviours we don’t appreciate. But I believe it is at these very moments, that our responsibility as parents is to separate the deed from the doer!! The best way to do this is to speak positively to the child first, and then constructively to the behaviour second.

deed from doer (1)

“I love you Ellie, but I don’t like shopping with people who choose that behaviour” – notice we didn’t say “I don’t like shopping with you when you choose that behaviour”. We said “I don’t like shopping with people who“. This takes the behaviour away from “Ellie” and it is not a personal attack at her.

“Billy, I really enjoy being with you, but when you decide to be that loud, I need to go somewhere else” – notice we didn’t say “I don’t like being with you when you’re that loud”. It wasn’t made personal to Billy.

“Stephen and Sienna, I love you both, but when you choose to fight and hit each other, you are choosing to spend some time alone in your bedroom”.

This kind of language makes it clear that the parent is not willing to accept the behaviour, but he/she still loves the child. In this case, the child does not feel disapproved of. It is the behaviour that is disapproved of, not the child.

In order to protect the self-esteem and the ‘spirit’ of the child, children must learn that they are not their behaviour. Sometimes, children equate themselves with their actions, and so when they are told off, the conversation they have with themselves on the inside of their mind is that it was THEM that wasn’t good enough, and it was THEM that mummy or daddy doesn’t like, rather than the BEHAVIOUR.

As parents, we must NEVER use words such as “you are”, or “gosh  you’re”…  For example, You are naughty! Gosh you’re naughty! Gosh you’re annoying! This is a personal attack on the child, and injures their spirit and the belief they have of themselves! If you are a parent who uses this language, you really really have to make a decision right this very moment to stop this right now, with no exceptions, as if your life depended on it. Don’t beat yourself up, you can’t ever do better until you know better… and after this article, you will know better, so you can now do better!

Another form of language we have found VERY useful and extremely effective in our family is using the words “I’m surprised” when they are choosing behaviour we don’t like. For example, I would say something like:

“Amani, I am quite surprised by the behaviour you are choosing right now. That’s the kind of behaviour negative people choose. And I already know you are such a positive person, so please behave like YOU and not someone else!”

This reminds the child how highly you think of them, and how far below your expectation they are falling in that moment. They realise instantly that they have the power to live up to your expectations simply by choosing different behaviour. This language actually BUILDS their self-esteem and self-worth at the same time because they are validated. Their internal conversation they have with themselves after something like this is “Mum believes I’m a positive person, so I should act like one, because that’s who I really am”.

Whereas saying something like “Amani, stop being so negative” or “You are so negative Amani”, would hurt her spirit and affirm to her that SHE is negative, and more importantly, that her mum thinks she is negative. So her internal conversation becomes “mum thinks I’m a negative person, so I must be”. And all of a sudden, that becomes who they think they are, and so they live up to that self-image and continue to use such behaviour, and end up with low self-esteem.

3 steps to use when disciplining your child:

1. To communicate positive expectations to your children, when you are wanting to correct their bad behaviour, begin your sentences with words such as

“What a shock!”

“I can hardly believe this”

“This takes me by surprise”

“I sure didn’t expect this”

“This catches me off guard”

“I am so surprised by this!”

2. Speak to the child first by affirming that you love them, so that you are separating the doer from the deed

“I love you, but…”

“I like spending time with you, however…”

“You know, I think you are so amazing, so it really disappoints me when…”

3. Refer to the choice the child has made in choosing their behaviour by using the words “pick”, “choose”, “decide”, and then apply the consequence. This way, they are encouraged to take full responsibility for their actions, and they understand they have the power to change them any time they choose.

“When you choose to use your loud voice inside, you are choosing to not spend time with me because I’m going to have to leave the room”

“When you decide to hit your brother, you are deciding to have ‘thinking time’/time-out”

“When you pick that behaviour, you’re showing me that you don’t want to go to your friend’s house tomorrow”

So your entire sentence would look something like:

“Wow, I am so surprised by the choices you are making right now Johnny. You know, I think you are such an amazing person, but when you choose to throw your toys, you are choosing to have them packed away for an hour. You’ll have to find something else to do. Please pack them up immediately”.

It is important for the child to always feel like THEY controlled and ‘chose’ their consequences, not that the consequence was something the parent did to them. It is not a case of “mum made me go to my room”. No. YOU chose to go to your room when YOU chose that behaviour. If ever my children have said something like that, where they are saying that I ‘did’ something ‘to’ them, rather than accepting responsibility for their own actions, my conversation in return would be something like this,

“No. That wasn’t my choice. It was yours. You chose to go to your room when you chose to hit your sister. But that’s okay, mistakes are how we learn, so by going to your room after choosing that behaviour, you will learn what to do next time, and it’s my responsibility as your parent to teach you that. I certainly don’t want you in your room. I would love to have you out here playing with me. But it was a decision you made, and I respect that. You’re allowed to make your own choices. Now spend some time in your bedroom and I look forward to seeing you again when you’re ready to come out and play nicely.”

Scroll up and practice using the 3 steps by stringing some sentences together that you can start using today. You will find that as soon as you start to discipline your child without hurting their spirit, they will be less rebellious and will actually truly respect you for giving them their boundaries, as this is what makes them feel safe and secure.

After a while, your children will often gladly accept their consequence without arguing, crying, yelling or whinging, because they normally only fight back with these emotions when their self-esteem is crushed and they feel embarrassed or put down by the way they are being told off, because they are taking it so personally and believe that THEY are their behaviour.

Separating the deed from the doer omits all these emotions and actually empowers the child and helps them to feel good about themselves, so there is no need for them to act out at you.


Image source: freedigitalphotos.net


About the Author

I'm mother of 3 girls. I have been in business since the age of 19. I have definitely discovered my life's purpose, and I aim to inspire you to discover yours! "In a world where you can be anything, be YOURSELF"

Leave a Reply 9 comments

Luke - November 13, 2015 Reply

Thank you for this article I found it really helpful I’ve been relatively aware some of the wording I use with my son may not be all that good but I wasn’t sure how to correct it. I genuinely liked this article and appreciate your advice

Luke - November 17, 2015 Reply

Thank you Mrs Holly Nunan for the countless hours you have spent growing yourself and understanding people in general, my mind has been in constant too and fro with my parenting skills of my 3 yr old, I realized that disciplining him with a smack or ‘cracking up’ at him wasn’t working but due to the lack of my personal growth I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew what I DIDN’T want to do! from the FIRST time I tried it ‘your way’ it worked! I noticed Jai stopped and literally thought about what he was doing and changed his behaviour and actually discussed his options with me! for the last 4 days I haven’t yelled, got angry or definitely smacked his bum!… I haven’t needed to! so thank you for the article I have been looking for, and for anyone who has been feeling guilty about getting frustrated and lashing out with words or actions, with your children… READ THIS ARTICLE what do you have to lose? remember this is a persons LIFE we’re talking about here.. wouldn’t you want to get it right?

Jamie Vu - November 19, 2015 Reply

Even though I don’t have kids myself, I am very pleased to feel how clear the method of communication Mrs. Holly Nunan implements and teaches. It gives you the choice to say no to a person’s behaviour without feeling guilty. It’s a very effective way of sending a message across without sending any mixed messages that breeds resentment, and this method actually allows them to still feel valued.

Also a big thing on Self-Image, carefully using the 3-steps to allow the child to grow and not accept negative feedback as WHO they really are. As the saying goes, as the twig is bent, the tree will not grow in the right direction. Give this article a read and share it.

Love xo
Jamie Vu

alison - November 19, 2015 Reply

Holly thanks for making the steps so simple. I totally support what you’re saying. We spend our whole life dealing with choices and consequences and this is teaching our children exactly the same from a young age. As parents we try to do this, so that our chldren take responsibility for their actions. Love how you teach about building up kids, we have to! We can’t ‘crush’ them, we have to nurture and develop them into rounded adults. Great you’re ‘spreading the word’. Thanks Alison

Petcharat Moss - November 21, 2015 Reply

Thank Holly!
This cultivate the positive approach in both children and parents !
As the mother of four I find myself struggle trying to discipline my children and up with anger and stress!
What you give us is the positive way to deal with so we get the great outcome!
Thank you again and again!

Sally - November 22, 2015 Reply

I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders!!
I knew that my three year old was “switched on” so I found it frustrating when I “reasoned” with him and he didn’t get it! But now I’ve tried this new approach – what a dramatic change in his behaviour!! Within the first day of talking to him, with the focus of discipline being his decision, not only has he been making the right choices but I dont need to feel guilty for sending him to quiet time if it happens. How empowering to be able to retain spirit in my son, remain calm and still be achieving such positive results. Thank you Holly Nunan for this sound advice.

Sabrina - December 7, 2015 Reply

I love this article. We all need teaching, and also a constant reminder of how to best to discipline our children without crushing their spirit.
I found this to be so helpful right now with my son. Much needed. Thankyou Mrs Nunan for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

sonia n. perez - December 19, 2015 Reply

I loved learning from this. I don’t have children but Ive been a Nanny and I cringed every time I heard parents disciplined their children. I always enforce positive talk even while i disciplined the child. But this helped understand a better way to speak to them. Thank You!

Rachela Leo - December 27, 2015 Reply

Holly you are my hero!! Thank you so much for this article on discipline. I’ve just spent the last hour battling with my son because of his behavior. He can be so stubborn sometimes, I’ve tried punishing him, bribing him, taking things away, the naughty corner, and have even made him fall asleep in the naughty corner on the cold hard floor! And still nothing. But while he was in the naughty corner just now I remembered your article and read it.
So I went back in and OMG when I spoke to him using the words from your article he thought about it and changed straight away! He went straight to his toy room and cleaned up everything!! And he keep saying “mum I can choose to be good”
Thank you so much I will be doing this from now on! You’ve made my life so much easier!

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