The Secret to Disciplining Your Kids Without a Meltdown

By Courtney Elmer

I often wonder how St. Catherine of Siena’s mother did it. And, by “it” I mean raising 25 children. I’m over here pulling my hair out with one sometimes! (St. Catherine and your mom, please pray for me.)

When it comes to disciplining young children, it can be tough. As parents, we know that discipline is good and necessary for the formation of our children’s moral character, but those moments can sometimes be full of tears, defiance, acting out, pouting and other challenges.

I once learned something that I always told myself I’d test out whenever I had kids. I didn’t know if it would be effective, but I figured it was worth a try. I have to let you in on this little secret, because it works. In fact, people often marvel at how well our (headstrong, high-energy) son listens at only 20 months old.

It starts with understanding how God created our brains to process language: that is, how our unconscious mind has a tough time understanding negative words like “don’t,” “won’t” “can’t”, etc.

For example, if I said “don’t look!” You’d have to look before you could not look. That’s just how our brains process information – they have to DO the thing we say not to do, before we cannot do it.

Stick with me, and fast forward to life with AJ, who is fearless and hasn’t quite figured out how gravity works.

If I were to tell him, “Don’t stand on the table,” the most likely thing to happen would be for him to defy me, stand on said table and scream and cry when I run over to take him down before he busts open his lip. Then he’d try to do it again, which would land him in time out, and this would go on ad infinitum until we’re both exhausted.

Yet, with one simple tweak in language, you can exponentially increase the chances of getting your kids to listen better: tell them what you “DO” want, rather than what you don’t want.

Instead of “Don’t get on that table!” say, “Put your feet on the floor.” Instead of “Don’t touch the stove!” you could say, “Sweetie that’s hot, and it could hurt you. Please keep your hands to yourself.”

As faith-filled Catholic parents who want to raise strong, moral and disciplined children to prepare them for this modern world, this simple tweak in our approach is easy to make, and it’s effective. Try it. It just might save you both some tears. It has for us. I hope it helps you, too!

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