“An unhappy child is a healthy child.”
At first glance, that comment from Dr. Kevin Leman catches you off guard a little, doesn’t it?
But dig a little deeper, and I think you’ll see what he means. There really are times when your son or daughter needs to be unhappy.
Well, maybe they’ve just talked back to you, disobeyed you, or disrespected you. Whatever they’ve done, you need to create an unhappy experience to help them learn that sort of behavior is unacceptable.
The “unhappy experience” could be taking away a child’s toy, their phone, the keys to the car, or not allowing them to go out on Friday night. The discipline can take a lot of different forms, but the intent is for the child to learn that they don’t want that to happen again, and they decide to change their behavior.
It’s a concept Dr. Leman calls “action-oriented discipline,” and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s as simple as it sounds. You take action. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a 3-year-old, you’ll understand why. You’ll rarely get the results you’re after.
That’s because your kids want to engage you in battle. Or maybe I should put it this way: kids want what they want, and they’re often willing to do battle to get it. And we parents enable those conflicts to escalate when we respond to their misbehavior with passivity.
Action-oriented discipline switches that around. It puts you, the parent, in healthy authority over your children. And that’s important if children are going to grow up respecting boundaries and the parents who set them.
That’s why the goal of parenting should never be to have a child who’s happy if their happiness is coming at the expense of good character. We ought to be about the business of training our kids to be happy in the truest sense of the word. It doesn’t come from being the center of the universe, which is what a lot of kids feel they are. True happiness comes, in part, from caring about other people.
As I said, the concept is simple, but I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t always easy. Most of us struggle when it comes to disciplining our kids. It’s tough, and it can be downright inconvenient and even exhausting. That’s why at the end of a long day it’s easy to let our kids walk all over us instead of maintaining boundaries and putting our foot down.
You also have to go the extra mile to preserve the tether of love that keeps them connected to you. Even in the midst of discipline, you’ve got to find a way to say to your child, “Listen, this has been hard for both of us, but I want to make sure you know I love you. I’m trying to help you grow.” My wife and I practice that kind of communication with our boys. It helps in those challenging times when we’re trying to direct them toward a better path.
If you’re struggling with discipline in your home, I encourage you to join us for “Sound Advice for Today’s Parents,” our broadcast today and tomorrow with Dr. Kevin Leman. With his usual wit and humor, Dr. Leman offers parents some down-to-earth, practical advice and some great insight into how to do parenting a lot more effectively. I think you’ll also appreciate the fun perspective Dr. Leman takes toward parenting. He reminds us that we need to have a sense of humor as parents.
But we also want our kids to follow the rules and to grow up in both character and maturity. Part of instilling that noble character is accepting that sometimes we have to make decisions that won’t make our kids very happy.