Q&A: Responding to discipline respectfully


My son responds to discipline in a defiant manner. We have come up with clear consequences for certain behaviours. Even though he knows the consequences, when we apply the discipline (wash the dishes for a week) he gets out-of-control angry. Do you have any suggestions on how to help him respectfully respond when he has made the choice to disobey?

Answer: The main issue here is not your son’s disobedience (you’ve already established reasonable consequences for that), but his angry and inappropriate outbursts when those consequences are enforced.

Author Shana Schutte suggests that parents not wait until their child becomes angry to deal with the problem. Think about the last time you were really angry. Was it easy to reason with you? More than likely, the problem was resolved after you had a chance to cool off. In the same way, wait until your son is calm before addressing his anger. In addition, author Lynne Thompson suggests the following:

  • Show respect. Don’t participate by calling names or getting physical.
  • Give your child words to express his anger. Say “I know you are disappointed, or sad or frustrated.”
  • Set positive limits. Instead of saying, “Don’t you throw that toy,” say, “After you put the toy on the table, we can talk about this.”
  • Avoid power struggles. If your goal is to control, you will teach him to control others.
  • Provide a cooling-off period by reading a book together or going on a walk. Then calmly discuss what happened and make a plan for next time.

Finally, help your son find clarity about what is driving his anger. Is it the consequences? Guilt about getting caught in certain behaviours? He needs to learn what’s in his heart that’s driving his anger, not just focus on the surface of his angry actions.

Your son’s outbursts might simply represent an attempt on his part to avoid the consequences (i.e., washing the dishes) of his original infraction. Even as you employ techniques to help diffuse his anger, make sure he follows through on washing those dishes!

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