Kimberly Eckert, M.Sc., Registered Psychologist

Most of us are unaware of our discipline style as parents because it is not taught in a course at college but rather is learned through the collection of
experiences we have had in relationship with our own parents, caregivers, and other important relationships. What feels like our “intuitive” response in a discipline situation with our children is actually coming from our procedural memory – our history of what it is like to be in a relationship. This is why we often catch ourselves saying or doing things our parents said or did that we swore we’d never say or do!

We learn to parent much like we learn to ride a bike – we just know how to parent like we know how to ride a bike. It is hard to use words to tell another person why we discipline the way we do. This is why the most important skill that helps us discipline our children with warmth and firmness is the skill of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to reflect on our behavior for the purpose of identifying what we want to keep doing and stop doing. We can look for patterns in what we are doing today by trying to understand how our history from our family of origin has shaped us. This is not for the purpose of “blaming” our parents but to learn from them – both from their successes and failures.

Here are four ways that parents might handle a discipline situation with their
child. See if any of the approaches sound familiar as you continue your self-awareness journey as a parent:

The Marshmallow Discipline Style:

Parent:  “Sorry, a playdate won’t work today. You have to finish your homework before soccer.”

Daughter:  “What? You don’t trust me? Of course I’ll do my homework if Jessica comes over to play. PLEASEEEE mom?”

Parent:  “Fine (sigh).”

The Tornado Discipline Style:

Parent:  “Sorry, a playdate won’t work today. You have to finish your homework before soccer.”

Daughter: “What? You don’t trust me? Of course I’ll do my homework if Jessica comes over to play. PLEASEEEE mom?”

Parent:  “ENOUGH (loud voice)!”

Daughter:  “You never listen to me!”

Parent:  “Listen to you (louder voice) – you don’t know how good you have it! Hurry, go get Jessica, we don’t have all day…don’t expect this next time!”

The Sergeant Discipline Style:

Parent: “Sorry, a playdate won’t work today. You have to finish your homework before soccer.”

Daughter: “What? You don’t trust me? Of course I’ll do my homework if Jessica comes over to play. PLEASEEEE mom?”

Parent: “ENOUGH (loud voice)!”

Daughter: “You never listen to me!”

Parent: “Listen to you (louder voice) – you don’t know how good you have it! Now there won’t be any playdates for the rest of the week either!”

The Coach Discipline Style:

Parent: “Sorry, a playdate won’t work today. You have to finish your homework before soccer.”

Daughter: “What? You don’t trust me? Of course I’ll do my homework if Jessica comes over to play. PLEASEEEE mom?”

Parent: Come over here so we can talk privately. It sounds like you were really looking forward to having Jessica over.

Daughter: “Yes – we have so much fun together. Honest I’ll do my homework right after!”

Parent: “So your plan would be to drive home, play with Jessica, do your homework, eat supper and go to soccer – is that right (said in a calm, sincere tone of voice)?”

Daughter: “Yep.”

Parent: “I wish there was enough time for all that. It’s too many things for one night. I bet that feels disappointing. I’m open to planning for another day.”

Daughter: “Why bother – she’ll never be free again! (head down, sad expression).”

Parent: (Puts arm around daughter’s shoulder and offers comfort).

Later that evening…

Parent: (Sees daughter is calm and they have time to talk before leaving for soccer). “Honey after school it was kind of hard to talk about making plans to have Jessica over because you felt disappointed that she could not come over today. Do you feel ready to make a plan now?”

Daughter: “Okay…could she come over Friday after school? I don’t have soccer that day.”

Parent: “Sure that sounds fine. You can finish any homework you have on Saturday. I am also wondering what we can do to help you handle “no” for playdates more easily next time. Any thoughts?”

Daughter: “Well I think….”

At the heart of warm-firm “Coaching” discipline is the belief that a secure
relationship with our child must be maintained during both the easy and the hard moments of parenting.  Therefore, respect and kindness along with no nonsense firmness must co-exist to keep the relationship healthy and secure when discipline is required. If we lean too heavily towards one without the other, the relationship with our child is harmed, making future efforts to teach expected behaviour even harder.

Next month I will be sharing greater details on the Coaching Discipline Style – stay tuned for Part Two! I would also love to support parents interested in exploring further how to be a coach using the Warm-Firm Method. You can book an appointment for one on one support with one of our psychologists, purchase my Raising a Confident Child DVD/Workbook, join our parenting community (join Kimberly’s Book Club, Club Mom Alumni, or a small group
parenting class), or consider in home coaching support (our Cognitive Coaching program). Please email us at intake@eckertcentre.com to book your appointment. Please email us at reception@eckertcentre.com to purchase your own copy of Raising a Confident Child.

Kimberly is the Founder and Executive Director of Eckert Psychology & Education Centre. In her role as a Registered Psychologist, Kimberly provides assessment, counseling, and parent education services at Eckert Centre. Kimberly makes a unique contribution to the Centre through her skills in parent-child attachment, her parent education seminars, including facilitation of our Club Mom groups, and her passion and expertise in working with families who have a child with special needs.