What To Do When Your Current Discipline Strategy Stops Working

I was just talking to one of my private clients last week and she was telling me how frustrated she and her husband had become because it seemed like their daughter was suddenly acting out a lot more- and disciplining her did not seem to work anymore.

This particular 11-year-old child was usually a very well-behaved child and did not need to be disciplined very much at all. When she did act up, Mom or Dad would remind her of the family rule regarding the behavior and would follow through with a consequence such as sending her to her room or having her apologize to her sister (which is usually why this child got in trouble).

However, Mom and Dad started to notice that their daughter started to break family rules more and more frequently and when they followed through with a consequence, she seemed to not be very remorseful for her behavior. This really upset my clients and they wanted to know what they should do now.

I’ve been working with these parents for only a short time, but this is a common issue that comes up for a lot of parents that I work with. Good parents often get perplexed as to why their kids – who previously responded well to the discipline techniques used – are suddenly not responding as expected when punished by their parents.

This article will provide you with a short explanation as to why this commonly occurs and what you can do if this happens with your child so that you can still create calm and order in your family.


Why Does This Happen


As kids get older, they not only grow stronger and bigger physically, but they also mature cognitively as well. It’s easy for parents to understand that the occurrence of physical aches and pains is a sign that their child’s bodies are growing. When this happens, parents usually respond by proving over-the-counter medication or hot pads to alleviate their child’s pain.

On the other hand, it’s easy to misinterpret a child’s misbehavior + ineffective discipline as a “sign of a bad kid” instead of what it really is – a sign of cognitive maturity. Believe it or not, kids learn about the world by flexing their wings at home first and then generalizing what they’ve learned at home to the outside world.

What does this mean? This means that they push the limits of family rules and guidelines in order to see what they can get away with. They are wondering what happens if they continue to have a bad attitude after their time out or banishment to their room is over. They want to know if rules are as rigid as they have been led to believe.

When this occurs, it’s time to step it up in the parenting game – if not, the consequences can be serious. Parents who don’t teach their kids to continue to adhere to family rules and guidelines when they rebel tend to have older kids who are self-centered and do not respect rules.

But I know you want better for your kids, and I know that you are ready and willing to put in the “parenting sweat” needed to raise good, moral, and independent kids. I know I wanted that for my own kids and I know that it takes a lot of effort, but it is well worth it!


Here’s What To Do

Re-evaluate the rules. Sometimes kids have a hard time adhering to family rules because they are craving more responsibility and trust from their parents as they get older. It doesn’t hurt to take a fresh look at old rules.

Usually when I re-evaluate the rules for my 2 teenagers, I try to balance increased privileges with increased responsibility. For example, if I let one of my kids have a later bedtime, then I might tell them that I now expect them to get themselves up on their own in the morning, make their own breakfast, and be ready for school on time without ANY complaining.


Continue to be consistent with core family passions, values, and beliefs. Rules might change, but the meaning behind them shouldn’t.

For example, if we go back to the bedtime rule again and decide to let the child stay up later, then the core lesson (we get enough sleep so that we function optimally then next day and with a good attitude) doesn’t change. A later bedtime just indicates that your child has matured enough to handle staying up late.


Your child is seeking logical consequences. Maybe your child has matured to the point where time outs, being sent to their room, and/or taking away tv for EVERY misbehavior seems like it’s just Mom and Dad trying to be “mean.”

It means more work on your part, but your child might benefit from consequences that fit the crime. I will admit that it does require some creativity and quick-thinking to devise a natural consequence to every misbehavior, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

For example, instead of grounding your child from the tv the next time they flunk a spelling test, a good natural consequence would be to require your child to write their spelling words 25 times each day before the next test. You are not trying to be “mean” – you are trying to teach them to make the time to study in order to get a good grade.


The punishment is no longer meaningful for your child and you need to come up with a punishment that will get their attention. Perhaps your old punishments have stopped working because your child no longer values what was taken away. Time outs, getting sent to their room and taking away tv just doesn’t motivate some kids as they get older.

In this situation, you need to ask yourself what your child values. Do they look forward to getting together with friends on the weekends or playing video games? Then those activities are valuable for your child and grounding them from seeing friends or playing xbox might have more pull than your old punishments.


Take Home Message


My hope for this article is that it gives you a new [perspective on why your old method of correcting your child might not be as effective as they get older.

If this sounds like something that you are dealing with right now with your child, take a few minutes to re-evaluate your family rules and consequences and see if they need to be updated for your child.

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