By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Discipline is always a challenge for parents. Regardless of the age your child may be, they inevitably find ways to act out, challenge your authority and test the limits of their boundaries. Often these behaviors create tension and disagreements between both parents which children are good at exploiting to their advantage. This, of course, is the time for parents to forge a solid bond of agreement regarding their approach to discipline. If they do, the child is less likely to test the waters and more likely to alter their behavior into more appropriate channels.

When separation or divorce takes place, disciplining children can become even more difficult. This is especially so if both parents are not on good terms regarding the parenting equation. Parental discord can open the door for children to move into behavioral extremes, pitting you and your former spouse against each other. We’ve all seen the consequences when this occurs, and your children are definitely on the losing end.

I’ve spoken to many marriage and family counselors and coaches about how to discipline your children. And how to avoid their developing a negative self-image. Here are some sound suggestions and advice worth your attention:  

Discipline without inhibiting honest communication.

  • Focus on limiting your child’s behavior, but not your child’s thoughts and feelings. If you do not allow your children the space to express who they are and how they feel about the subject at hand, they will repress the communication, but their resentment will incubate and grow.

Don’t label your kids or their feelings as “bad.”

  • Remind your children that thoughts and feelings are not “bad,” even when their behavior is inappropriate. The difference is important for them to understand — and for you to remember.

Strive to be accepting and not dismissive.

  • Seek to influence thoughts, to understand and accept feelings and to improve their behavior. Making a conscious effort in this direction will bring rewards in terms of behavior changes and respect for you as a parent. This is obviously more difficult to do than it sounds, but it is definitely worth the effort. When children feel heard and accepted, they are much less likely to lash out at their parents, siblings, friends or school-mates.

Be mindful of how you discipline and why.

  • True discipline should not be thought of as punishment, but as a lesson to teach your child about Life. When you discipline from this mind-set, you will come from a supportive perspective and not get caught up in destructive behaviors yourself that come from vindictiveness and resentment.

Catch your kids doing something “right.” 

  • When all a child hears is NO or criticism, they lose their incentive to even try behaving differently. Be alert for choices, responses and behavior worthy of praise or recognition. Don’t make it a big deal. A nod, hug or simple “thanks” is all you need to boost their spirits and let them know you’re watching. It works with co-parents as well!

Families that are dealing with divorce or separation need to pay particular attention to conscious disciplining. Children forced to handle the break-up of their family dynamic may be holding on to a broad range of feelings and thoughts that need to be expressed, accepted and influenced in a positive direction. I encourage parents to seek out the assistance of a divorce coach, counselor or other professional as soon as you sense any depression or other problem behaviors.

This is not a time to forego discipline, which is an essential part of the parenting process. It is a time to pay keen attention to your children to make sure they are moving through the challenges of “change” in their lives with age-appropriate acceptance and behaviors that fall within a normal range for your family.

                                                    *   *    *

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce and Co-Parenting Coach, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – With Love! She also offers a free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! For help with conscious disciplining and other Coaching services, and valuable resources on divorce and co-parenting issues visit:

© Rosalind Sedacca   All rights reserved.