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Collaborative Discipline

The week I mentioned "restorative parenting" in one of my emails, I had more replies than I've ever had about any other email I've ever sent. So I decided to dedicate a blog post to what I believe is the BEST way to discipline your kids in a restorative way, something I call Collaborative Discipline.


If you're reading this blog, chances are, you're done with the punishment and control, "command and demand," paradigm for parenting... even if sometimes you slip back into that once in a while. You want a better way that doesn't look like compounding threats, escalating conflict, and doesn't turn "get off your iPad" into something rivaling mutually assured destruction.


But how do we do that? How do we break the cycle of control that almost always backfires during the teen years without going full on "permissive parent"?


The answer: Collaborative Discipline.


Collaborative discipline assumes two fundamental things that traditional parenting fails to consider:

  • First, our kids (regardless of what they might say) generally do trust us and want what's best for them; they don't want to fight us, in other words.

  • Second, it's much harder, dare I say almost impossible, to teach someone something that they don't want to learn.

So what does this look like practically?


It starts, like all mindset shifts, with humility and self-awareness. Collaborative discipline allows your child the freedom to speak into a realm many of us have been taught for our entire lives is the exclusive purview of parents: the discipline and consequences process. They will be able to adjust or even "veto" a consequence you think they may deserve. Take a moment to consider how reading that landed in your body. Did you feel your blood pressure or heart rate just shoot up at the thought of your child holding that kind of power? That's okay! It's a process. But you're going to have to reign that in if this is going to work.


Second, we have to get comfortable with trusting our kids with the real consequences of their actions. As I've said numerous places, 95% of the time, the best and most effective consequence is to direct your child's conscious attention to the natural outcomes of their problematic behavior (insofar as safety is maintained; don't let them get hurt to prove a point)... "You bit your brother, he is hurt and doesn't want to play with you anymore." or "You wouldn't clean up your room, I don't want to be in here so we have to find another place to read/play." It sounds counterintuitive but often times parents would rather punish their kid than let them really know why what they did creates issues (examples of this later)...


Third, shift your perspective on the goal of discipline. Instead of thinking backwards into the past about what they've already done, think forward about how this thing might be prevented in the future. Remember, your goal should NEVER be to make your kid feel bad about something they've done. They may still feel bad, but this is NEVER our goal. Our GOAL is to help our child to prevent themselves from doing that thing again... not just to avoid the "bad feeling" but to avoid the REAL consequences (read the paragraph above again).


Finally we have to engage our kid, not as their authority (which we are make no mistake but it shouldn't be the mindset here), but as an authority (a sort of consultant in the industry of life) who is trying to help our "client" make decisions, develop good habits, and thrive. You have incredible insight, experience, and wisdom, not to mention whole lot more perspective and a fully developed brain; rely on that! Or you can fall back on "I'm bigger than you, I pay the bills, and I get to tell you what to do." It's not hard for me to guess which of those types of authority you would prefer to engage with at work... Your kids (especially as they get older) are going to feel the same.


So now that you have your mindset established, go to your kid who won't get off their tablet or clean their room or just snatched their sister's sticker book, and follow the following steps (tablet for our example here):


  • Observe: "I see you're having some trouble getting off your tablet right now."

  • Inform: "When you spend too much time on your tablet I notice that it makes you a little grumpy. Did you know that brains don't like spending too long on screens? Even grownups! It's kinda like eating candy all day for your tummy. It might feel good while you're doing it, but you wind up with a tummy ache. I want you to be able to get off so you feel good."

  • Question: "Can you tell me what you were feeling when I asked you to get off five minutes ago?"

  • (listen and respond empathically)

  • Collaborate to build skills: "Can you help me think of a good way for us to help you get off your tablet next time?"

  • (discuss and follow through on the plan you create)

At the "collaborate" point you may need to give suggestions of helpful options, especially with younger kids. Things like reminders, time limit warnings, putting things out of sight (or keeping them visible depending on the kid), transition activities (doing ten jumping jacks for example), grounding exercises, and even agreed upon consequences for plan rejection (if we still struggle with the tablet even with your plan, we might need to take a break from it for a while so it's not so triggering. How long do you think would work as a break?) You will be ASTOUNDED not only at how creative and engaged kids are in the planning process (especially teenagers) but at how willing they are to follow that plan and accept the discipline.


I just did a 90 min workshop in the Whole Parent Membership all about consequences and we ended it all talking all about this model and WOW. The way some of them are applying this to their parenting to break habits and create new positive relationship with their kids is just incredible! I wish I could share the the whole (lol pun) workshop with you but I guess you'll just have to join the waitlist for next enrollment and check it out then (everything is saved and catalogued). In the meantime, I wanted to conclude this post with how Collaborative Discipline is working for one of my members, Bethany:


My oldest is notorious for not really caring how messy or disorganized her room is. Seems like no matter how much I ask, plead, threaten, offer to help her with cleaning and organizing, it’s always a fight. So, I again found myself getting really upset about the mess, but this time I told her “Hey, this mess and disorganization really is stressful for me, and I am not comfortable being in a room that is like this. So, if you would like to have our reading time in your room each evening I’m going to need you to straighten up so that I feel comfortable in this space, or else we will have to have reading time somewhere else.” It was the fastest and most without complaint room cleaning I have ever experienced! I’ve also started asking the kids how much time they feel is reasonable for things like finishing up tablet time for the night or taking a shower before bed. Little tasks that used to just cause power struggles and meltdowns. They aren’t usually great negotiators and end up picking much less time than I would have been willing to give them anyway. WIN-WIN!!
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