Ending a Discipline Time with The Positive Conclusion
Sometimes parents feel that once they've given a consequence for their child's misbehavior, then their job is finished. They've done their duty and fulfilled their responsibility. Unfortunately, there may be tension left in the relationship between parent and child, children feel guilty, defensive, or may even plan revenge. True repentance may not have taken place. This leaves room for anger or even bitterness to linger. Discipline is not complete until the relationship between the parent and child is restored. The child needs to understand what was wrong, but also feel the unconditional love and acceptance from the parent.
The secret to constructive discipline is a Positive Conclusion. The Positive Conclusion is a discussion you have with your child after a consequence has been given and after the child has settled down. Use the Positive Conclusion every time you need to correct or redirect your child. Talk about the problem and what went wrong; then talk about what could happen differently next time.
During the early stages of development (ages two to eight), the Positive Conclusion can consist of three questions and a statement, giving children a helpful pattern each time they're disciplined. Although two- and three-year-olds may not initially be able to respond appropriately, it's helpful to begin this pattern when they're young. You may need to walk preschoolers through the process in order for them to benefit from it. Four- to eight-year-olds will quickly learn to expect these questions and a statement and be able to learn from the experience. As children grow older, you may want to put aside the structure and look more to the principles behind it.
At any age it is helpful to spend some time discussing the problem in order to end the discipline time on a positive note. The Positive Conclusion isn't a time of interrogation. It's important to express love, forgiveness and acceptance during this discussion. A closer look at these three questions and a statement will show the benefit each one offers in making discipline times constructive learning experiences.
The first question is, "What did you do wrong?'' Ask it in a gentle way, not accusing. This allows the child to admit personal sin. It's important for the child to take responsibility for his or her part of the problem and demonstrate sorrow for it. If others were involved, as they often are, a child should not excuse an offense by blaming someone else. The sins of others don't justify wrong actions. It's probably not uncommon for two children to come to you arguing and fighting, blaming the other child for the problem. "He hit me" "He grabbed my book." Almost always, both children are wrong and could have responded differently. It takes two selfish children to have a fight.
A common mistake parents often make is to engage in dialog about the whole situation: who else was wrong, and whether it was fair or not, or why such things happen. Those discussions may be helpful, but you'll get much further if you start by asking 'What did you do wrong'' and allow the child to take responsibility for his or her own part of the problem. Sometimes children say they don't know what they did wrong. If they truly don't know, it's okay to prompt them. If, on the other hand, they are trying to avoid responsibility, it's often helpful to give them time alone until they are ready to own their part of the problem.
A second question, "Why was that wrong?'' should be used to address heart issues directly. Point out the character qualities like pride, selfishness, anger, or disrespect. Help the child learn that behavior is only a symptom of something deeper. Parents and children see the behavior but God looks on the heart. If Sally grabbed the book, Karen still needs to learn to respond with kindness and self-control. Most children, at first, have a hard time understanding why their actions are wrong. The Positive Conclusion gives you an opportunity to gently teach, without preaching. Help your child see that a particular response was unkind or disrespectful. Discipline involves teaching. With young children you might give three rules: obey, be kind, and show respect. When you ask "Why was that wrong?" the child has three choices, "I wasn't obeying," or "It wasn't kind," or "It wasn't respectful." The "Why'' question and its answers provide opportunities for parents to teach children about the ramifications of wrong choices. The book of Proverbs teaches that parents are a source of insight and discernment. Naiveté and immaturity lead one to do foolish things. Actions are foolish when the negative results are not considered. Parents can use discipline times to teach children to anticipate the consequences of their actions.
Once a child realizes why the behavior is wrong, the third question helps clarify what should be done instead. "What are you going to do differently next time?'' focuses on a better way to respond. The wise parent uses this question to continue teaching. By communicating the right response verbally, your child will begin to see the difference and learn to change. This often takes time and repeated discipline sessions, but that's OK. Children learn through repetition.
Finally, always end with an affirmation. A helpful statement is, "OK, go ahead and try again." This says "I believe in you. Yes, you're going to make mistakes and there are consequences, but we can debrief and learn together." Give children the encouragement to try again. Everyone makes mistakes, and the best response is to stop, think about it, and then try again.
The Positive Conclusion is important every time you discipline. It is the secret to making your discipline times constructive experiences. The Positive Conclusion is an essential part of the discipline process. Going through the three questions and a statement provides a framework which allows children to admit that they were wrong and determine what to do right next time. The Positive Conclusion gives an opportunity for you to communicate your trust and faith in your children as you tell them to go out and try again. After the Positive Conclusion, the child may need to complete restitution or reconciliation in order to obtain a clear conscience. Unresolved conflict hinders a clear conscience. A child needs to have the opportunity to say, "I was wrong, please forgive me," and then feel forgiven. The child may need to pick up the books that were thrown in anger or comfort a sibling that was offended and then feel the relationship restored. Ending discipline times on a positive note will do a tremendous amount for your relationship with your child and for your child's self-esteem. As you begin to teach your children how to respond to their own weaknesses and failings in a constructive way, you will be giving them a gift that will last a lifetime.
This material is taken from the book, Home Improvement, The Parenting Book You Can Read to Your Kids. The book contains many practical ideas for helping children change their hearts, not just their behavior. It is also available in a downloadable eBook.
Taken from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. Used with Permission