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Disciplining Kids Effectively
by Rabbi Noach Orlowek

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Effective discipline begins long before you need to correct anything. It depends on the trusting relationship between the parent and child.

The best disciplinarians are the ones most beloved by those they rebuke.

This is because effective discipline depends on the relationship between the person disciplining and the person being disciplined.

If you want your children to heed what you have to say, you have to put in the groundwork beforehand to ensure that they will listen. They must trust that what you have to say is for their benefit.

That means a strong, trusting, loving relationship has to exist before the first word of rebuke escapes your lips. You need to make your children into your disciples. It's no wonder that "discipline" is a derivative of "disciple."


Love can be defined as "If it's important to you, it's important to me." You need to show this to your children -- words are not enough.

Shakespeare was being poetic when he asked the Romans and countrymen to lend their ears. No one's interested in ears -- they want your mind.

Give your children your mind: make time for them and listen to them. When your three-year-old comes home babbling about that day's kindergarten, you're tired and thinking, "This is just babble." Don't tune your child out. Strive to reach beyond yourself and listen.

If you convey that what's important to your children isn't necessarily important to you, you can be sure that the day will come when your kids will send you a message: what's important to you isn't important to them.

Once you've built the "disciple foundation," preserve it and mete out productive discipline by following these principles:


Always keep in mind that the punishment is for the benefit of the child, not for you. This requires a healthy dose of emotional objectivity.

My teacher, Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, of blessed memory, said that your son or daughter is not yours, but is a trust given to you by G-d. Raising her well is how you show that G-d's trust was well-placed.


When you give directives, be very clear. Telling a child, "cross the street safely" isn't enough, because "safely" can be interpreted any number of ways.

You have to be specific: "Look both ways and walk quickly across only if you see no cars in either direction."

Often it is a good idea to make your child repeat back what you said. You may not have been as clear as you thought. You also avoid having your children tell you later that they did something other than what you wanted because they "didn't understand."


It used to be that children saw role models of discipline in their own homes. When several generations lived together, kids saw their parents listen to their grandparents. Today, you need to go out of your way to provide examples of adults listening and following directions.

When your parents come to your house, be sure your children see you showing honor and deference to them.

If your parents happen to be difficult, that's even better! When they mature, your kids will see the difficulties of the relationship. They will have the incredible example of you showing respect even to difficult people, driving home the importance of discipline.

In observant homes, children also see the example of their parents deferring to Jewish law.


Ensure that your punishment matches their "crime" and that chastisement is meted out in an even-handed fashion. The basic function of parents is to prepare their children for life, and therefore a punishment should be, as it often is in life, a natural outgrowth of the "crime".

In addition, this helps mitigate any sense of resentment on the part of the child, as the misbehavior was the natural cause of the consequence, without undue parental "throwing their weight around."


Testing limits is a natural human tendency. Your kids automatically want to see how much they can get away with. Once you take a stand, you have to hold it.

This doesn't mean you should be mindlessly stubborn, but be prepared to stick to your guns. If necessary, take time to determine what an appropriate reaction or punishment is, so you can be sure you can live with what you choose.


Never, ever promise. Few things can wreck your credibility as quickly as a broken promise. If you renege on a promise, there's a good chance your child will never forget it, even if it was a promise lightly made. Instead, say, "I will try" or "If I can." With experience, your child will learn that that's as good as gold.


If your child perceives that he's being disciplined because you're angry, rather than because he did something wrong, he may miss the point. Be calm and friendly. Don't let an inordinate amount of time to pass before responding to negative behavior, but if you need, wait a period of time until you cool off to mete out discipline.

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