Discipline for Softies: Strategies for Pushover Parents

More Discipline Strategies for Softies

How to Give Time-Outs
How to Give Time-Outs

Put Your Heads Together

Softies yearn to accentuate the positive rather than the negative -- a huge asset when it comes to successful discipline, Dr. Nelsen notes. Focusing on finding solutions to problems rather than creating punishments for them will not only take the blame and guilt out of the equation, but it will also help your kid develop a crucial life skill. When there's an issue that keeps popping up, instead of fixating on what's wrong ("This room's a mess!"), brainstorm possible fixes together (such as getting colorful boxes to organize toys or setting aside a time every day to tidy up).

"My 7-year-old kept playing with my camera even though I asked him not to. One day he dropped it, which caused damage," says Michael Pellet, of Frederick, Maryland. "Later, we talked about the value of the camera and photos, and I asked him to come up with ways to prevent something like this from happening again. Then he suggested that if he wanted to see the camera, he could ask me first. He hasn't touched it since." Pellet's approach is a smart one. It's impossible to effectively problem-solve in the heat of the moment, so don't bother coming up with a plan for how your son will clean up his messes right after you twist your ankle on the Legos scattered in the living room. Instead, wait for a time when you're both calm and can really listen to each other.

Let Pretend Play Pave the Way

It's still possible to instill good behavior through old-fashioned play. If there's a situation that tends to elicit tantrums or whining -- sharing with a sibling, sleeping alone -- Arnall suggests "practicing" the behavior you want to encourage by role-playing with your little one. This will give your kid a hands-on, visceral understanding of exactly what you'd like to see from her. For example, demonstrate what a quiet, calm body looks like at bedtime: head on the pillow, eyes closed. Through this method your child will not only learn the right way to behave (such as waiting for a turn to talk), but she'll also enjoy demonstrating what not to do (interrupt Mommy loudly and persistently) and taking a turn playing the softie in charge while you try on the role of the kid.


Much of the heavy lifting of discipline comes before misbehavior happens, not after. Having a few well-thought-out guidelines will result in fewer instances where you need to be the bad guy.

Step 1: Be Realistic

Setting reasonable expectations means first understanding what your child is developmentally capable of. For instance, 3-year-olds lack the maturity and social awareness to share consistently. If you insist on sharing at this age, you'll only end up fighting her. For more info on age-appropriate behavior, go to parents.com/behavior-expectations.

Step 2: Know Yourself

Only set rules that you're willing to go to the wall for every time, like no hitting. You may dream of a world where your kids make their bed each day -- but if you know you'll give in when they push back, scrap bed-making as a requirement or amend the rule in a way you can get behind (such as saying that beds must get made but you'll help).

Step 3: Make It Official

Call a family meeting to collaborate on a few essential house rules that everyone can agree to. Let kids contribute every step of the way -- offering ideas, decorating the list, and choosing a spot to post it. Then, if they break a rule, you can direct them back to the agreement they helped create.


There's no discipline tactic more challenging for a softie to enforce than the dreaded time-out. But it's important for both children and parents to learn to give themselves space to cool down, author Judy Arnall notes. So revamp a time-out by turning it into a time-in, a chance for your kids to relax when they're wound up. You can even encourage them to customize a special space to go when they're upset, appointing it with favorite books and soft pillows, and naming it (i.e., The Cool-Down Den, The Feel-Good Space -- whatever they like), Dr. Jane Nelsen suggests. Then when they act up, ask if it might make them feel better to go to their Cozy Corner. If they're resistant, you can even offer to keep them company while they take a little breather, which gives you the opportunity to clear your head as well.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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