10 Questions to Ask When Your Discipline Strategies Don't Work

Identify alternative strategies to help improve your child's behavior

If your child doesn't listen, ask yourself these 10 questions.
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Parents enter my counseling office on almost a daily basis seeking help because their attempts to discipline their children just don't seem to work. Whether they're dealing with non-compliance, behavior problems at school, or repeated disrespect, many of them just can't curb the bad behavior.

When the current discipline strategies aren't working, we look at the answers to the following questions to try and uncover what's going on.

Usually, the answers to these questions help us decide the best way to help their discipline strategies become more effective.

1. Are my expectations appropriate?

All kids test limits at times, even if you are disciplining appropriately. However, when parents don’t have appropriate expectations, it can be very frustrating for both the parent and the child. Household rules and consequences should be age appropriate. All the best discipline strategies in the world won’t work if parents don’t take the child’s development into consideration.

Educate yourself about normal misbehavior to ensure your have appropriate expectations for your child. A 2-year-old is supposed to have temper tantrums and it’s normal for teenagers to be mildly rebellious as they try to develop their own identities. Learning about child development can help you find the best discipline strategies for your child.

2. What factors may be influencing the effectiveness of my discipline?

Examine the five factors that influence discipline strategy effectiveness to determine what types of things may be affecting your child's behavior.

For example, if your child is experiencing a major change or an increase in stress, such as a best friend moving away, it’s likely to impact her behavior.

There are strategies however that you can use to increase the effectiveness of your discipline when parenting a stressed out child. And no matter what type of discipline you use, it will only be effective if you have a healthy relationship with your child.

3. Is my discipline consistent?

Discipline will only work if it is consistent and sometimes, it takes a while for certain discipline strategies to really change your child's behavior. If you send your child to his room after he has a meltdown, don’t expect that he won’t have another meltdown. Learning new skills takes practice.

Kids also need consequences 100% of the time when you’re trying to change their behavior. If your child thinks there’s a 1 in 10 chance that you won’t send him to his room, he’s likely to take the risk.

Just think, how often do you speed because you think there’s a good chance you won’t get caught? Kids are even bigger risk takers. They don’t even need the odds in their favor to risk misbehaving if they think there’s a chance there won’t be a consequence.

4. Am I doing anything that may be accidentally reinforcing negative behavior?

Sometimes parents accidentally encourage a negative behavior to continue. For example, if your child purposely misses the school bus and you drive him to school, he may learn that dawdling in the morning is a great way to avoid taking the bus. He’s not likely to respond to lectures and empty threats as long as he is getting a ride.

Attention can be a big reinforcement for kids, even if it’s negative attention.

Sometimes kids will purposely annoy others, yell, argue or become non-compliant just to get attention. Try to avoid power struggles and consider ignoring mild misbehavior, if your child seems to enjoy the attention he gets for acting out.

5. Is there anything in place to motivate my child to change his behavior?

Just like most adults wouldn’t go to work without receiving a paycheck, kids need a little incentive to change their behavior sometimes. This is especially true, if their current behavior is effective.

If a child always screams when his brother tries to come in his room, and it causes his brother to leave, he'll learn screaming is a good way to get his needs met.

Therefore, he may need a negative consequence to teach him that screaming won't always lead to positive results.

A reward system can motivate kids to behave. Instead of only giving your child a negative consequence for misbehavior, offer a positive consequence for good behaviior. A sticker chart works well for younger kids and older kids benefit from a token economy system.

6. Does my child need to learn new skills to help him change his behavior?

Some behavior problems stem from skills deficits and behavior won't change until you teach your child new ways to behave. If your child behaves aggressively toward his brother, telling him not to hit may not be effectiver. Instead, you may need to teach him about feelings and help him learn problem-solving skills. Then, he can learn to use his words and get his needs met without resorting to aggression the next time his brother takes his toy.

Teach new skills in a variety of ways. Role playing is an effective way to help kids practice new behavior. Also, model healthy behavior and your child will learn by watching you. Provide praise and positive feedback when your child makes progress.

7. Are there any other caregivers that may be undermining me?

If other adults send the opposite message of what you’re trying to teach your child, you might feel like a hamster running around in a wheel. This often happens when daycare providers, grandparents, step-parents or even the other biological parent has different rules or parenting styles.

When possible, work as a team to address specific behavior problems. When all caregivers use consistent discipline strategies and consequences, it’s much more likely to reduce a behavior problem. However, this isn’t always possible for one reason or another.

Make it clear to your child what your household rules are. Explain that different environments and caregivers may have different types of rules and that in your house, there are consequences for not following the rules. Stay consistent with your rules and discipline strategies.

8. What is another discipline strategy I can try?

There are lots of different discipline strategies available. When your current discipline strategy doesn't work, try plan B. It’s a good idea to have a discipline toolbox full of different strategies so you can be prepared if you run into any problems.

If time-out doesn’t work after several attempts, try taking away a privilege. Give each discipline strategy a chance to work and remember that what works for one child, may not work for another.

9. How important is it that my child change this behavior?

It's easy to get really focused on wanting a child to change his behavior. However, sometimes it may not be all that important to the child’s life. Iif your child refuses to go to school, that’s a serious problem that needs immediate attention. But, if you’ve got a 12-year-old who refuses to join a sports team, it may be part of his temperament and might be better off not picking that battle.

If it isn’t negatively impacting your child’s life, sometimes it makes sense to just accept that this behavior may not change. And at other times, allowing for a natural consequence can be an effective discipline intervention for those stubborn behaviors.

10. Should I get professional help?

If you're not sure what to try, or your child's misbehavior is serious,  seek professional help. There’s no shame in asking for a professional for assistance. You may discover a possible underlying condition such as ADHD that may be contributing to behavior problems, or you may learn about some different discipline strategies that may be more effective.

If you're feeling stuck, talk to your child's pediatrician. A doctor may refer you to a professional who can help you discover how to address your child's behavior effectively.

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