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Have You Heard of Reality Discipline?

Are you struggling with effective ways to discipline your children and modify their behavior? Maybe it’s time for a “reality check.”

“Reality Discipline” is a term and methodology coined by child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman. It is a clever method of getting your little ones to obey, that he says is less exhausting and more successful than ranting, raving, blaming, pleading, begging or threatening. According to Leman, it’s all about personal responsibility.

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The first thing to remember about Reality Discipline is that you want your children to learn to think for themselves and learn to become more responsible through guidance and action-oriented techniques. Dr. Leman says, “Action-oriented discipline is based on the reality that there are times when you have to pull the rug out and let the little buzzards tumble. I mean disciplining your children in such a way that he/she accepts responsibility and learns accountability for his actions.” Here’s an example.

When my brother was in high school, my mother implemented Reality Discipline without realizing it. My little brother, Gannon, could sleep through a tornado (or a hurricane or tsunami) and my mother was tired of waking him up every morning and saying, “You’d better hurry, or you’re going to miss the bus.” Finally, Mom thought, I’m not waking him up anymore. He can be late. Just as she suspected, Gannon did miss the bus and was forced to walk the mile to school. Much to my mother’s delight, he was never late again. She didn’t have to beg, plead, give him ultimatums or nag Gannon one more time. Instead, she let reality do the discipline.

Sounds great, right? Here are some basic principles of Reality Discipline to help you get (and keep) the upper hand with your kids.

Don’t focus on creating a happy child

In his book Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Leman says that the goal of parenting is not to create happy kids; rather, it’s to create responsible kids. This means Junior will probably be pretty unhappy that he didn’t get an ice cream cone; he may even throw a fit, and rant and rave — but he will become more responsible and respectful.

Understand your child’s reality

According to Dr. Leman, if you want to use Reality Discipline effectively, you need to know what’s important to your child — what really moves him in his or her “reality.” Your child may value money, sports, a daily cookie break, staying up late or spending time with friends, or time on the phone or computer. Parents who know how to use Reality Discipline make creative connections between bad behavior and discipline through action rather than through warnings, nagging or threats.

Make sure that Reality Discipline is always grounded in love

In Have a New Kid by Friday, Dr. Leman writes, “Show me a mean teacher, and I’ll show you a good one.” If you find that you are a permissive parent who is afraid of “pulling the rug out from under your child” as Dr. Leman suggests, remember that Reality Discipline is not unkind. Instead, when it’s motivated by love to help your child mature into a responsible adult, it’s a very good gift.

What do you think of the idea of “reality discipline”? Have you ever used anything similar with your kids?

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About Cynthia Lechan-Goodman

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