How to Teach Your Child to Live a Disciplined Life

By Shefali Tsabary, PhD

It’s been said that the only things we really learn are the things we learn for ourselves. That’s because only when we learn it for ourselves does it become intrinsic to us. We just naturally do it, without having to be coaxed or disciplined. The key to raising a self-disciplined child is for them to learn for themselves—a process we undercut when we impose the lesson on them.

As a clinical psychologist working with families, I’ve found that children learn best from consequences, whereas punishment generates resentment. A child who is punished may fall in line, but their heart isn’t in it. They don’t learn to be self-disciplined—which is why so many of our kids have a traumatic time in their teens.
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Lies: I Really Want to Believe You, But….

Dear Mr. Dad, I have a real problem with my ten-year-old daughter: Just about everything she says is a lie. If she tells me she’s texting a girl friend from school, it’s probably a boy. If I ask whether she’s cleaned her room, she’ll look me straight in the eye and tell me Yes, even though I know (and she knows I know) that she didn’t lift a finger. If I were to ask her if grass is green, she’d probably tell me it isn’t. Why is she doing this and how can we get her to stop?

A: Telling lies is a part of human nature, and it starts very early in life. A study on lying done at Toronto University in Canada found that about 20% of two-year-olds lie, but by age four, 90% were doing it. And the lying doesn’t stop when we grow up. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that 60% of adults can’t make it through a simple 10-minute conversation without telling at least one lie (in fact, people in the study told an average of three lies in that 10-minute period).

Lying is a learned behavior. When we’re very young, we look at the adults in our lives as all-powerful and all-knowing. Trying out a lie—and getting away with it—shows us that people can’t read our minds. As we get older, we discover that lying can sometimes get us out of trouble and may even help us avoid getting punished. The more successful the lies, the more often they’ll be told.

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