Applying Discipline

Many parents I talk to want to know my “smoking gun” of discipline.  They are interested in finding out how I have made very difficult children behave in such a pleasant manner.  No one is perfect with children and I’ve had moments when I wish I would have done things a little better.  Overall though, I work well with difficult children.  Today, I’m going to give you some insight on how I accomplish this.

The overall concept is called “buttons.”  Basically, buttons are a person’s likes and dislikes.  Think about it like this.  If I am in a bar and I push a girl’s right button, I may get her phone number. If I push the wrong button, she may pour her drink over my head. (I am a happily married man but I hope you get the picture)

Children have buttons like we do. The trick is to learn what buttons work and which ones to trash.  Keep this in mind though.  Everyone has buttons (even difficult children) so never give up looking.

One button I have used successfully is the concept of time.  Examples include time outs and early bedtimes.  The reason this button works for some children is that they value their time.  They would rather spend time playing or doing whatever they want to do instead of a parent dictating how they are going to spend their time.  I give a minute for each year of life.  This means a 5 year old would get a 5 minute time out.  After the time has been completed by the child, a follow up is mandatory.  For example, I would never say after a timeout, “Now get up and go play.”  Instead I am going to take a few seconds to discuss what they did wrong, how they could improve, and what will happen if I see the misbehavior again.    After time outs have been established as a successful button, the mere threat of one can often make a misbehaving child think twice.

There are so many buttons,  I could write a book.  Here’s the thing though.  Can you write a book on successful buttons for your child?  Do you know your child well enough to stop the misbehavior before it goes overboard?  Is it possible the reason the child is misbehaving is because of something you or your spouse innocently modeled?

I am a believer that children are not born evil.  Every time I have seen a child misbehave, I knew the reason why when I studied the situation long enough.  Therefore, the misbehavior was modeled by someone at some point in time.  I am also a believer though that no matter where the misbehavior stemmed from, it can be discontinued when a parent pushes the right buttons.

Let me finally stress how critical it is to find your child’s buttons.  A child’s behavior is similar to a lawn.  When grass is cut properly, gets enough water, and is treated for weeds, it typically turns out beautifully.  But, if the grass isn’t cut, doesn’t get any rain, and is not treated for weeds, it doesn’t take long for it to look like an eyesore.  But, the main difference between a lawn and the child is the lawn doesn’t have lungs!

I hope you have found this article helpful.  It takes work, time, and patience but you can have a child who behaves.  The only question is whether you are willing to take the steps to make that happen.

If you have found the tips in this article helpful, I would encourage you to check out my parenting book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  By reading this book, I will take you step by step into how I’ve helped raise over 400 terrific children over the last 16 years.  Feel free to read my bio, preface, and reviews located at the top of the page.  Also, if you type in the code buymybook305 at the checkout, you will receive a 25% discount courtesy of my publisher.  Offer ends December 14th.

I will be back next Friday with another post.  Until then, take care of yourself and the ones you love.



  1. Paula Kiger says:

    We really struggle with this in our home. Not with our teenager (15) – that has come and gone (for now). But our 12 year old still does not manage his time well (in my opinion). Looking for his "buttons" may be a good strategy to use. He would play video games 24/7 if we let him. Thanks for the "food for thought"!

    • claytonthomas says:

      You are welcome Paula. I'm not a huge fan of video games. But, as long as you're going to have them, you may as well use them to your advantage.

  2. Hi,

    New reader here…

    Great concept with finding the magic button – my DS is 8 and cutting his time short on an activity definitely works for us.

    Really love your blog – adding it to my reader.


  3. ninayelir says:

    I think often the behaviours we see is a refection of what we have said or done, but for most parents it is difficult to see this. You make some goof points.

  4. Jessica says:

    I agree with some of the things you said, but children do not always learn from example. I'm a Christian and believe that people including children have been born with sin. That is why children know how to lie and hit people when they have never seen it in their life, especially during their transition from baby to toddler (infamously known as the terrible two's). As well as not wanting to share. I can name a few more, but I will stop there. Also, their are great parents that bring up children the best they can and have children to grow up as adults who are evil or just really bad. We can't put everything on the parents.

    I agree that as parents we know how to teach them by example, discipline, and consistency but ultimately it will be their decision to follow through with the lessons we teach them throughout their life. The number one will be the example we give them but it is not guaranteed.