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How To Transform Discipline Into A Positive, Teachable Moment With Your Children In Four Easy Steps

Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.




“I told you not to.”

“How many times do I have to ask you nicely?”

“Please don’t!”

“If you don’t do this, I’ll *$@#^%***.”

Have these words ever come out of your mouth during your parenting? If you are like so many other parents, they probably have.

Whether you have blurted out these words, or perhaps a few others, you may have felt some shame or guilt after you did and wished you hadn’t. My invitation to you is not to feel inadequate or remorseful about this, but to use this as an opportunity to become a parent who begins to understand how to transform these moments into positive, teachable ones that can impact your family for a lifetime. It’s vital to remember that the words our children repeatedly hear us say to them may become a reflection of how they see themselves.

Most of us have never been taught how to look at discipline from the perspective of transforming the moment into a positive teaching tool. Did you know that the word, ‘discipline’ actually means 'to teach?' But in many cultures, ‘discipline’ has become a negative experience involving some kind of punishment. Would you agree?

Many parents simply react at the moment and statements like the ones above may unintentionally come roaring out of their mouths. Even for people who are well-educated in the areas of education, child development, counseling, etc., having the ‘academic knowledge’ may result in an unexpected expectation when actually raising a child. I am reminded of one of my professors in graduate school who used to say, “I have a Ph.D. in early childhood development, and all of that ‘book knowledge’ went out the window when I actually had my own children and had to live in the same house with them.”

Even though our children may be our greatest source of joy, being a parent can also feel overwhelming, exhausting, draining, and frustrating at the same time. Would you agree?

Parenting is the only role in life that I am aware of in which the participants, the parents, are expected to possess and successfully apply a remarkable amount of knowledge encompassing:

  • Child development

  • How to discipline positively

  • How children learn

  • Sibling rivalry

  • Physical health

  • Emotional and social development

  • Homework struggles

  • Building positive self-esteem

  • Screen time battles

  • Childhood stress

  • Handling hardships

  • And probably a thousand more topics...

...without any kind of formal preparation or even a manual. No wonder parenting can make one feel weary in ways that can make us feel inadequate.

Did you know that the behavior that receives the most attention will be the behavior that you consistently see more of? Babies figure this out pretty early as they learn how to attract their parents’ attention. Cry... and attention is bestowed! Voila!

Today, it is my intention to introduce you to ‘CLAY’™️, my four-step plan to guide you in transforming situations of ‘discipline’ with your children, no matter their ages, into a positive and teachable moment. Not only is this a more enjoyable path for you as the parent, but it will teach and model healthy communication as you engage in a relationship with your child.

Before I share my four-step plan with you, it’s important to first recognize why children of all ages may act out in the first place. I promise you that there is always a reason. Some of the most common reasons may include:

  • Being hungry, tired, sick, lonely

  • Experiencing big feelings (overwhelmed, scared, anxious, angry, etc.)

  • Attention seeking

  • Feeling insecure about something they are being asked to do

  • Food or other allergies

  • Sensory issues

  • Hiding their struggles

(Did you notice that we as adults may ‘act out’ over the same reasons?)

Deepening our understanding of why our children are acting out in the first place is essential to creating emotionally healthy environments and relationships.

Come "CLAY'"™️with me!

Just like we can mold a sculpture out of clay, we can use ‘CLAY’™️ to help us shape our children’s behavior. Hence, ‘CLAY’™️ is my four-step plan designed to guide you in transforming ‘discipline’ into positive and teachable moments. Here is my plan for you:

1. Calm yourself first. Unless safety is an immediate concern, your first action is to always remain calm. Yes, even if you feel furious inside, walk away if you must. Then, do your best to calm your child. Tell your child that you are feeling upset about what just happened, that you love them, but you need a few minutes to cool off before you are able to have a conversation with them to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. As you model this for your child, he/she will be able to learn this same valuable habit when facing conflict with others. Too many times as parents, we feel the need to respond with a consequence or words of wisdom in the heat of the moment. We don’t.

2. Look for the appropriate behaviors that are examples of positive character traits that your child may be exhibiting. Some examples could include: caring, perseverance, initiative, friendship, problem-solving, or teamwork.

Even if your child is only displaying one positive behavior and three inappropriate behaviors, do your best to ignore the inappropriate (providing safety is not an immediate issue) and focus/reinforce what is going well. Remember, the behaviors that receive the most attention, and yelling and arguing are forms of attention, are the behaviors you will see more of. I promise.

3. Attach the positive character trait to the behavior by telling your child what they did and why it was so meaningful. Here are some examples of how to focus on the behavior you want to see more of:

  • “Wow! You used perseverance by not giving up on your math problem. You must be so proud of yourself and I’m so proud of you too.”

  • “Do you realize that you just showed great initiative by cleaning up your room without anybody having to remind you? This really helps to take care of our home. You must be so proud of yourself and I’m so proud of you too.”

  • “When we work together to prepare our dinner, we are using teamwork. By helping me tonight, you helped our family work as a team and that helps all of us. We can all feel proud of ourselves!”

4. Yes! When your children exhibit the appropriate behaviors that you’ve been working on, it’s paramount to tell them so in a way that will teach them what this means with a real-life example such as the ones listed above. Tell your child that you are proud of them, but an even more powerful strategy is to tell your child that it’s important for them to feel proud of themselves first. This serves as a significant model for your children to feel their own sense of accomplishment and not to look to other people for approval. Once again, the examples above illustrate how to do this.

Congratulations! Now that you have learned my four-step plan of 'CLAY'™️, you possess the strategies to transform a situation of ‘discipline’ into a positive, teachable moment with your children! Don’t stress if it may not come easily at first. Write the acronym down on your hand or in your phone if you must. The more you implement 'CLAY'™️, the more natural it will become for you to respond in this manner. New patterns of behavior may take time for your child’s brain to develop. But stay strong and consistent and things will turn around.

So the next time you catch yourself responding to your child with the words:



“I told you not to.”

“How many times do I have to ask you nicely?”

“Please don’t!”

“If you don’t do this, I’ll *$@#^%***.”

Quietly stop yourself and figure out what is really going on and begin to “CLAY”™️ with them! Only then, will you be able to begin to transform ‘discipline’ into positive, teachable moments for the rest of your child’s life. It’s important to remember that the words we speak to our children today become their inner voices tomorrow. I promise.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach

Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.

Kari is a sought-after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally, and globally.

Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.

You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at:

or check out her website and social media.



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