Correcting Kids without Losing Your Cool

I got an email today from a reader who was feeling weary and battle-worn by her kids’ attitudes and their constant bickering. She asked me for ways to encourage kids towards right. I thought her question was an excellent one– believe me, as a mom of 10, I really understand that battle-weary feeling. Here are some general things that have helped me over the years.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Mom needs to model calm even when addressing misbehavior.  That doesn’t mean letting bad behavior slide– no way, no how.  It does mean addressing problems with gentle firmness instead of anger.  Kids hear me best when I sound calm and in charge. When I’m in the ‘calm mom zone’, you’ll hear me say things like:

  • Would you like a redo?
  • Why don’t you try that again respectfully?
  • What would have been a better choice in this situation?  Let’s practice that.
  • I’m sure you meant to say, “Yes, mom, I’ll be glad to do it.”

Let me be honest: with 7 kids at home, there’s almost always someone needing a bit of redirection.  The sheer repetitiveness of the job grinds me into dust some days, and there are times I majorly lose my cool.  When I do, my ensuing bad attitude makes it even harder for my kids to make good choices.

This past week has been a good one for me in the self-control department.  (Praise God!  Somebody must be praying for me!) And — no coincidence at all– my kids have had a good week too.  Not perfect, but in general, better than usual.  John even remarked happily on the level of tranquility in the house.

What helps you stay calm?  Think about it.  Because if you can figure it out, that’s a huge stride towards victory in the battle.  For me:

  • Sleep.  When I stay up late too many nights in a row, we all suffer.
  • Exercise.  Even a ten minute walk helps.
  • Bible time.  Again, even ten minutes in my bedroom alone can help.
  • Chocolate.  I neeeeeeeed it.  🙂
  • Friends.  Decompressing with a friend who understands is a huge blessing.  Even a quickly texted complaint and a ‘hang in there’ reply can help.
  • Crafting.  Even a couple rows of knitting in a day while a child is reading to me helps me feel more happily productive.

Once we’ve done our best to calm our own minds, it’s time to come up with a game plan.  Different households have different standards, of course.  But one of the questions that clarifies my goals is to ask myself how a child’s behavior is going to look on the adult he will someday become. Teasing unkindly? Avoiding work?  Lying? Arguing with authority?  None of that is an asset on an adult, so all of it is addressed with consequences in our household.

Here are some consequences that kids ‘earn’ for misbehavior at our house:


  I filled my job jar with lots of little jobs that I’d like to get done but that don’t often happen: things like washing window tracks and scrubbing out kitchen drawers.  If a kid needs a consequence for ‘tude, then at least he can bless me by being useful, which in turn helps me feel more gracious toward him.


A teen boy who argues might earn 20 push-ups.  A pair of younger kids fighting might get to run around the house 3 times, or run up and down the stairs 5 times.  A kid who is being argumentative and/or distracting during school hours is sometimes sent on a run to the stop sign and back.  It’s 3/10 of a mile- not excessive, but enough effort that the kid won’t immediately be inclined to repeat the behavior.  Often the physical activity allows the child to return with a clearer head.  In the case of fighting kids, it can also allow a bit of separation between warring parties.


Often a few minutes of time alone is helpful.  But you have to consider the child. One of my kids would be in heaven if I sent her to bed for a half-hour time out– she’d just sleep. In fact, she doesn’t even mind being put to bed early at night.  Another sees lying in bed to be a fate worse than death, which means she comes away from a ‘rest’ with a renewed determination to try harder.  Do what works.


When children have wronged someone, I often try to think in terms of restitution.  What can they do to make up for their unkindness or disrespect?  Sometimes I ask kids to make someone’s bed, fold their laundry, or assist them with some other chore. Other times, especially when it is obvious that a child needs more time with me, I will ask him or her to read to me while I am cooking or knitting.


Our aim as parents is to give our kids tools for dealing with the inevitable stress of life.  So much of the struggle in life happens inside our own minds. One of the things I often try to think through with kids is what happened in their mind that led them to get off track and head towards bad behavior.  To aid with this, several of my kids have a notebook used just for thinking through problem moments. This idea would work for kids as soon as they are able to write a little on their own.  Here are the three questions I ask kids to answer for me on a page in their notebook:

1. When___________________________, I felt ________________.

(This is basically a brief description of the event/fight/problem, and how it made the child feel.)

2. I handled it by ________________________________________________________.

(Child explains his reaction, trying to be factual and honest.  Another person may also be at fault, but I want my kids to be ready to admit to their own part in an argument.)

3. A better way to handle this problem would be to _________________________________.

(Child describes a way to handle this problem better.)

Once the child has written out his answers, I sit down with him and talk it through, giving additional ideas as needed.  Usually just the act of writing things down is a good way to help a child settle down and think through the issue.  It is a good chance for me to listen to the child’s feelings and frustrations, and get reconnected.  (And frankly, just the thought that they might have to write in their journal and TALK to me about their FEELINGS is enough to deter some of my kids from misbehavior in the first place!  And that’s OK with me.)

That brings me to my final point in this whole issue:  the heart.  Certainly it is important to have a variety of consequences ready and waiting for kids who choose wrong.  But it is also important to make time to hear and acknowledge their feelings and to connect with them on a heart level.  When we have our kids’ hearts, they will be much more interested in pleasing us, which will make discipline much LESS necessary on a day to day basis.

And remember:  “Do not be weary in doing well, for in due time you will reap your reward…”


  1. A great list to tuck away for the future! I think teachers would benefit from reading this too, because most all of them could be used in a classroom.

  2. Great advice! I hope it’s ok that I pinned this to my “words to consider” – that way I’ll see it again.

  3. Thank you for addressing this! I was glad to see some of the things I’m already doing and got some new ideas. I’m a firm believer in laps around the house or up and down the stairs for bickering.
    I really like the idea of the reflection journal. You can really see if the kid “gets it” or is just obeying what he or she is told. Thank you for being honest enough to admit that even you lose it sometimes. I have definitely seen in my house that my attitude sets the tone for everyone.

  4. Another excellent post. I really need this…constantly! Thank you for taking the time to think this through and word it so carefully and well.

  5. christinamomof4Christina says:

    Thanks so much for this posted today. Came at the perfect time:)

  6. Great ideas. Last night I watched the Duggars on TV. I admire the way their children seem to get along and do things for one another.
    I wish when I was a child I had a better example than I had. My father was a ‘hot head’ who believed is spanking. He would line us up and spank us with his belt till someone confessed. It was not a good situation. I swore I would not raise my children in such a way. I am proud to say I did not. I did not spank my sons. I never could figure out how hitting a child ‘taught’ them anything.

  7. Very practical and helpful! What I needed to “hear”! Thanks for being specific and real…and giving permission to invest in keeping mom sane (enough sleep, exercise, knitting, etc.)!

  8. Such wisdom Mary. Thank you for sharing! I’m posting to my facebook page, tweeting, & pinning! I have one daughter that already journals to help her work out her anger issues. I’ll definitely use your suggestion of journaling how decisions/situations can be handled differently!

  9. excellent post! I appreciate your admittance that keeping your children on the right track is a challenge! I have 9 at home, and they “grind me to dust, as you so eloquently put it, regularly! I appreciate your ideas, and your reminders to rely on God’s strength, and hope for future reward if we don’t give up!

  10. Great post and wonderful reminders! We have re-do’s in our house 🙂 I got the idea from The Connected Child. For our adopted little ones it seems to just take much longer to be able to express their feelings of anger and frustration and it always comes out in bad behavior but there are so many loving ways to correct them. Thanks my friend!!!

  11. I had to smile at the daughter who when ssent to her room, thinks it’s worse then death. I, too, have a daughter like that. Other consequences do not work near as well as having to go to her room. I also will be printing this post as i need all the help I can get in parenting our one daughter, especially. The choices her birth parents and relatives made left such a big impact on her life. The controling,angry, manipulating and conniving behaviours can wear me out, at times. Blessings to you and your family!!

  12. So many Moms of Many who I know use these wise techniques. It must come from all those hours of desperation on our knees! Thanks for putting them into a concise, organized blog post. So helpful! I live in Florida, so 15 minutes of weeding per infraction (particularly for any dishonoring act) gives the child some time to think; is a huge deterrent when the weather is hot; keeps my yard looking great 🙂 and gets them away from me while I struggle to maintain my joy.
    I also love what you said about choosing consequences which allow you to show graciousness to the child.

  13. The self-care list you gave is perfect! So often moms forget to take care of their needs in order to be best prepared to care for their families. Just finished reading your book (A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family) and enjoyed it immensely – wonderful ideas and strategies for all families, not just large ones!

  14. Awesome words–and so needed this week in our house!! Thank you very much for sharing, Mary.

  15. Wow. Thank you so much for these reminders, Mary. I’m a little late getting to read this post, but boy, am I glad I took the time to look back. I appreciate your candor. I am printing this post to have a concrete reminder of things my husband & I have done in the past, but kind of forgotten about over time. I only have 6 at home, but there are definitely days when I feel “ground to dust” by their attitudes & behavior. Thank you again.

  16. Any advice on how to make this work for a singleton?
    At what age are these approaches applicable? pre-reader, who thinks helping, being physical, & cleaning is fun…

    • Amy, I’ll address preschoolers and consequences in another post, maybe next week? But short answer–in general I look at cleaning-type privileges as a way to make up for hassling mom NOT as a way to make them miserable. If they love scrubbing the floor, awesome. My floor is still getting clean, and they are productively occupied and learning a skill.


  1. […] Correcting Kids Without Losing Your Cool. Mary Ostyn at is perhaps my single favorite blogger; she is doing so much great stuff in so many realms and writes about them so well. This post describes consequences she uses with her kids when they misbehave, including chores, PE, timeout, restitution, and reflection. Some great fodder there for future use. […]

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