“It didn’t work” VS. “It’s working:” A Secret of Positive Discipline

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Monarch Butterfly, Milkweed Mania, baby born in the nature.The broken arm that just won’t heal:

“It didn’t work!” I can’t believe it. I went to the doctor today and he put this cast on my arm but I think it’s still broken. The cast didn’t work!

The Butterfly that just won’t spread its wings:

“It didn’t work!” I found this cocoon and cut it open and all I found inside was a caterpillar.

The clock that just won’t tick:

“It didn’t work!” I put this gear inside the watch face but the clock will not give the correct time.

The abs that just won’t show:

It didn’t work! I ran on this tread mill for a whole hour today and I’m still overweight.

How Absurd!

Have you ever heard anything so absurd as the comments above? It goes without saying that we are a drive-through culture, but I don’t know very many people that would complain that their cast “didn’t work” moments after they got home from the doctor’s office. These things take time.

So it is with the process of TRU Parenting. There are breakthrough moments, yes, but generally healing, growth, and improvement all take time. Real discipline (teaching), rather than punishing though force and anger, takes place over time and comes line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.

When we are looking for behavioral change and improvement in the cycles between ourselves and our children, we must be willing to give up perfection and trade it for improvement. Whenever we seek perfection now, we end up saying, “It didn’t work.” When we seek improvement we allow ourselves to see that the thing that we thought did not work is indeed working. It just takes a little patience and willingness to see the positive rather than focusing on what is still undone.

Instead of stating, “It didn’t work,” step back, quiet your fears and say, “It’s working!”

Genuine love and kindness, coupled with firm limits and consequences is working, but we have to let it work. We have to stop trading real, effective teaching for the immediate gratification of harsh words or force and control.

“It’s working” in action:

In strolled my client’s mother with a look that nearly turned me to stone. “It didn’t Work!” She said.

“What didn’t work? I responded.

“I tried to be nice and not yell at my son when he refused to do his chores but he just kept on playing his video game,” she continued.

I replied, “How was it supposed to work?”

To which she accusingly pointed her finger at me and said, “You said that he would listen if I didn’t yell so much.”

Well,” I said, “What happened after you asked him to complete his chores and he didn’t follow directions?

The mother looked at me in silence for a couple extra moments and stated in contempt, “I guess I yelled at him and then we got into a big argument.”

So often we get ahead of the progress and shut down something that is working because it’s not complete. How many things are you still working on mastering, even now in your adulthood, that your parents taught you when you were five or six years old. I know I still struggle to keep my room clean. I’m still impatient from time to time. I still interrupt people sometimes. There are times that I don’t eat my vegetables. But, I’m working on it. I’m improving and so are they. Your teaching is valuable and it is settling into their souls little by little.

The mother in the story and I talk about setting clear limits and consequences but cutting back on the yelling and then giving it time to work. The sign of great parenting is not the child’s behavior. The sign of great parenting is the parent’s behavior. Remember that all we can do with our children is teach. When we do, they respond.


1. Stick to healthy, positive principles of interaction with our kids: Like the broken arm and the caterpillar in its cocoon, set the cast and let it work its magic. Allow the broken bone to heal and the butterfly to evolve and emerge. If you stop banging the arm against the wall and stop cutting open the cocoon prematurely you will start to see and feel changes. They will be small at first but in the long run they are dramatic and beautiful!

2. Realize the behavior is just part of a greater cycle: Like the cogs in the clock, each part of a relational cycle is important but is just part of something bigger. Consider that there may need to be changes made by you and your child. You may need to alter the before, during and after elements of the issue you are facing to have the greatest impact.

3. Consistency and persistence in positive action drives progress: Like losing weight, improving parent/child interactions requires persistent effort in doing things that are sometimes difficult and uncomfortable. It’s easy to get discouraged when we get on the scale after a week of running 3 miles every day and only loose 2 lbs. but that 2 lbs. represents your personal strength, commitment and health. The 2 lb. improvements in your relationships with your kids is the same way. One day you will look back and see what a drastic difference that 2 lbs. a week made.

“It’s working” requires some faith but our tendency to say, “It didn’t work” leads to downward negative cycles and discourages the very success we are working and hoping for. Realize when you mess up or miss a day, and we all do, that it’s still working. You have not failed, you’ve just learned. Recognize and give yourself credit for your little changes as well. Challenge yourself this week to create a positive plan of action to teach your child and then to remind yourself, even when it’s hard to see, “It’s working! It’s working! It’s working!”

Question: What situations have you been in recently where you could substitute “It didn’t work” thoughts with “It’s working”?

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

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