The Discipline System That Saved Our Family

Years back, when we were parents of toddlers and preschoolers, our discipline ideas were no match for the tantrums, negotiating, and sibling rivalry. We needed discipline help and found answers from a family therapist who shared a multi-tiered discipline system, first developed by therapists working with teens in crisis. While implementation requires time and patience, this system brought peace and order to our family in a chaotic time.

Having a disciplinary system in place will help your family be strong.

Rules to Follow

Think of this as your family manifesto of around 10 rules, principles, and parameters that you put on a list.  

No matter the age of your children, call a family meeting to set up the base of your discipline system. Allow your children’s input, but remember Mom and Dad have the final say on these “10 Commandments” of sorts.

Create rules that reinforce your family values and that are broad enough to cover a variety of offenses. For instance, “treat others with respect” is a broad rule that can easily applied to various situations. These rules are posted so that the child can be brought to the list to help confirm which rule he or she broke when an offense occurs.  

Understand Best Habits   

Create 40 to 50 “good habit” cards using index cards. These are age-appropriate good habits you want your children to practice. Each card should require five to 10 minutes to complete for younger children, and 10 to 15 minutes for older children.  

Mom and Dad decide how many “good habit” cards will be required as a consequence for each rule when it’s broken, and this is added to the posted rule list.

Don’t think of these tasks as punishment — some might be habits that your child actually enjoys. Some examples of good habits are wiping down the table, picking up their room, reading, and doing a sibling’s chore.

Let’s Try Again

When a rule is broken, refer to the “Rules to Follow” list and the assigned number of “good habit” cards that the child will draw as consequence for that broken rule.

The benefits of these good habit cards are multifold. The child draws the cards by a predetermined number, thereby removing the emotionality from the moment. This instructs the child how to correct their behavior and try again with better choices. Best of all, these cards can be kept in an index card case (which can be kept in your purse for convenience!). Cards can be drawn while in public and then completed at home.

Here are some general guidelines for drawing cards:

  1. The good habit cards drawn must be done right away. If the child is too upset, he or she can go to his or her room and complete them when calm.
  2. If you are leaving the house, the good habit cards can be done when you get back home. You can use a clothespin for each child to keep them handy until then.
  3. If you are in public, the good habit cards can be done when you get home.
  4. If drawing cards brings an escalation in your child’s behavior, he or she can keep drawing cards as you feel necessary.

Everyone Helps

Everyone, including Mom and Dad, has clear tasks and roles within the family, which are listed out and posted as part of the discipline system. Having children see what their parents accomplish in a day gives a clear understanding of how much parents do.

Let kids help prepare food to encourage nutritious eating habits.

You can create a chore chart and slip it into a plastic sheet protector and keep tally marks of completed daily tasks. These are different than the good habits, as these are daily or weekly tasks that are expected from each family member to emphasize the idea of teamwork.

Tallied Success

As the “everyone helps” tasks are done, these are tallied, and then a reward list is created for the children to work toward. The entire family can brainstorm this “success list” of rewards. At our house, we used plastic coins to “pay” our kids each Saturday, assigning each child a different color. Our kids cashed in coins for rewards like sleepovers, a trip to the Dollar Tree, or a date with a parent.

One of the best aspects of the Family Rules System is that it can updated as your kids grow and used until they leave home. Having set rules with set consequences offers clear expectations for all family members. Adding in daily and weekly chores for all family members with clear rewards teaches the ethics of hard work and teamwork. Each of these components work together to bring calm and order, saving your family from the tyranny of chaos and emotion.

For more discipline-based content, please read the articles in our Discipline Discussions editorial series.

Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.


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