How Growing Gorillas Teaches Your Child Discipline

If you’ve ever tried to teach your child discipline, then you know that it’s an ongoing process. Parents are constantly working to train their children to follow instructions and obey rules.

It takes so much effort, in fact, that it’s one of the most common benefits that parents want their children to get out of the Growing Gorillas program.

I find that if a child has “discipline” problems, it’s never because they’re a “bad” kid or they need more discipline. When a child needs discipline, what they really need is a little help developing their abilities in Executive Functioning.

What is Executive Functioning? It’s a set of mental skills that help you get things done such as focus, being organized, and remembering details.

Travis and I have spent a lot of time working with our oldest son on executive functioning skills. One way we do this is when he’s getting ready for school in the morning. We’d ask him to do a set of tasks in this order: put on his shoes, get his backpack, and put on his coat.

As he started to get the hang of that, then we mix up the order. Finally, once he’s mastered that then we tell him to get ready for school, and he completes all three tasks on his own.

In our kids’ classes this happens when the kids play games like Ship to Shore or Simon Says. Students have to be diligent and attentive as the coach gives out instructions. It’s why each of our classes is part of a structured curriculum. Pay attention and you’ll see that every class starts with students standing against the wall as the coach takes role before the warm up drills and games.

This is how kids learn executive functioning, making them more disciplined. That repetition of activities during class, playing of games, and following routines develops in children the neural pathways that are going to make following instructions easy for them. With play-based instruction, they can develop that skill.

And that’s the thing about learning discipline. In those moments when your child is not following instructions and you’re constantly redirecting them, that is the time to give them more specific instructions.

  • What do they need to do, and in what order do they need to do it? Together, take a deep breath. Repeat the instructions.
  • Ask your child to repeat the instruction back to you.
  • Then, praise them when they complete each step. And tell them how proud you are of their hard work.

The fact that your child has trouble following directions doesn’t mean they’re “bad” or “undisciplined”. It means they need someone to help them with that executive functioning.

Building executive functioning is a learning process, one that they’re not going to get perfectly every time. And when you feel yourself getting frustrated or wondering if you’re doing something wrong as a parent, remember your goal as a parent. You’re not trying to create the perfect 6-year-old. You’re trying to raise a resilient adult.