The Rule of Three in Discipline & Self-Esteem

Unless something is threatening the safety of your child, never try to get across more than three discipline points at any one particular time in his/her life.


1. It is hard to develop self-esteem when you constantly hear the word “no.”
2. Consistency in discipline is all important. It is easier to be consistent when focused on fewer discipline situations.

Choose three situations to consistently discipline at one time for children’s self-esteem.

Choose three habits or situations that need discipline in your child and work on those until you feel each discipline situation is under control.

As each discipline situations is under control, you add another discipline. If you try to “fix”everything at once, you will constantly be saying “no.” Again, a constant”no” is NOT the way to build self-esteem in children.

Promote your kids’ benefits, not your own.

When you choose your three situations to discipline, be careful to choose situations that benefit the child rather than making you feel or look good.

Another important factor of the rule of three involves consistency. Nothing is more important for making discipline work and thus, building self-esteem than consistency. It is possible to be consistent about three discipline situations. It is almost impossible to be consistent about ten discipline situations.

You are human!

Try to avoid needing discipline while building self-esteem.

One way to do this is to promote a feeling of success by letting your child know what to expect in any new situation. Well-explained events become adventures rather than scary trips into the unknown. Confident children need less discipline. Successful adventures and new situations keep adding to self-esteem.

Teach your children the skills necessary for success.

Set your kids up for success. Children were not born knowing how to make the bed, write a report, or set the table. When they do these chores incorrectly, that is not the time for discipline. Rather it is time for a self-esteem-building lesson.

Be patient.

Allow time for them to go slowly in new situations. A few small,slow steps avoid the need for discipline while adding self-esteem now and later.

Make it safe to fail.

Praise your child’s willingness to try rather than praising the result of the first attempt. Then she will be more likely to try again or accept a new challenge.

When a child faces something new and succeeds, her self-esteem grows. If, most of the time, he hears, “yes” or “try it,” his self-esteem grows.

Keep remembering to focus on changing behavior that harms your child. You don’t change things about your child to make him/her conform to your “specs.”

William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N., in their book The Discipline Book write, “No discipline book would be worth its price without a section on self-esteem. Yet we fear that parents misunderstand the meaning of this concept and feel that this is one more thing they are required to give their child along with regular meals and a warm winter jacket. They guard against anything that may undercut self-esteem–to the point where it becomes ridiculous.”

They continue, “You can’t build your child’s self-esteem compliment-by-compliment, activity-by-activity.”

The authors feel parents are already overloaded with guilt because they may not be doing enough to foster self-esteem. They conclude, “You don’t need a degree in psychology to raise a confident child. Much of parenting is easy and fun. Hold your baby a lot, respond sensitively to her needs, enjoy your baby. Then sit back and enjoy the person whose self-esteem is developing naturally.”

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