If your kids are past infancy, discipline is something you have to do. Basically, as soon as a child becomes ambulatory and starts speaking, they start doing things they shouldn’t do, and it only gets worse as they get older. I swear, my kids have a rare talent for getting into trouble, causing messes and breaking things, and making inappropriate noise (unfortunately, often involving bodily functions). Teaching kids what to do–and NOT to do–is one of the single most important parts of parenting; if your kids end up as rebellious, insolent, and out-of-control, you’re a failure as a mother or father. Sorry. Discipline takes many forms, and there is a lot of passion and polemics when it comes to what is and isn’t good discipline. What are some of the top discipline mistakes parents make?

1. Lying to get what you want. Uh-oh, Mom and Dad! How many times have you undermined yourself and the lessons about “it’s wrong to lie” by lying yourself? We’ve all been there, though, in moments of exasperation and desperation.Even in a disciplinary situation, as tempting as it may be, lying just doesn’t work, it makes you look bad in your kids eyes, when they eventually figure out the lie, and it sends a bad message to your children, that it’s ok to lie, as long as you get what you want. Definitely the wrong track. Instead of telling a lie (“If you don’t go to daycare, the Parent Police will put Mom in jail!”), try to empathize with them and gain some common ground (“I know you don’t want to go to daycare, sometimes Mommy doesn’t feel like going to work, too. But we have to do it.”).

2. Back Down. Uh-oh, again. I think every one of us has done this: made a big declaration (“No more candy, EVER!”), then wimped out and backed down afterward, when you realize that it’s too hard to keep it. Again, this sends a bad message to the kids, that your authority is weak and you can be relied upon to give in. This results in the kids not having any respect for you, and running all over you. What’s the solution? Don’t shoot your mouth off, first of all! Second, stand your ground. If your son is causing problems in the sandbox and not listening, warn him once–then take decisive action as promised, by removing him from the situation. Your parental authority is important: if your kids can’t rely on you to stand your ground about small things, they won’t respect your authority when it really matters.

3. Undermine your spouse. This doesn’t just mean don’t say, “I don’t care what Dad says, I said do it this way!” This means that you have to present a unified front, when it comes to discipline. For instance, if your children have an established bedtime, and you’re routinely allowing the kids to stay up later against Dad’s wishes, that’s undermining his authority. And vice-versa, of course. You and your partner have to discuss how you want things done in your home, and stick to it together. If not, your kids will get a schizophrenic sense of authority, and think they can do what they want–as long as they appeal to the right person or whine.

4. Frequent Bribery. I am guilty of this one, big-time. Since I work at home, it’s hard to get quiet time and space to get things done, and I admit that I give in to the bribery impulse far too frequently. It’s so tempting to tell them, “Give me half an hour of peace and quiet and we’ll get ice cream!” What does this do? It makes the little bad-actors greedy and feel entitled to rewards for behavior that should be normal. Of course, it’s fine to do this every now and then, but it shouldn’t be habitual. Instead of always giving them things, try positive reinforcement. Rather than say, “If you’re good at daycare today, we’ll get you a new toy/candy/whatever”, tell them, “I know you’ll be a good girl at school today, it’d be really disappointing if I hear a bad report.” Your kids want to please you. Make sure you praise them when they succeed, and when they don’t, let them know. Saying, “I’m really disappointed and sad that you broke the present Daddy gave me for my birthday,” isn’t emotional blackmail–it’s allowing them to understand the impact of their actions, and develops their conscience.

5. Break Your Own Rules. This is kin to number one: don’t make a rule and then break it yourself. Your kids are indeed watching you, and by being hypocritical, you set a bad example. For instance, if you want your kids to eat healthily and banish treats, don’t break your own rules by eating junk food. It’s simple: say what you mean, and mean what you say.