Q. I have two lively and spirited boys, ages seven and nine. I'm having a difficult time disciplining them. I can scold them until I'm blue in the face, but all they do is laugh at me. I'm becoming a joke of a mother, and my house is a wreck. They take stuff without permission, they take apart electronics, they tear through my garden, they do anything they please. I'm at a total loss.

A. A boat was sailing smoothly over the ocean's waves. The sun shone from the blue sky and there was nary a cloud in sight. Yet not one of the passengers strolled along the deck to enjoy the beautiful day. The reason: This particular boat lacked a railing along the periphery of the deck. No one would risk falling into the depths of the ocean.

I will discuss several points that'll help you discipline your children better, and make your home a more peaceful and productive place.

In raising children, setting limits provides security.

When a child knows that there are certain boundaries he cannot trespass, he feels safe to explore the world. Nevertheless, as the apt expression goes, disciplining children is like holding a wet bar of soap. Either a grip that is too firm or one that is too gentle will cause the bar of soap – or a child – to slip through your hands. As parents, it's vital to find a balance between being too strict and too lenient.

The essence of discipline is to train a child to learn self-control and to recognize limits. Disciplining a child is instructive not destructive; it is not about punishing a child. Punishment sews anger in the heart of a child, implanting inside him grudges and thoughts of revenge that can fester for years. As a matter of fact, discipline is about finding alternatives to punishment. This means that in lieu of punishing – as in blaming, shaming, reproaching, lecturing, threatening, hitting – discipline is about getting a child to realize that his actions have consequences. Punishment does not necessarily prevent the misbehavior from repeating itself, rather it spurs the child to refine his tactics so that he can escape your watchful eye the next time around.

Needs and feelings are the driving force behind a child's behavior.

Their actions are the language they use to convey these needs. By addressing those underlying needs and feelings, we remove the necessity for them to act out in negative ways. Direct and open communication is always the best approach. Actually, by remaining calm and composed rather than becoming emotionally involved, disciplining problems can become opportunities for communicating values, providing insight and strengthening self esteem.

Encourage cooperation.

Find ways to fill them up with the warm glow of your love and affection. Ten minutes of dancing with your child will save you two hours of discipline. A child who's aware of his greatness is a child who will seek to act in great ways.

Values such as self-control, responsibility, respect, honesty cannot be forced.

They can only be absorbed by watching the actions of those we love and admire. Children quickly learn to tune out from long, drawn out lectures. Excessive Criticism soon turns into self-criticism, ripping apart the child's self-respect and leads him to give up. Out of despair he begins to act upon the image he's now acquired.

Authority calls for brevity.

A concise one minute scolding is enough. Label the misdeed, not the person ("That's a lie", not "You're a liar"). Be technical, focus on the solution not on your emotions (Let's wipe the window, not I feel so mad that he smudged the window) This approach avoids fault finding, guilt producing and the meting out of punishment.

Children crave discipline.

Begging a child to behave, pleading for their agreement on every step you take, living in terror lest the child will be unhappy, all chip away at the railing of their little life-cruising boats. The child may never tell you, but he needs you to be firm, he needs you to be a disciplinarian, but he needs you to be a loving disciplinarian.