I can talk to my children about rules. I can give reasons for their existence. I can generally explain the importance of following the rules, and explain what happens when the rules aren’t followed. But no matter how much I talk with them, at some point a rule is broken. This is when I must follow through on discipline.
Discipline is one of those topics that can be very difficult to deal with. What means are necessary and what means are too harsh? Everyone has an opinion on what they believe to be effective, and what they consider abusive. Corporal punishment is usually at the heart of the debate.
Studying psychology and working with troubled teens for ten years did teach me a thing or two about effective disciplinary interventions. Most people have heard the old axiom let the punishment fit the crime, and some take that to mean a dark application of the golden rule to do unto others as they have done. I do not think that a wise approach. In deed, I have seen that the most effective disciplinary interventions are those that most closely resemble natural and logical consequences.
For example, recently I’ve been dealing with an issue with my daughter where she had been getting items at school during lunch and charging them without discussing it with her father or me. We did not find out until a notice and bill was sent home for the accumulated charges. This has happened three times now.
The first time we sat down to discuss that the things in the cafeteria were not free. At eight years old we are still teaching her all the rules, and this requires explanations. We also stressed that if she wanted something extra then she would have to use her allowance to purchase it. We made her use her allowance to pay the charges.
The second time we again had the talk, made her use her allowance to pay the charges, and put her in charge of making her own school lunches in an effort to make sure that she had the things she liked so she would feel less inclined to get extra items. Here we reiterated the rules and upped the stakes by giving her added self-responsibility.
This third and final time we had the talk again. As she had spend her allowance already she now has extra chores to earn the amount to pay me back and has no opportunity to earn any more allowance for the month. I also stand watch in the kitchen as she makes her lunch to make sure she is making a full and proper lunch. I also corresponded with her teacher about our efforts and asked for the teacher’s support. As an added measure I’ve also restricted my daughter to her room without TV, radio, or video games. She comes home, has snack, does her homework, makes her lunch for the next day, does chores, then spends time in her room until dinner. After dinner it’s get clothes set out for school the following day, bath, and bed.
I started with what made sense, and have been escalating the number of interventions. These steps might not work for every kid, and I’m sure it seems that they aren’t working for my daughter. Another thing I learned from my days as a counselor and teacher is the importance of consistently following through with disciplinary interventions while steadily increasing them. It does have a meaningful positive effect over time. That’s were many of us as parents become the most frustrated because there is no instantaneous, lasting corrective action.
If I want my daughter to understand responsibility and accountability then I have to be patient and consistent. I don’t want her to be obedient out of fear of pain because I have not ever seen that as a long term effective means. She is young, and we have many more lessons to learn. I also have a son, younger than she. His lessons may be similar or completely different. All I know is that patience and consistency on my part are going to be required. It’s all part of my disciplined approach to discipline.
What are your thoughts? Suggestions?