Deciding how to discipline our children is a highly personal matter. Most of us bring a lot of what we know about the matter from our childhood experiences. Whether we decide to use the same methods as our parents, or we are determined not to, our thinking on the issue usually has a lot to do with what kind of family environment we grew up in.
Whatever grand designs we may have beforehand, most of us have to refine our approach to discipline once our children actually arrive. In the army there’s a saying that, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” I’m not implying that children represent the enemy here, but as they develop and start to exhibit their personalities and exercise their independence we often find that our best intentions fall short of what’s necessary to achieve the desired results.
The fact is kids are smart. Unnervingly so at times. They can get ahead of you fast if you’re not on your game. And, as perplexing as it may be, experience has shown that children born to the same parents, in the same household, with the same environment, can each require completely different strategies in discipline. It makes no sense.
Discipline can be so frustrating!
And that brings us to our first principle.
Put the burden on them.
The whole point of discipline is to guide our kids toward acceptable behavior. We succeed when they make the right choices on their own. If I spend my time as a parent hovering over my kids, waiting for them to mess up so I can intervene, then I have set myself up as the referee in a game. The kid’s part in the game is to try and get away with as much they can until they get caught by the referee. It’s hugely entertaining for them and exhausting for us. And we’re competing against each other.
If instead I lay out my expectations for them in advance, including what the consequences for certain actions will be, and I make clear that their choice determines whether those consequences will be imposed, then I become their coach. We’re on the same team. When they commit a foul, I hate it for them, but it’s my responsibility to carry out the consequences they have chosen by virtue of their actions. Sometimes it’s a painful lesson, but I’m on their side. We call a huddle and try to figure out how they can do it better the next time. The more experience they get, the less coaching they need.
A referee spends the entire game running up and down the field, chasing after the players. A coach stands on the sideline, watches the game, and provides guidance as needed.
As a parent, which one do you have the energy to be?
originally published 9/15/11| next post Allowance