Discipline isn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to make your family life a little easier. Here are three discipline mistakes you don’t even know you’re making — and what to do instead.
Nothing is easy about parenting, but discipline is one of the hardest things to master. Here’s a look at three mistakes you’re probably making.
You’re reacting to bad behavior
One of the hardest things about effective discipline is that it’s generally not something we think about until the need is immediate. That’s no way to parent — it forces you into a cycle of reactions, and that’s not what you want. Instead, before an issue arises, take a little time to think about what you want to achieve with discipline. Think about the common infractions you see, and figure out how you want to respond to those. Role play in your mind if you need to — it’ll help when you’re in the heat of the moment.
If you’re blindsided by something you never expected? It’s perfectly okay to say, “I’m so angry right now that I can’t think. There will be a consequence for this, but I don’t know what it is yet.” That’s a much better response than something you’re going to try to take back in ten minutes, or something you can’t possibly enforce (think: That’s it! No TV until you’re 27!).
The biggest hurdle to effective discipline is consistency. If there’s a rule, there’s a rule. It should always be enforced. Every single time. So if the rule is “No TV before dinner,” that rule has to hold even when you have a lot to do or you’re exhausted or your husband is out of town on business or your mother-in-law is coming for dinner. That’s the rule, and if you ignore it, you can’t expect your kids to hold by it.
Consistency also means responding promptly to an infraction, with the same response every time. Your son calls his sister stupid? The consequence — whatever you’ve decided is appropriate — has to follow immediately every single time. If it’s being removed to time-out, you’ll have to stop what you’re doing and remove him to that place, even if he does it six times in a row and you’re making a souffle. The souffle will fall, but your son will learn that you mean what you say.
Kids are incredibly smart, and they can smell weakness from miles away. So if they think that eventually, you’ll forget to discipline, they’ll just keep trying. But if you’re consistent, they’ll learn it, and they’ll change their behavior.
You disagree on discipline
Junior brings home a bad grade, and your spouse announces that he’s not going to the big dance on Saturday night. You immediately intervene: “I don’t think that’s appropriate.” Uh-oh — remember how kids smell weakness? Never let them see the cracks in the facade. Discipline needs to present a united front — at least in front of the kids.
You might have very different ideas about how to discipline, and that’s fine. But you need to have those arguments privately, away from the kids. Here’s a simple statement for you and your partner to memorize and use frequently: “Your mother/father/whatever and I need to discuss this.” This is what you say when you’re seeing red. This, and only this. And then the two of you can talk and figure out what you want to do, and you can present it with that all-important united front.
Take a little time to think about discipline before you need to. then, when the moment comes, You’ll be armed with the information and the decisions you need.