Involved Fathers | Fathers For Good

Discipline: Fair and Consistent

by Mark W. Merrill

Do you and your spouse agree on discipline? Consider a child we’ll call Johnny. Johnny knows he isn’t supposed to have candy until after dinner. He knows that if he takes a piece beforehand, his mom will quickly discipline him. But, he also knows that his dad won’t do anything. So Johnny grabs the candy, figuring he has fifty-fifty odds of getting away without any punishment. He plans on using the fact that mom and dad don’t see eye-to-eye on discipline to his advantage.

You need to agree on how you will discipline your children – ahead of time. If a new situation arises, talk privately first and come to agreement, before you approach your children. Show your kids you’re unified; it’s easier for you and much better for them.

Uniform Discipline

If you have more than one child, be sure to apply the same principles of discipline across the board. Don’t show favoritism. Of course, each child is unique, but general guidelines should apply to all children.

Consistent Discipline

What’s the hardest thing about disciplining your kids? If you’re like most parents it’s consistency. You can read all the books in the world and have dozens of great ideas, but if you’re not consistent they won’t work. I’ll admit it, being consistent is tough. Sometimes it’s easier to just let the kids get away with something rather than sticking to your plan and being consistent with discipline. But consistency pays off in the long run. It helps our kids to know what to expect from us, to understand the boundaries, and to respect the rules instead of testing them.

Firm Discipline

Some parents think that the only way to be firm is to be harsh. Harshness uses angry words, a raised voice or emotional manipulation to try to make children obey. But there is a better way to show that a boundary is secure and can’t be crossed without a consequence. Be firm, even-tempered, and don’t let your emotions take over your behavior.

Don’t negotiate consequences with your children. A friend of mine recently took a privilege away from his daughter for willful disobedience. She lost the privilege of taking the car out Friday night. Well, she wasn’t going to take no for an answer and pleaded with her parents to let her wash, wax and clean the car instead. But, her parents stuck with their decision. Establish clear, non-negotiable consequences for misbehavior – then stick to them.

Positive Discipline

Disciplining should never involve personal attacks. Never call your children names or label them “stupid,” “lazy,” or “mean.” Don’t say things like, “How could you do something so dumb?” “Why can’t you ever behave?” Never compare them to their siblings or to other children.

Negative motivation might seem to work in the short run, but in the long run it can have devastating effects. Children can eventually feel worse and worse about themselves and will either throw in the towel, “I can’t do anything right, so why even try?” – or if they do try, they’ll feel like they are never good enough.

Three R’s of Discipline

When you need to discipline, immediately remove your child from the situation and send him to his room. The goal is to give your child time to think about what he’s done, and give everyone time to calm down and prepare to talk about the situation.

When you sense that your child is ready and has a calm spirit, move onto the next R: reflect.

During the time to reflect, you and your child will discuss the problem. Ask your child, “What did you do wrong? Don’t let him make excuses or blame others. Next, ask him, “Why was it wrong?” Finally, ask, “What are you going to do differently the next time?” You want to shape his heart so he’ll be self-motivated to change his behavior. Finally, discuss consequences.

Now comes a very important step: reconnect. Before you wrap up your discussion, make sure the bond between you and your child is not broken. Tell your child you love him unconditionally. Give him a hug and let him know you believe in his ability to make the right decision the next time.

It’s easy for me to encourage you on how to raise your kids, but implementing those ideas day-in and day-out can be a challenge. I know, because I face some of those challenges with my own children – bickering, complaining and disobedience are all part of parenting. I also know there are no quick fixes. But I can tell you that my wife and I are persevering in parenting… we’re hanging tough… hoping and praying that our work will find its reward… maybe a little now and hopefully a whole bunch later.

Mark W. Merrill is president of Family First, an independent, non-profit research and communications organization dedicated to strengthening the family.

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