Discipline that Works

July 28, 2009

mother-child-discipline-small-1My children are 5 and 2, so I definitely have a long way to go in molding them into the responsible adults I hope they’ll turn out to be. That being said, they are pretty well behaved and in seeing how others raise their kids (the good and the bad), and in reading different books and articles, I feel like we have a good strategy for discipline. (Yes, I’m definitely simplifying for the purposes of not having a million mile long blog post, but just these few things can make a difference.)

The first rule is consistency. This is so important. Because if something is ok one day and then not ok the next, how is a child supposed to learn what’s acceptable? This goes between parents, as well. If one parent lays down the law and the other doesn’t enforce it, kids will figure out pretty quickly how to skirt the rules. So it’s important to have constant communication with your partner about what flies and what doesn’t. Otherwise you’ll hear a lot of “But daddy said…”

If you make a threat, you must follow through. As a parent, you inevitably hear yourself at some point saying things like, “If you do x, you’re not going to do y.” (x being something horrible that they’re not supposed to do, and y being something fantastic that they have been dying to do.) Now, how many times have you said it but not meant it? We’ve found this “punishment” technique to be worthwhile, because they start to understand that their choices have consequences. They have the power to make whatever decisions they want, but those decisions may be bad ones. But if your threats have no teeth, children smell blood in the water and will go in for the kill since they know they have nothing to lose. That’s why the threats have to be realistic. “If you don’t pick up your room, you’re not getting ice cream with us tonight” vs. “If you don’t pick up your room, you’re never having ice cream again.” And then, if they don’t pick up their room, they really don’t get ice cream. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been with people and they make a threat and then completely don’t follow through. And then they wonder why their kid is acting out. Once poor Austin lost his ice cream privileges on a night we were headed to Otto. He had to sit there while everyone enjoyed their gelato. It was hard not to give in and give his little sad, pouty face a taste, but you can be sure that in subsequent battles, he knew we meant business.

Fire a warning shot. Kids are going to push and test you. That’s how they learn and grow. If you give them a warning, that should be their trigger to stop whatever offensive behavior they’re engaging in. We make it clear that this is the warning, and if you do it one more time, you’ll get a time out. And then, if they do it, time out it is. And we remind them that they got a warning that they chose to ignore. If they’re doing something that’s dangerous, we come down extra hard to make sure they don’t repeat the risky behavior.

Routines really work. We have had the same routine for bedtime for our kids since Austin came home from the hospital: bath, get dressed, read a book or two, bed. There’s no stalling, no negotiating, no fighting to make bedtime a two hour ordeal. We are always consistent, whether we have a babysitter or we’re in a hotel. And because the kids are comfortable with the routine and know how they’re supposed to act, it works. Every time we have a new babysitter, we always get the comment, “I can’t believe how easy they go to bed!” I don’t think it’s because they’re angels (far from it), I really think the routine works wonders.

Use time outs when you need them. Even if they’re little (like 2), a time out sends a physical message that they have done something wrong. This morning Addison decided to mash her banana all over the chaise in my bedroom. She got a time out. And yes, she cried. Crying is going to happen. Do you want them to cry for an hour? No. But they need to work their feelings out, and sometimes crying is how they do it. We always make sure at the end of a time out that they understand why they got one.

If you give an inch, they probably will take a mile. That may be ok with you, but know that if you tell them no and they whine enough to get you to change your mind, they will do it every time. These are smart little people! Bring them into your bed, they will expect to come in the next day, and the day after that. Tell them no about a toy and then sigh and say yes when they kicked and screamed? Good luck, sucker!

I find that there’s usually a reason when a child is acting out. Do they need attention? Are they over tired? This is a biggie — and if they’re tired, there’s no reasoning with them. It’s usually just better to cut your losses and get them to bed as soon as you can.

Be strong! That’s the bottom line. Know that while they may think you’re mean now, you are doing them a long-term favor by learning right from wrong. You’re not here to be their friend, you’re their parent. There’s a difference. For us, it’s not that our kids are perfect. There are trying days; there are days when we wonder if we’re doing the right thing. But these techniques seem to work, and so I pass them along in the hopes that they’ll help you, too. Every kid and every family is different, so take these and modify them so they work best in your house. Good luck!

On the Lookout

I never shop at Ann Taylor. I always felt it was too “career girl,” and not in a good way. But I recently saw some slides of their fall line, and things are looking up! Apparently they hired away the head designer from Club Monaco, and she is injecting some style into the workwear. Most dresses and things seem to be in the low $100s, which seems reasonable. Check out some looks here.


These out of the blue thunderstorms are really annoying.

Austin and I went swimming after work — it was so fun and nice on a hot summer night. It’s not easy to make it home and get it together to do something after hours, but if you can make it work once in a while, it is like found time together. He was excited to go.

I can’t believe it’s almost August! Make a list of everything you want to do this summer now, so you make sure to get it done in the next month or so.

Until tomorrow…