On Discipline

Some rights reserved by Jean L.

Some rights reserved by Jean L.

As a parent, I wish I could just have someone give me a set of very specific rules on discipline that works every time with every child for every circumstance. But no, they have to go and be their own individual, unique little flowers, even when it comes to acting up.

They’re a little older now, so we’ve moved on from toy stealing, biting, and hitting to bickering, teasing, and antagonizing.

Over a year ago we started using “unpleasant powder” (a mix cocoa powder and decaffeinated instant coffee) when they say something mean or hurtful or inappropriate (i.e. “bathroom words”). It’s been mostly effective for cutting down on blatantly unacceptable speech. However, it’s harder to use when the words are less obviously problematic, or words aren’t being used at all.

After parents and grandparents being at the end of our ropes over the past week, we finally sat the kids down and a serious discussion about how to get the bickering to stop. Here is the solution we came up with:

  1. Whenever they can’t get along, both will be disciplined.
  2. When they are disciplined, we don’t want to hear about what happened, they need to learn to get along on their own.
  3. When they are disciplined, they must stand in separate parts of the room with their noses to the wall and stay still and silent.
  4. The first time, they have to stand in the corner for 30 seconds, the next time it is doubled to 1 minute, next time doubled to 2 minutes, then 4, 8 and so-on.
  5. Obviously, so long as they are disagreeing but working through the disagreement in a civil manner they will not be disciplined. Discipline is only for when they can’t handle their differences civilly.
  6. If they act up while they’re supposed to be standing quietly, we reset the timer for both of them. It doesn’t matter who acted up.

We’ll see how it goes. On the first day, they got up to 4 minutes with a restart after the first minute. They did fine yesterday at Oma’s house, but that evening we got up to a full minute.

A Note About “Rules of Discipline”

Although I complained above about not having specific rules, I have learned some very good guidelines for discipline. It doesn’t tell you exactly which method of discipline will be best, but it does help you make good choices when deciding on methods.

  • Discipline in the context of love.
    • You’re doing it because you love them and you know that obedience teaches self-control and respect for authority.
    • Explain that your job as the parent is to teach them what is right and wrong.
  • Make it hurt
    • Hurt doesn’t necessarily mean physical pain, but they need to remember the discipline and not want to experience it again.
  • Remind them of your love with your actions.
    • Discipline is not about shunning them or distancing yourself from them. Make sure they understand that your love is not related to their actions.

It’s also good to keep in mind problematic “parenting” techniques. These approaches tend to be effective in the short term, but don’t help build love and trust or cultivate the needed traits for the long term.

  • Threat – “Don’t make me tell your father what you did today, then you’ll really get it!”
  • Manipulation – “We’re going to a nice restaurant. Be quiet and sit still and I’ll buy you ice cream.”
  • Guilt – “I spend all day cleaning the house and how do you thank me? By running in with muddy shoes! I don’t even know if you love me.”
Featured Image: Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved by Jean L.

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