I promised you a blog on discipline this week. Now I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t. Discipline is a scary subject and I certainly don’t want DCFS pounding on my door because I said the wrong thing. The only thing I really know about discipline is that it has to be individual. What works for one child may not be what works for another.
The Drama Queen was an excellent child for the most part. She was kind and helpful with her siblings, she was an amazing student, she had good friends and she stayed out of trouble. I called her my Right Arm because she and I seemed to be always on the same wavelength. She was not the kind of girl to respond to corporal punishment nor was she a stranger to hard work. In fact, when she comes home, she will often make my bathrooms sparkle. Her only "flaw" is that when she gets lost in a book, she can ignore anything.
So one day her dad asked her to do something for him…I don’t remember what, probably some little thing. After the fourth or fifth time, he got angry, hid her book and grounded her from reading for two weeks. It was some of the longest two weeks of my life! She was absolutely miserable! We had found the thing that she just couldn’t bear to give up and that became the ultimate punishment for her.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you will know that the Prima Donna just got her first cell phone. She would rather do almost anything than give up that phone. We’ve found her ultimate punishment. But that would never work with the Dog Walker. He likes his phone, but half the time he doesn’t even know where it is. I’ve told you that we helped him learn to control his temper with hard work. That is the best punishment for him now, but when he was little, he was totally out of control. He could usually understand what I was saying to him, but he couldn’t verbalize well enough to respond appropriately.
One day when he was about six we were having trouble keeping him inside. We had put chains high up on the doors and somehow he had managed to get himself outside anyway. When I finally got him in and safe, I gave him his very first spanking. It wasn’t that hard, but he knew I was upset about his choices and that was punctuated with a swat on his behind. He was very unhappy. That one memory worked to keep him in line for about six or seven years. All I had to do was threaten with a spanking and he would fall into line. Then by the time he was 12 or 13 the extra work was enough to deter bad behavior.
The Gym Rat had a volatile temper when he was little (I know, crazy, huh!?) because he is so mellow now. One time he was so out of control that we tied him to a chair with his socks. In hindsight, I don’t think that was a great idea, but at the time it seemed like our best option. It only took him about 20 minutes to calm down and we were able to talk to him reasonably.
I guess my theories on discipline are simple…never spank a child because you are angry. That’s when things get out of control. If you do spank, don’t do it because your child hit someone…obviously. Look for what would work for that specific child. Don’t worry so much about making everything "fair." Fair is an illusion anyway. Plan on changing your plan. Kids grow up and what works now may not always work. I’ve never had a kid who really responded to a "timeout," so I don’t make that choice. Hard jobs are still my favorite form of punishment because they benefit the family while they force the perpetrator to pay his or her dues. They also work for almost every age.
That said, we don’t want our kids growing up thinking that they only work hard if they do something wrong. No system is perfect and you have to let the situation be your guide. Sometimes we have tried the "punish all until one confesses" method. But that goes against what I really want which is children who love and respect each other. I don’t want them to resent each other or leave someone hanging.
One last piece of advice…don’t put all your eggs in the same basket and definitely have a repentance plan. If I take away the Prima Donna’s phone for a month, that might as well be forever. Just a day or two and a way to earn it back early works well. In this way, I always leave myself a loophole and a way for good behavior to triumph. Remember that they ultimately have to pay the consequences of their behavior with you or with the rest of the world. You can’t make them behave, you can only point out what might happen and then let them choose. And if what you’re doing isn’t working…change it. Tomorrow is another day.