We live in a society where discipline is not viewed in a positive light. Many parents think that it is better to be their child’s best friend instead. The results have been a society of immature adults. If you are interested in my thoughts on why discipline is so important for our children, our society and the future of our world, please check out my blog entry at Austin Catholic New Media entitled, “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child”.
When to Discipline
One of the most common questions parents have is when it is appropriate to discipline their children. After all you can’t be constantly disciplining your children, lest they be provoked to anger (Ephesians 6:4). You need to pick your battles, but the battle you pick could greatly decrease the number of battles you encounter. I propose that you begin with respect. If your children do not have respect for you or for God, they will not obey you and will probably not obey God’s laws either. Secondly, willful disobedience should never be tolerated, if you give your child a task and they refuse to do it, the punishment should be immediate. Willful disobedience is closely linked to respect and thus it is very important to not tolerate it.
I remember when I was growing up, my grandmother would tell me to do this or that or to stop doing something and if I didn’t do it right away, she would count to three. I usually complied by the time she got to two and a half. I was conditioned, I knew that I had until three to obey. We as parents should not count (unless we are trying to teach our children their numbers), we should expect first time obedience and if the children don’t comply, then we should administer the consequence immediately. Children will learn the parameters in which they can operate and if you count, then will learn to persist in their disobedience until the count of three.
Of course this list may not include your favorite violations of household order, so feel free to add more to the list of lines that should never be crossed, but be prepared to defend your position. As your children get older, they will question arbitrary rules and if you can’t explain the reasons why you have them, the level of respect your children have for you may be significantly diminished.
When should you start to discipline your child? The answer is simple, as soon as your child shows signs that he or she understands what you are saying. When you say no and your child pauses for a moment, it is time. The younger you start to discipline, the easier your job will be. Most children are not naturally obedient, you might have one, but you should consider that a freebie from God. I have nine children, and we got really lucky and we have two. The rest of the kids are normal and we continually have to administer discipline and sometimes it is really difficult work.
The high level overview of discipline goes like this. If you don’t do this, then this will happen and if the child doesn’t comply, then you need to administer the consequence. The key is consistency, no exceptions, if you say that their favorite toy will be taken away if they don’t put their toys up, then you better take that toy away if they disobey. If you don’t your credibility will be severely diminished. Don’t make the threat if you are unwilling or unable to follow through.
Consequences should be appropriate to the offense and to the child. With that in mind, here are some consequences that work for our family and may work for yours as well. The key to administering any form of punishment is remain calm, and dispense the consequence in a loving way. For younger children, ages 2 to 7, we have used time out, spankings, and physical exercise. Time out is pretty easy, you find a corner and put the child in time out for a certain length of time, one minute for each year of age is a good rule of thumb, and require that the child stands quietly for the whole time, lest the timer starts over. The key to spankings is that they should only be applied to young children who have not yet achieved the age of reason (normally around age seven) and that they be administered calmly and not in anger. Spankings are also much more appropriate for boys. Girls will generally not respond well to spankings and you should consider timeout or physical exercise as a better alternative for them. Physical exercise is a great method for us, we like push-ups, they can be done almost anywhere and can easily be increased to match the offense. You may find that some children may get very good at push ups and thus require a few more to feel like they were punished. Jumping Jacks, leg lifts, pull ups also work pretty well, but may be a little more difficult to use when not at home. Lastly, you may wish to take away a favorite toy, restrict the use of the computer or TV for a period of time.
As children get older, the consequences will need to change a bit. While physical exercise and withdrawal of privileges are still useful, spankings and timeout are no longer appropriate or effective. Two powerful consequences are essays and blackout. Your older child may understand the transgression better after having written a 500 word essay on respect. The topic of the essay should be related to the transgression and it should be well written with proper sentence structure, spelling and grammar. The child looses all privileges until the essay is completed and approved by the parent. Blackout is to be used as the ultimate punishment for only very serious offenses, such as the top three listed at the beginning of this article. Black is a complete withdrawal of all benefits. Since you own the home, the clothes, the car, pay for the sports, etc. They don’t get to do anything or eat anything that you consider to be non-essential. They may also be expected to do extra chores around the home. They should remain on blackout until the essay is written, the behavior changes, or proper reparation is made for the transgression. The child should be informed of the duration of black out or the parameters that should be met to have black out lifted. Blackout is a very effective method to change frequent problematic behavior, but it should be used sparingly as it is tough on the child as well as the parent.
Discipline is one of the most difficult tasks that a parent can undertake, but the rewards are heavenly.