Okay, that headline caught your eye, am I right? When it comes to raising children, there’s nothing trickier than disciplining them. You and your spouse have to agree on when and how to discipline. It’s not cut and dried, black and white, one-size-fits-all child-rearing.
What works for one might not work with another, and some children might be more mature than another brother or sister was at their age. This throws some kinks into the whole situation.
The “why” behind discipline or decisions isn’t understood until around the “age of reason,” which most child psychologists will tell you is between 7-11. I do think, in general, asking questions is one of the greatest techniques we can learn, and it works at even a very young age.
Asking questions such as “How do you think we should deal with this?” or “What could you have done differently?” can be simple things to ask older children. With even a very young child, you can ask, “Are you supposed to do that?” to give them a chance to own up to what they’ve done.
This allows them to arrive at conclusions for themselves and learn lines of thinking that will help them solve problems throughout their life. One of the things that cause many issues with parenting today is that our kids haven’t learned how to problem-solve. They just throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know!” and somehow, they’ve been allowed to get away with it.
We’ve all heard at least one of our children utter the well-known “But that’s not fair!” phrase. The truth is, sometimes we can’t be “fair” to our children because that’s not what’s best for them.
Being fair would mean each daughter is allowed to get her ears pierced at the same age. When one daughter is 10, she is very responsible, but perhaps another daughter is constantly losing everything at age 14. Perhaps the 10-year-old is ready for the responsibility of keeping up with something like cleaning her ears, but the 14-year-old isn’t.
Being fair would mean the 14-year-old would’ve gotten her ears pierced, just because of her age, and despite the fact that it might be the 10-year-old that reminds her to clean her ears every day. And the 10-year-old would have to wait until she was 14, just because that is the age you set, regardless of how neat she keeps her room, how responsible she is with her chores, etc.
Recently, my 14-year-old daughter disagreed with a decision we made with her older brother. She was quite mad. Once the steam stopped emanating from her scalp, I asked her to come into another room and discuss the situation.
I began by defining what we were talking about. Then I asked her what the variables were in the equation of the decision. She smartly responded with age, maturity, experience, formation, etc. as variables.
Then she said based on what she knows, it could look like we were playing favorites. I agreed with her. (This is extremely important in dealing with teenagers. If you can find points of agreement with their logic, you will get much further with them.)
Then I made the case on the other side, and she agreed with this as well. Then I said the decision was up to her. She could be mad and assume her logic is correct, or she could choose to see the potential with the other side.
This would mean she had to trust that we as her parents have more information about the situation than she does, then she didn’t have to necessarily agree, but at least give us the benefit of the doubt.
The latter results in a much more peaceful resolution and doesn’t cost her anything toward her cause. In fact, it helps demonstrate maturity and parental respect, which then allows her to be seen in a more positive light. This can lead toward more trust and opportunity from us in the future.
When it comes to physical discipline, we all know this is a fine line in society. One person might give their kids a “whuppin'” at the slightest infraction, while another parent might shudder at the thought of ever laying a hand on their child to discipline them.
I’m not here to tell you how to discipline your child, but I do offer these suggestions:
1. Consider the personality of the child – You might have one child that the mere threat of a spanking would straighten him right up, and another that would take a spanking and turn around and sass you with a “That didn’t hurt one bit!” right in your face.
That same child might be devastated if you just looked her in the eye and said, “I’m disappointed.” Your children’s personalities are different, and therefore, their discipline must be somewhat different in order to be effective. As I have already shared, this can cause issues with the other children in the home, but that gives you the opportunity to have practical discussions with the older ones, and the younger ones won’t usually recognize the differences.
Many times we as parents simply get stuck on the “Well, we didn’t do this with so-and-so until he was 13, so we shouldn’t let his younger brother do it until he’s 13 because I don’t want to be unfair. My response to the “unfair” statement is, “You’re right–life isn’t fair. Trust me, you don’t want me to be fair!”
2. Consider the maturity of the child – One child might respond to time outs as the ultimate punishment, because she is four, and she just wants to be everywhere her siblings are all the time. The 10-year-old, however, might be secretly thrilled to be sent to his room as punishment, because then he knows he can do whatever he wants there!
My assistant’s teenage son is currently grounded from his room. Yes, you read that right. For her eight-year-old daughter, being sent to her room would be the worst punishment in the world. For the son, he’s old enough and mature enough to recognize the value in having time alone and they have to practically drag him out of it.
3. Consider the nature of the infraction – Does the punishment/discipline fit the crime? Back in the day, saying a bad word might result in a mouth being washed out with soap. Whether you agree with this form of discipline or not, the punishment had something to do with the body part that caused the problem.
On the other hand, if your child constantly pulls the cat’s tail, you’re not going to start pulling her hair, or make her pull her own hair just to help her understand. (or you might–I don’t know!) If my child draws on the wall, he has to help clean it, or if it can’t be cleaned, he has to help paint over it. Even if he is only four or five, he can hold a paintbrush and make a stroke or two, just to put that in his mind that drawing on the wall results in cleaning/fixing the wall.
4. Consider the severity of the infraction – Are you punishing too severely or not severely enough based on the action? If I tell my son to stop throwing a ball in the house and he doesn’t, he might wind up with a spanking or be sent to his room or even lose the ball.
If I tell him to stop and he continues throwing the ball and breaks a window, he might lose the ball, but he’s also going to have to work to help pay for the window. Will he think twice about throwing a ball in the house? I would think so!
On the other hand, if I tell him to stop and he doesn’t, I wouldn’t go and clean out everything from his room except a bed and clothes. It’s a little extreme for the crime.
5. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page – Nothing is worse than having one of you come home to “good, you’re home, now little Billy needs a spanking” or something similar to start your time with your kids at night.
If mom is home and knows Billy needs a spanking, don’t wait–deal with it then and there. Also consider, if mom is home and her 14-year-old daughter sasses her, she might take her smart phone and say, “Your father and I will talk about the rest of your punishment when he gets home.” While you can’t let it go unheeded, you can discuss those things with your spouse as they come up.
Extremes are also not helpful. Perhaps dad is home with a child and has had it, and he decides, “No more tv for you for six months!” only to have mom come home and think that’s way too harsh. Then what do you do? You’ll have to either go with it in order to back each other or compromise, which can lead to your child thinking you aren’t united and that one parent is obviously more easy-going than the
You can even discuss things together that allow the spouse to deal with a situation alone. For example, perhaps your son keeps throwing a ball in the house and both of you have told him to stop. Together, you decide if he does it again, he will lose his ball for a certain time. You tell him this so he knows what is expected and the result for disobeying.
If dad is home alone when your son throws the ball in the house again, he has no problem confiscating the ball, because he already knows the mom will agree when she returns. (unless dad was throwing the ball with the son!)
While this is not the end all of discipline guidelines, it is very important to lead your family rather than just letting them wander aimlessly through life. Leadership at home begins with you, and leaving all the disciplining to one parent or failing to agree on certain forms and lengths of discipline can undermine your authority with your children. This affects your relationship with them as well as with your spouse.
Who is Doug? Doug Kisgen is an author, entrepreneur and personality expert. His primary work? Raising his five kids with his wife of 20+ years in the hill country of Texas. For ways to put these ideas into practice, check out Doug’s book, Rethink Happy: An Entrepreneur’s Journey Toward Authentic Joy, available now as an e-book or in paperback!