Parental Guidance: Discipline Crosstalk

Welcome to Parental Guidance!


We’ve decided to make this an every other week thing from now on. But, the same things apply – if you are a parent or parental – adjacent person, this is the place to talk about “the children.”  One of us will put up a thread with a topic, which is jumping off point. Feel free to  to discuss any and all related topics here – brag, complain, talk about body fluids, etc.


We thought it would be interesting to try a crosstalk: this time. Discipline!


<b> Corn <b>I’ve been attempting a new thing with my kids lately, where I try to use positive reinforcement when they’re misbehaving. Rather than threaten harsh punishments, I try to get them to see the benefits of taking a different course of action instead. I let them know, calmly but firmly, why what they are doing is not acceptable, and what they can do to improve on it. If they don’t, they understand that they will be removed from whatever situation they’re in. Being around others is a privilege, which they have an opportunity to earn back. It all depends on me or their mother keeping our cool, of course, but I like to think it keeps things more level when we succeed.


I’m fortunate that both of my kids are pretty much within the realm of normal outbursts, though. Usually their emotions just need to blow over. A lot of other parents face much more difficult challenges. What are some of the more unique circumstances you’ve dealt with? Have you developed any techniques you’ve found to be effective?


<b> Miss Rim </b> Corn, what you’ve described sounds a lot like most of the “positive behavior” strategies I’ve used in the classroom for years, to varying degrees of success. The idea of earning privileges for doing the right thing is very powerful, I think. It shows kids that positive actions are rewarded, and drives home the message that doing the right thing is sometimes HARD TO DO, which is a really important lesson.


I can go on about specifics, but typically clear cut rules  with more positive language (i.e. hands to yours self vs no hitting) are effective. One warning, then one consequence – usually a time out to interrupt behavior – this is more for younger ones.


Of course, I’m really great with other people’s kids, and this stuff doesn’t tend to work as well with my own, although I try. My kid has some developmental delays, but nothing I’m not used to in others. We do have a particular dynamic – there are special behaviors he reserves just for mommy – and some get to be unsafe. He often melts down to and from day care, he ran into the street one day!


I’m married to Dad and we mostly agree on our approach to discipline, but Dad travels for work frequently so spoils him a bit when he’s home. A little is fine, of course, but when we disagree it can be tough. We have to work really hard to have those conversations when The Boy isn’t present.


How do you handle discipline disagreements?


<b>Corn</b> For disagreements, we have also made it a policy never to discuss them in front of the kids — which it sounds like is what you and your husband have done. They need to see their parents as being united, and we try to deny her any opportunities to play us against each other. They don’t come up too often though. Most of our disagreements are more along the lines of one of us losing our tempers than in specific methods of handling misbehavior. Our goal has been consistency. It’s when we act impulsively that we begin to run into problems.


So if one of us feels a consequence may have been too harsh, or that a disciplinary decision is too “in the moment,” we isolate ourselves to kind of have a powwow about it, and figure out if it should be handled differently instead. Most of the time we end up sticking to the initial decision anyway, though.


You mentioned the idea that it is difficult to do the right thing, and that’s absolutely key — my daughter has a beast of a time apologizing when she is in the wrong, and we have sunk untold hours into trying to get her to say the words “I’m sorry,” and she’ll always tell us “I can’t,” “I hate apologizing,” and “It’s too hard.” It’s like she’s actively testing our conviction to that principle. Hopefully, kids can eventually learn firsthand that when they do something they thought they couldn’t do, it proves that they could all along.


I hope your kid stays safe. All the books that I’ve read about parenting seem to suggest that the true effectiveness of discipline is not really detectable in the short term, which is why parents get  so frustrated — we expect kids to grasp basic cause & effect readily, but kids just do not work that way. It’s an ongoing process of building trust.


What can parents do when their methods don’t seem to be working? Do you advocate sticking to your guns, or maybe making some adjustments?


<b> Rim </b>  You and I are in total agreement about hashing out disagreements in private!

And I can see what’s up with your kid- it sounds like she is testing you – or is somehow just really having hard time admitting being wrong. I can’t advocate for totally sticking to one’s guns with respect to discipline – different kids need different things at different times and they have different dynamics with different people.

Having said that, I think it is useful to choose a particular strategy and stick to it for a while, provided all the adults are on the same page.  A kid will test it, because of course they will. It can be hard to decipher when something isn’t working or there is just a power struggle. And sometimes the BEST strategies take forever to “take.” I’m a big fan of ignoring tantruming and ridiculous attention seeking behavior, but kids will normally test that to the point where it’s unsafe, and then it’s a whole THING – especially if others are watching.

The school I’ve been working at has a “Positive Discipline” program they work with, I’m “meh” about it – in that the program always encourages adults to stop and discuss EVERYTHING in excruciating detail, when “No, you can’t do that now” would suffice. But there are few things I like about the program, particularly the use of the term “flexible.”

For example: “ You have to put that toy away because playtime is finished, but i can be flexible. Would you like to wait 30 seconds or 1 minute before you put it away?”

Or “ I need you to be flexible about this. Please do this now.”

And finally, “This is something I can’t be flexible about.”


Is this making sense?


<b>Corn</b>Absolutely! Framing things in terms of choice helps kids to understand that they are the only ones in control their own behaviors. It is a fine line, this balance between rigidity and leniency. I’ve found that except in a few cases (and mostly for safety reasons), as long as they are willing to work for it, I can be flexible on just about anything.


It still becomes a challenge at times, though. While I’m definitely on board with ignoring tantrums and emotional outbursts, my daughter often refuses to stay in time out, and I’ve had incidents where I needed to stand by the door to keep her confined to her room while she screamed at me. She’s gotten better since then, but I think next time that happens I will simply walk away. I realize I was doing it more for my own personal sense of power than for her sake.


Meanwhile, in the process of exploring the limits of acceptable behavior, I have noticed my kids developing new habits to cope with their moods (such as lower-level griping and rudeness as opposed to flat-out crying fits). Have you noticed any changes in the way your Boy expresses his frustration, as he’s gotten older and more experienced with consequences?


<b> Rim< /b> I sure have. Although The Boy has a developmental delay, he’s certainly growing and changing with his experiences, in particular the experiences  with other adults and kids. While I’ve had a hard time placing him in a special needs school this year, he’s been getting some  services, and that’s really been helpful in so many ways. This week, Mr Rim brought him to his weekly physical therapy appointment, and The Boy did not earn his sticker. I wasn’t sure how much that mattered to the Boy, but when they came back and I asked “How did it go?” Mr Rim shook his head, and the Boy looked at his hand, where the therapist usually places a sticker, and said “No sticker!” and got really upset, cried for a bit, and to to me, seemed like he was more mad at himself than anything. That may not have happened the same way if it was just ME doing the sticker thing. ( and we all know I’m a total pro!)


So I think we have a couple of interesting ideas to talk about in the comments. But I imagine it can be summed up thusly:  How did you arrive at your original discipline strategy and how did you adjust it over time? How long do you try to work it before making adjustments? If you have more than one kid what (other than age) may inform a different approach? What worked well, what didn’t and what worked well for a while but stopped working?

Who has a teenager, and how the fuck do you manage?