Monday, September 20, 2010

Discipline 101

Millie writes:

From the moment a newborn bites hard while he’s nursing to that whispered “stand up straight!” as he’s standing at the altar awaiting his bride, parenthood is one long series of corrections. Some you will do out of love, some you will do out of duty, and some you will do out of anger – but you will do it a lot, so you may as well learn to do it right.

Spanking is a huge “hot button” when you are talking about discipline. Up until the 1960s spanking was the way you disciplined a child; nowadays it’s something that most parents have in their arsenals, even if they are reluctant to admit it. To Spank or Not To Spank is something that you must decide for yourselves but, of course, I have a few opinions on the subject.

For one thing, that line about “never spank in anger” doesn’t ring true to me. Children can understand anger, and they can respect it; what confuses them is a spanking given in cold blood. If you do spank, do it immediately – none of this “wait ‘til your Father gets home” stuff, that removes the consequence too far away from the action. Don’t use anything other than your open palm to spank a child, because it’s too hard to gauge the force you’re using otherwise. You aren’t trying to beat them into submission; you’re trying to get their attention. If a pop on the behind doesn’t work, don’t hit harder – try something else.

One of the things we are attempting to teach these little people is that their bodies are sovereign – under their own control. It’s harder to accomplish this if we lay our hands on them as our sole means of correction, particularly once the child gets to be older than four or five. Personally, I had much better luck with other disciplinary tactics.

Time Out
We had The Corner. A child had to put its nose in the corner and keep it there for a predetermined amount of time (as a rule of thumb, a minute per year of the child’s age). Having a Time-Out Chair or a special punitive step works just as well, but be careful about sending a kid to his room – said room is probably full of toys and books and games. Occasionally, however, I punished a child by sending myself to my room – it was that or flip out completely in front of God and everybody. Gotta keep up my street cred, you know. The reason for time out is to break whatever cycle the kid is in that he can’t break himself, so when time out is up, give a hug and distract him to another activity.


If your children won’t stop fighting, there are two ways to handle it. One, forbid them to say a single word to one another and separate them to opposite ends of the table, room or house. The sibling who was insupportable five minutes ago now becomes a longed-for boon companion; you can decide when it’s time to give in and let them play together again. If that doesn’t work, tie them together. Really; take a piece of yarn and tie them together wrist-to-wrist or back-to-back. The novelty of the situation will get their attention, and eventually they will have to learn to cooperate if they want to be untied.

A Good Talking-To
For some children, knowing that you’re disappointed in them is the worst punishment they can receive. Alternatively, some experienced parents can deliver a lecture that is so boring and goes on for so long that even the THREAT of a talking-to can be enough to bring a kid back into line. Sometimes (if you can keep your temper) it’s even possible to reason with a child, to discuss why some behaviors are not permitted and how the child has broken the rules.

This is probably my go-to form of discipline, because it’s really not discipline at all – it’s life. There are rules and there are well-publicized consequences for breaking those rules; if a kid crosses the line then he does the time. It’s pretty simple, and it’s hard for even a teenager to argue with it – not to say they won’t try. An example: Kid A knows that we have a strict 45-minute computer time limit during the week. Kid A gets caught playing “Smurf Wars 2000” for 2 hours one Wednesday afternoon. Kid A loses computer privileges for the week. Q.E.D.


There are three levels of grounding. The first is the least lengthy, though sometimes the most painful: the child is forbidden to attend a function to which he had previously been given permission to go (“You are grounded from Abby’s birthday party”). Be careful not to do this capriciously – whatever you’re forbidding them to do should be a natural consequence of whatever they did wrong, otherwise they don’t see any connection between the crime and the punishment.

The second level of grounding removes from the child any outside privileges for the duration of the punishment (“You are grounded for two weeks”). During this time the child may only go to school and church (if you attend church). It’s up to you whether the grounding extends to extracurricular activities and phone calls. This type of grounding is usually a result of a child behaving irresponsibly when he’s away from your supervision – therefore he must endure a little MORE supervision until he gets the idea. (By the way: no need to tell everyone who calls that he can’t come to the phone because he’s grounded. Just take a message – there’s no need for anyone else to know his business.)

We call the final level of grounding “house arrest,” and it is reserved for behaviors that compromised someone’s safety or involved flat-out lying to us (the worst sin one of our kids can commit). If you’re under house arrest you don’t leave your room except to eat and go to the bathroom. There are no phone calls, no bedtime stories and no visitors. If school is in session you go straight to school and come straight home (or are delivered to and picked up from the front door by a parent), no extracurricular activities, concerts or field trips. If you’ve done something to trigger house arrest then life as you recognize it is over until you straighten out, Buddy.

The Aftermath
Once the punishment is over, don’t hold a grudge. Let your child know by your behavior that you have forgiven him; he’s done his time, lesson (we hope) learned. If you find out that you were wrong and punished a child for something he didn’t do – and this will happen, sometimes – go immediately to the child and apologize. If you don’t, it will undermine his trust that you really DO have his best interests at heart.

While I am the world’s number-one advocate of consistency, I have found that it’s okay to let things slide occasionally. Your kids are going to do things they don’t want you to know about from time to time; you are going to know they’re doing them. If it doesn’t hurt anyone and you suspect it might lead to a learning experience (or you did it, too, when you were a kid), consider letting it go. There will come a time (when your child is in his late teens) when he will realize that you not only knew these things all along, but you trusted him to deal with whatever came up – and that, my friends, is a very sweet moment indeed.


  1. I must admit, when I read the title, my heart thudded a bit harder with dread. I am an advocate of spanking as one of the tools of discipline, and have been told that it is not only abuse, it is SEXUAL abuse and I should be ashamed of myself. Not knowing your take on it, I was a bit apprehensive clicking on over to the article.

    You did a GREAT job touching on spanking without making a big deal out of it. Even better, you offered up some really good alternatives to spanking!

    Thank you!!

  2. Ditto to Brianna. I can count on one hand the times I spanked, but they are burned into my memory. I STILL don't know whether or not I'm happy with myself for spanking - or if my kids understood why I did it.

    I'm glad you addressed this. I keep thinking I'll write about spanking, but I just couldn't get up the nerve. I honestly believe that spanking is part of the parenting complex, but question every time I've spanked.

    Thanks, Millie - you are a sister!

  3. "You aren’t trying to beat them into submission; you’re trying to get their attention. If a pop on the behind doesn’t work, don’t hit harder – try something else."

    Oh how I wish someone had told my parents this. I was still recieving "spankings" up until I was 14 or 15 with tools ever increasing in size and pain. You'd have thought I would have learned my lesson--they did. I didn't though. All I learned was that I was NEVER going to do that to my kids. Does that mean I don't ever spank? No, not at all. I have, and I am sure I will again--but in the context you provide--and only as a last resort not a first one.


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