I read a lot. A large percentage of what I read is parenting books. I am not sure why, because I can't possibly remember everything I read, and often times they give conflicting advice. Plus, I rarely implement any of the ideas they give me, other than just reminding me to get back or stay on track with the things I know I should be doing. I am to forgetful to do elaborate charts, plus Michael gets rather irritated when I come up with creative or detailed discipline plans. He prefers the straightforward approach, which makes sense because it is simpler. But I long to be the perfect mother, who strikes the ultimate balance between strict and affectionate, demanding and affirming, etc., so I continue to educate myself in the art/science of mothering.
There are two pieces of advice that I think should be at the front of every parent's mind when their children are acting up. In my opinion, it doesn't matter your religion or parenting style (although I will mention Biblical reasons for these), doing these two things will make discipline be much smoother in your home.
Today I will talk about the first piece of advice.
- Be consistent. I know easier said than done right? It is essential to your children's emotional well-being that you do your very best to keep the rules the same and enforce them. This is actually a two-parter.
- Avoid "credit card parenting". That is when you allow a child to do something now that would be horrifying if they did it later, or if a group of them did it. An example would be (at least in my home) letting your toddler jump on the couch. No biggie when there is one tiny little one jumping on your couch. Now imagine a group of three 5-8 year olds jumping up and down on your sofa. All of the sudden that activity is maddening and destructive. So, do yourself, and your children, a favor and start in the way you intend to go. I believe this is Biblical, stemming from Ephesians 6:4, telling fathers not to provoke your children to wrath. To be allowed to do something, and then suddenly not be allowed to, or even getting in trouble for it is certainly going to be upsetting. I also think that children should be given more freedoms as they get older, not fewer, and allowing small children to do things that they won't be allowed to do when they get older is just setting everyone up for frustration.
- Don't let children get away with things you don't find acceptable. You don't have to be insane about it. Different situations call for different ways of dealing with the same infraction, and that is okay. However, you do need to call attention to the negative behavior each time they do it. Perhaps they get sent to the corner, or lose a privilege, or maybe they just get reminded that what they did is unacceptable and get removed from the situation. It can be something different every time, but make sure something happens. Again I think that not doing this is provoking them to wrath. Imagine how hard it would be to be an employee to a manager who sometimes allowed you to take an hour long lunch without a word, and sometimes yelled at you or wrote you up if you took 31 minutes instead of 30. You would probably find a new job where you could anticipate what was going to happen. It isn't fun to be at the mercy of someone's whims. An exception to this rule would be if your child comes to you and admits their wrong and is genuinely apologetic and didn't harm anyone else in the process of their disobedience. That would be a time to talk to them and explain that you are showing them mercy because they were honest and talk about the mercy that our Father in Heaven offers us despite our sinful natures.
Following this piece of advice allows your children to know what to expect, and make a choice whether or not to follow the rules. If the child chooses to disobey they are deserving of discipline. Being inconsistent requires that they continuously test to see where the line is drawn, and don't really get to choose if they will be obedient or not. I also think it breeds resentment. They will become angry when they are disciplined for something that hasn't been forbidden before, and find you to be unpredictable when you discipline them for a misbehavior half the time or less.