Q & A on Disciplining Children

BEFORE YOU READ THE ANSWERS TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS, first go up to the preceding blog where I write on “Two questions all kids are asking.”

1. What do you think about using “grounding” or “timeout” as a form of discipline? I personally believe that “grounding” is way over rated. When kids are grounded for months, weeks, (or even just sometimes days) at a time, I sense it only breeds bitterness into their soul. They feel the length of grounding  outweighs the crime committed. And much of the time they may indeed be right. Often times I see parents just… throwing out grounding as a reaction to their own frustration. Then once the “punishment” is laid out you either have to carry it thru – which can cause the bitterness, or you back off after a short while thinking you were a bit rash in your decision. In this case they see inconsistencies in your parenting which leads to other problems. Far better in my mind if you are going to use grounding, to do so with very short periods of time – such as “no video games for the evening” or “no car this week-end.” This would be similar to using “timeouts” when the kids are little. I have heard it said that a child’s attention span can be equated to one minute for every year of life. So for instance if you were going to do a time out for a five year old, I wouldn’t go longer than five minutes – maybe not even more than two or three minutes. At first you may think “that’s not long enough at all!” But you have to remember, it is not so much the length of the “discipline” that is important, as much as it is the “certainty” that the discipline will occur when the child has crossed the line and the “consistency” of it taking place every time the line is crossed. That way, your kids will be trained to see that “they cannot get their own way without cost” – and that’s the goal of discipline!

2. Do you believe in spanking? I know this is a controversial subject. I am not telling anyone they should do this. I am simply explaining what I think about the subject. Each person is different and has to decide for themselves. Personally, I do believe in spanking within certain parameters.  If you have difficulty with losing your temper or little self-control, I would not be supportive of a person using spanking as a form of discipline. Generally speaking I wouldn’t spank a child before he can walk and would stop after the age of 8 or so. I wouldn’t swat more than three times, usually only once. I would use my hand so I can judge how hard I am spanking. As the child ages to the point of being able to understand, before I spank I would take them aside, explain why I am going to spank them (what line they crossed) how many swats they will get, and about how hard. When I am sure they understand what I am going to do and why, I would spank them exactly as I told them I would. Then I would hold and comfort them. In doing it this way I believe I am teaching them that they cannot get their own way in life without cost. But I am teaching them the answer to this lesson in the most secure environment of love. If children do not learn at home that there is a cost to simply doing whatever they want whenever they want, then the governmental authorities will teach them that lesson later in life. Finally, understand this is not the only kind of discipline I believe in as was spoken of in answer to the first question. With our own kids it was reserved for occasions of clear, willful disobedience.

3. I heard you should never discipline in anger, do you agree? Anger is an emotion we all experience at different times. When kids disobey, are hurtful, or outright mean, we can experience anger. Whenever possible it would be best to rid ourselves of anger before we discipline. The most important thing to consider is the level of self-control we contain. If we aren’t very sure of full self-control, then we need to calm ourselves down before disciplining our kids. The danger of course is that in our anger we can discipline unfairly in a reactionary manner, rather than with an appropriate response — an accurate measure to the offense committed.

4. I (or my spouse) is hesitant to discipline, what should we do? First be sure you both understand the goal of disciplining as written about in the blog: “Two questions All Kids Are Asking.” It is a necessary and loving part of parenting when understood in the context of that blog. Discuss it together to be sure both understand the goal. If you fear losing self-control use only forms of discipline such as time out or grounding or loss of privileges for short periods of time. A great book for all parents to read to help in understanding other forms of discipline including the use of natural consequences is the book: Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay.

5. Who should do the disciplining? Should one parent be the primary disciplinarian? Should one parent say to the child – “wait until your “father” or “mother” gets home!” I believe most discipline should take place as near to the time of offense as possible so the child clearly makes the connection between the offense and the consequence. This being the case, whatever parent is with the child when the child crosses the line, should be the one to carry forth with the consequence. Finally, saying things like “wait till you Father comes home” disregards this principle, and ultimately causes the child to build up undo fear of his/her Father while tearing away at the needed loving relationship between the two.

6. Should step-parents be included in the discipline of step children? What do we do when we both come from different backgrounds – different styles of parenting and discipline? This is probably a very individualized thing to work through, as there is so much to consider. Ideally both parents should be on the same page in what they feel is an offense that warrants discipline, as well as the type and amount of discipline to use. This sometimes requires a great amount of time spent in meaningful dialogue with each other regarding such, as well as about each others experience in growing up and in former relationships. It also would take great trust in each other to allow the other to discipline one’s own children. Then too there is the all important trust factor between the children and their step-parent. Are the children experiencing enough of their love tanks being filled by their step-parent to give them the belief that when disciplined by that step-parent, it is done rightly and for their own good? And is there any legal or other possible battles that would ensue between spouses and ex-spouses if a step parent disciplines the others child?

7. Should we agree ahead of time what kinds of things should make up the “circle” that is around the child at any given age? Again in an ideal world this would be best. Every effort should be made to discuss things such as this between both parents. Parenting in and of itself gives an ample supply of topics for discussion in all kinds of areas. Certainly what we believe is right and wrong, good or bad, helpful not helpful, or of value or not at each age of our kids.  These should be things discussed and agreed upon as much as possible. Will it always happen this way? No – so then you do your best when disciplinarian situations arise – and you discuss them afterwards with your spouse if not before.

8. What kind of advice to you have in these areas for single parents? First off I want to say I have the utmost respect and appreciation for those who are single parents striving to do the best they can for their children in situations that are more often very difficult. There is so much that could be said. If you are a single parent because of divorce or loss of a spouse, your children are in a great amount of emotional turmoil whether they show it clearly or not. During this season of raising your children you need to focus all you can on two main things: filling their love tanks and finding the strength you need each day. With each of these, outside help is almost a must – from family to friends to church/small groups and more. Don’t hesitate to make your needs known – until you find the help need. Also, your greatest resource will truly be God Himself. I would have worship music playing often. When kids are sleeping or with someone else, it is a must that you take time with Him. Turn the TV off, put down the TODO list, and seek Him…even though there is a mountain of things that have to be done. The truth is, you will never get to all the things that have to be done. And if you do, the list will grow larger the next day! So take time to rest with Him, and learn to be OK with there always being more to do. This is such a difficult lesson to learn, but freeing to the degree you do!

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