Despite all the ideas I have about parenting, my weak point is effective discipline.
Up until recently, we had frequent problems with our boys’ behavior – specifically keeping contained and respectful to their parents and other people.
They’re not unkind or outright rude, but rather they just get so caught up in their own world of silliness that they can end up causing a lot of disruption. They’re super-friendly, and super-positive (certainly more than I ever was) but along with this has come a pretty nasty habit of not listening to what my wife and I want them to do or not do.
My Kid’s Lack of Discipline Is on Me
I firmly put the blame on myself for the current state of things (I speculate my wife would say the same for herself but I won’t speak for her).
The reason I say this is that I often slip into viewing my kids as pals and hyper-focus on teaching them things rather than thinking about how to effectively manage them.
I speculate this is in some part due to the fact that I grew up in a household with a parent who was quite authoritarian. Because of this, I naturally err on the side of being too lax since I remember how it felt to have a domineering parent lording over me.
Our Broken Disciplinary System
The following sequence nicely illustrates how the disciplinary system we’ve traditionally used works with my boys:
- Boys start getting a little loud.
- We wait and say nothing.
- Boys get louder and sillier.
- We ask/tell them to be quiet.
- Steps 3 & 4 are repeated several more times
- We yell at them to knock it off.
- They stay quiet for a little while.
- Boys start getting silly/loud again.
- Steps 6-8 are repeated at least 2 more times.
- We finally blow up, enough and scream at them and take away future tablet privileges or something else they like.
As you can see, this is just a really bad system – we just react to things at the moment and try to be nice guys until things reach a point where we blow up and everyone is unhappy.
This is reactive, passive-aggression parenting.
A Much Better System
I was talking to a friend and I mentioned some of the frustration we’ve been having with the boys. She recommended a new system she’s had luck with called “1-2-3 Magic”. She explained how it works and since then we’ve been employing it and it seems to be working quite well.
The core of it is, that if you observe a kid misbehaving or you want them to do something, perform the following sequence:
- Tell the kid to quit the negative behavior and/or exhibit better behavior.
- If the kid ignores your request, simply state “OK, I already told you once, now please do this or consequence X will occur”.
- If the kid continues to ignore your request, consequence X occurs.
At each step, you remain unemotional. Just a matter of fact to avoid things turning into a battle of egos.
In our household, the following occurred when my son was getting overly silly and being very loud.
Rather than going through our normal insane sequence, I just did the following:
- I told my son to quiet down. He continued to act silly.
- After several minutes, I told him that if he doesn’t calm down and be quiet he’d get a timeout in the bathroom. He continued to act silly/loud.
- I gave him a timeout in the bathroom.
We’ve executed all or part of this type of sequence several times over the past two weeks and things are really getting better. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that many times the kid doesn’t end up in the bathroom – he gets the message in step 2 or even step 1.
Consistency and Backing Up Words with Action are Key
I think the general lesson here is that we just need to be consistent and back up our words with action. In our default disciplinary system, we talked a lot and didn’t act on those words – there were no consequences. So our kids learned quickly that they could continue to act how they wanted as long as Mom and Dad weren’t in “blow up mode”.
The Obvious Often Isn’t Obvious
The funny thing is this seems insanely obvious. I feel I should have known this and been doing it all along without needing someone to point me in the right direction. But I was too stuck in treating the boys as friends and spent 90% of my time with them in teaching mode that I just really let the discipline go.
But such is the life of a parent – sometimes you don’t see what’s right in front of your face.