Will Inconsistent Discipline Ruin Your Kids?

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Trust me, you’re not the only one.

Like all mothers, I say things or promise things or threaten things that I don’t follow through with.   In the heat of the moment, in a fit of frustration, and sometimes with the best of intentions, the words come out.

Sometimes you know immediately that what you just said isn’t going to fly.  “If you don’t stop that, you’re never going to be allowed to watch TV ever again!”

Sometimes you absolutely mean what you say at the time you say it.  “As soon as we get home, you’re going in a time-out!”

Sometimes you even start to follow through, but it doesn’t last.  “You’re grounded for two weeks.”  (Then there’s a football game, or a birthday party, and you don’t want your kid to be the only one not there, and it’s been a few days since the infraction so it doesn’t seem so bad…you know the drill!)

In a perfect world, discipline is precise and consistent.

In reality, most of us are just winging it.  And that’s okay.

The experts and the books and the magazine articles ALL say that consistency is the most important aspect of discipline.  And since none of us can live up to that ideal, we all feel like we’re doing it wrong.

We all want our children to grow up happy and respectful and self-controlled.  We want them to steer clear of situations and activities that will hurt them.

When they’re very young, they don’t have enough life experience to know what behaviors are appropriate.  We try to set a good example, and ideally we explain why we do, or don’t do, something in particular so that our child can understand.  “We don’t throw things at people because it can hurt them.”  “We should be quiet in church so that we do not disturb the other people who are listening to the pastor.”

As they get older, they will do things despite being told not to, just because.  Testing boundaries?  Exploring what will happen if…?  Questioning your authority?  Trust me, every kid does it.  It does not mean your child is incorrigible, and it does not mean you’re a bad parent!

For those times when you ARE serious about discipline or punishment, have a set of words or phrases that really mean something, that you call on in extreme circumstances.  In my case it has been, “I am SO not kidding!”  When Ricky heard that, he knew I was at the end of my patience.

But the caveat is that whatever word or phrase you use needs to be followed up with real consequences.  So only pull out that one phrase that really means something when you REALLY MEAN IT!

Consistency doesn’t have to be minute-to-minute, or even day-to-day, but it DOES have to be the goal over time.

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Ah, those teenage years

Discipline reaches a whole new level when your child is a teenager.  And I would say that whether it’s a good level or a bad level depends on the years that came before.  If you’ve been a good role model, given lots of positive reinforcement for the good behaviors, and kept your child’s ultimate happiness, respect for others, and self-control in mind, the unique issues that arrive in the teenage years will be much easier to handle.

Ricky towers over me, and will be achieving his black belt in karate later this year.  If he wanted to, he could completely bully and disrespect me, do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, and there wouldn’t be much I could do about it.  His dad, while an engaged and supportive co-parent, lives nearly 20 miles away and would be useless in any kind of altercation.

But my child is awesome.  Respectful to me and of himself.  He’s bright and outgoing and interested in lots of things.  The biggest controversies we have are regarding his grades, which I (of course) think could be better if he would make the effort to apply himself more fully to studying.  The only “attitude” he displays I willingly attribute to him being a 16-year-old boy.  Nobody’s perfect!

Ricky’s overall demeanor, I feel, is a direct result of the effort we made in his formative years to steer him in the right direction.  We did not want him to be the screaming toddler in the restaurant or the grocery store check-out line.  We did not want him to be the kid who wouldn’t come in from recess, or who instigated questionable behavior in his classmates.  We did not want him to be the brat with the know-it-all attitude (although that one still rears its head once in awhile, damn those teenage hormones!)


Do the best you can, learn from your lapses, and the best you can do will be better tomorrow!

I can’t say that every parenting challenge we faced was met with a perfect response.  In fact, when Ricky was about three or four, the temper tantrums were so severe that my response was to take him to the Walgreen’s on our way home from preschool and buy him a new toy every day.  Yes.  Every day.  That went on for months, and not only did it NOT always curtail the tantrums, it instilled quite the attitude of entitlement, as you can imagine!

So I learned what not to do.  And I figured out what worked.  Step by step, day by day, year after year.  You read a lot, ask advice from people you respect, and you pray.  And in the end, you’ve done the best you can, and you’re left with a young human being ready to head out into the world.  And he (and you!) will be just fine.






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