One of the things that comes up a lot in conversations with other dads is discipline.
I'm no expert on this subject, but I think my experience is relatable, and hopefully helpful to anyone that may be struggling, or who is a new parent. I'm also concerned that we don't have enough discipline of our children within our community these days, which I'll say some more about below.
My generation has experienced a big change in terms of how we're supposed to discipline our children. When I was a kid, me staying in line was mostly based on fear. I was scared of being physically punished if I messed up.
No, my parents didn't beat me, but if I screwed up really bad, I'd get a "spanking." Although my father (a very calm guy, generally) never actually hit me with it, I remember how he would rip off his belt, fold it over and snap it, whenever he'd loose his cool. It scared the living shit out of me and my brother. It's all he needed to do.
This is what our parents did, and their parents did before them, and on...for generations. There weren't too many kids I knew growing up that didn't get spanked, or didn't have some level of fear for what their parents would or could do to them if they got in big trouble.
For the record, I'm completely fine with how I was disciplined as a child, and I love my parents.
I remember meeting a young dad about 20 years ago, in one of my first real jobs, who had 4 boys that were very close in age. I asked him how he kept order, and he said he had a 4-step method:
1. Inform - let them know that they were doing something wrong and that if the behavior continued there would be consequences
2. Raise the Voice - an increased level of volume would be yet another queue
3. The Count - you know this one: "One...two...three...four...!"
4. Knock Their Ass Into Their Throat - his words, although I'm sure he was exaggerating. If he got to "five" it was time.
He also told me that he only had to get to five once, with one of the kids, and word spread; "don't let him get to five." He just followed the same steps EVERY time. This way, his kids knew where they stood.
Again, this was 20 years ago and things are very different now.
We know now, through research, that physical discipline can leave a mark, psychologically on our kids. But, for those of us who grew up in an environment where discipline was mostly physical, we've had to figure out what works without it.
As much as I've had the instinct to give my kid a sharp whack during a purposeful, in-your-face-disobedient moment over the years, I haven't. But I have found there is something to consistsency, and sticking to your guns.
I want to say it was right around 1 year with each of my girls when they started testing their boundaries. Holly (now 10), our first, gave us a real run for our money. By the time Hannah (now 7) came along, I had a simple method that still works today, in pretty much any situation.
I use the "4-Step Method." Not the actual method outlined above, but a specific path of escalation:
1. Inform them that you want them to stop what they're doing
2. Inform them more firmly if they don't stop they'll have consequences (I find this is a nice, less embarrassing way to tell them they're going to go in a "time out" if they don't stop, which may help in a social setting.)
3. The Count - for more serious offenses, I skip this step.
4. Disciplinary Action - for us, this is a Time Out where they have to spend time by themselves somewhere until they reset. The "reset" moment I'm talking about is obvious, and doesn't take long. They will go from a complete temper tantrum to calm and docile in that brief alone-time.
They key here is repetition and consistency of the method, and NO EMPTY THREATS. As soon as you offer what the consequences will be, if they continue, you better follow through! Therefore, don't threaten to cancel Christmas. It has to be real, and in my experience, it can be very simple. My kids hate time out. They will do anything to avoid it, but under no circumstances do I let them talk me out of it, once I've gotten to step 4.
I should also note that it wasn't easy to get them to buy into staying in time out. But if you're adamant that they stay there (when they're very young it's pretty easy to just keep them there, physically), they will eventually figure out that they can't get out of it, and the only way to escape is to go through the exercise. Upon exit, an apology is always mandatory.
The disciplinary action itself can even be accomplished in a calm way. Why scream and yell? It's just going to get you more upset and wound up. The outcome is the same, and eventually the kids will just get used to your yelling...it will become noise they don't hear. Truth be told, I do end up yelling now and again, but it's very rare. When it happens, I can tell it really scares the kids, and this in and of itself has become it's own consequence within the method: "do you want to see me yell?" I use this sparingly and only when I need to make a lasting impression.
These things have worked for my kids, however, I realize everyone is different. But, the things I would bank on, in terms of their universal utility are consistency, and then following through. Easier said than done.
When we talk about discipline, inevitably we also end up talking about how we want our kids to be respectful.
By this, we mean we want them to have respect for adults, their teachers, the police, etc. They need to treat all people and things with respect, yes, but right now the most important part of respect, is to do what we tell them to do...to allow us, as their elders, to guide them.
If I can get my kid to respect me, then I can teach them the other important things about being a good human being. Respect is fundamental. Having respect for others allows acceptance of differences and diversity, empathy, and generosity...qualities our children will need, as the generation who will likely deal more with globalization and lingering bigotry.
My personal opinion on this is that there is a very short, small window for us to teach respect to our children. My 10 year old is already showing early signs of rebellion. Once she thinks she knows everything, and I'm a stupid old fart, it's over. She may even lose respect for me. But hopefully, at that point, the important things will be ingrained in her.
If not, eventually life will reach out and give her a whack. It's happened to me quite often!
Would love to hear your thoughts.