Discipline – In Practice
Discipline with ICE. Immediate. Consistent. Enforceable.
There are different methods of disciplining kids, but any decent and effective discipline should have these three aspects.
When a small child does something that requires correction, that correction has to occur immediately or the kid will have difficulty processing why there he even needs the correction. If you’re in a store and the child misbehaves by repeatedly grabbing something, you have to address it immediately in whatever way you choose. To do nothing and then wait until after you’ve returned to the car creates a sense that you’re acting arbitrarily, even if you remind them why they’re being corrected. A friend of mine refers to kids as early members of the Twelve Step Program; you tell them something and they’ve forgotten what it was withing twelve steps of their original position.
As they age and the memory improves, the definition of immediate can lenghten so long as the misbehavior stops in the moment.. For example, if a child is injured and requires immediate attention, you can attend to the kid and then go back and deal with the behavior that caused the injury. If there’s anything that kids remember, it’s blood. But you still have to be reasonable and remember that their sense of time is poor at best.
Probably the toughest of all three is consistency since any number of factors – annoyance/anger levels, tiredness, desire to win, attention to other matters – can render you horribly inconsistent.
What do I mean by consistent? Simply that the kid understands that the consequences for any misbehavior will be real and pertinent each time he misbehaves. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the consequences are precisely alike; repeated behaviors demand that the consequences increase in severity until you have the kid’s attention. Nor does it mean that there are identical consequences amongst different children since not all children are affected by the same consequence. But there should be some proportionality about the various consequences. Making one child sit on the steps for eight minutes isn’t proportional to making another kid scrub the kitchen floor for a similar offense.
Likewise, you have to assure that there are no mixed messages about kinds of behavior. If something is unacceptable, then it’s unacceptable and not subject to whether you feel like dealing with the situation.
Giving a kid warnings about consequences is important if they’re going to learn self-control. Hey, I’ve got to remember to not do that or the ‘rents will have the iPod. But the warnings have to be about consequences that are both reasonable and pertinent to the child, and enforceable. Because follow-through is one of the core tenets of parental discipline and if your noted consequence isn’t enforceable, then you’ll more likely to lose control of discipline.
Not all kids are alike – DUH – so no consequences will have the same effect. Some kids are sensitive about privacy while a sibling happily uses the bathroom with the door open. Others prize their electronics. Others have favorite activities that they hate to miss. So the first part is to know the child well enough to find that leverage.
The consequence also has to be reasonable and commensurate with the situation at hand. Is it overkill to ground a child for a week for writing on the floor or walls? Trust me, such behavior isn’t localized to toddlers. Or does it make more sense to have the child help clean such writing? Or even do it themselves if old enough? There’s no perfect answer here, so you have to trust the common sense test.
Finally, the consequence has to be enforceable. If your kid thinks that there’s no follow-through, then there’s nothing to make them even consider the idea of consequences. I’m not known for my memory so I’ve occasionally made notes about what consequences were promised if certain situations arise again. I’m serious enough about it that I even know where the notes are kept. (Note to the kids: If you’re reading this, don’t even ask where they are.) It pays to take a few seconds or moments to run the proposed consequence past the common sense test, but not so long that you lose the immediacy of responding to the circumstances.
There’s one other vital piece to good discipline and that’s the follow-up. Some call it the talk and my father referred to it as the post-mortem. This is especially important when the kids are younger as they might not grasp exactly what it was that earned them what they got. I’ve been known to sit on the bed and point-blank ask them to tell me why they’re in th eroom and the ensuing conversation pointed out other issues that required attention. Failing this follow-up can lead to a repeat with even greater issues.
Good discipline is kind of like a power turbine that’s installed early and then runs through the years. And the talk and conversation is the oil and maintenance that keeps it running smoothly.