Handling Discipline Immediately

As I wrote about in the practical side to discipline, any form of discipline has to be handled as swiftly as possible.  As the child ages and gains a better perspective on time and memory, the definition of "immediate" will lengthen, but failure to handle issues in a timely fashion is simply going to confuse the kid.  After all, if something is really important, then it should be handled immediately, right?

That even pertains to public locations and special events at which any misbehavior is highlighted in neon green.  Kids do better when they have some notice or warning about what’s coming, so we’ve made it a habit to talk with the kids in advance and give them some idea of what they can expect and what’s expected of them.  That said, it took me time to accept that even well-behaved kids have their moments and I’ve had to learn that paying full attention at any public event is liable to not happen.  I’ve simply had to adjust my own expectations of what’s doable with children.

And if you’re worried about what people will think, most adults are appreciative that parents are willing to ride herd on their children.  The key is to maintain control of your own temper, so again, adjust your expectations accordingly.

Private Preparations for Possible Pandemic

When the kids age, they at least pay a bit of attention to the news.  And unfortunately, that news today is all about a possible pandemic of the swine flu.  And naturally, they’ll ask the magic question are we gonna die?

How can I handle this?

My first response to these questions is no, we’re not going to die.  And they usually then go outside to shoot some hoops or pester another sibling. 

My second response is to then take a deep breath and start a mental review of what we might need in the event that things do get ugly.  But how do I define "ugly"?  My assumption is that things will not follow the Mad Max/Road Warrior scenario, so I’m not going to spend my time stocking up on Pez Dispensers for use as trading goods.  I assume that in the worst case, schools might be closed and public will slow to a crawl for awhile.

So what do I plan to keep on hand?  Remember that the idea is not to have to leave the house while one or more of the kids is sick.

  • Several bottles of disinfectant cleaner, fully stocked, since the germ-control activities will rise significantly.
  • Several bottles of antibacterial hand cleaner, enough for each sink plus a spare.
  • Disinfectant wipes for wiping down all common hand surfaces – think remotes and handles.
  • Some rubber/latex gloves in the event that I have to clean up vomit or other bodily messes.
  • Several bottles of carbonated non-colas – Sprite, Ginger Ale – for queasy stomachs as well as several bottles of apple juice to mix with it.
  • Some Pedialyte for the smaller child to help the body recoup.
  • Some cans of mild/bland soup for recovering stomachs.
  • Adequate supply of paper towels and toilet paper since the usage will probably rise.
  • Adequate supply of child’s ibuprofen and acetaminophen to help with any fever control.

And if I have to go to the store, I’ll handle it one of two ways.  First, I’ll either go at night so that the kids aren’t alarmed or else I’ll take the eldest with me and work these items into a larger list.  If I take Eldest, we’ll have some conversations on preparation for emergencies.

And then I’ll fall back on the default you’re going to be alright.

Discipline and Kids – the Theory

Sometimes you read something in the national news that strikes a nerve, and Madlyn Primoff did that with millions of parents since it goes to the heart of disciplining children.  What is discipline and its purpose?  How can you handle it effectively? 

Disciplining the kids is one of the most vexing issues a parent handles.  Always has been and always will be.  I started notes on this article even before the website came online and wrestled with it until a friend asked if I’d be writing about discipline as it should be or how it actually is.  And that’s a great starting point.

Discipline – In Theory

At it’s heart, the idea of discipline involves teaching and learning.  Discipline’s root word is the latin disciplina just as the latin word for pupil is discupulus.  Christ had his disciples, who referred to him as Rabbi (teacher) as they followed him about.  While the root pertains to learning however, it has become synonymous with punishment and that’s where problems arise.

Why does a child need discipline?

  • To help learn the difference between right and wrong.
  • To help learn the concept of recognizing good and bad behaviors.
  • To help learn that there are consequences to those bad behaviors.
  • To help learn – through lots of repetition – the concept of self-control.
  • To help learn that they live in a world with many others, so they have to harness the egocentrism.

In its most basic form, learning involves communication.  No communication and I guarantee there’ll be no learning.  So communication is key in effective discipline.

That’s lovely theory and there are times when it works.  But it assumes that the base nature of the typical kid allows that.  The unfortunate reality is that your typical child lives in a world of wild egocentrism and natural selfishness, and those attitudes and resulting behaviors don’t usually just yield to talk.

So how about the practical side of discipine?  The fictional Klingon aphorism is that revenge is a dish best served cold.  That’s probably a bad place to put that comment since revenge and discipline cannot be the same thing – ever.  But good discipline should be served with ICE.


Immediate.  Consistent.  Enforceable.

Discipline and Kids – In Practice

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.

The Follow-up

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.


Rethinking Yard Work and Kids

On a sunny and warm Spring day, it’s the perfect time for handling the Spring clean-up yardwork.  Trimming bushes, clearing underbrush, setting up the patio table and chairs and cleaning the pond.

And it’s a day on which I kicked myself as I did it with the wife and kids.  Now that I have three kids, I wish that I had done some things differently with the older two.  Clearly, the kids need(ed) to help in order to learn what has to be done to keep a household going; but I could have handled it both differently and better.

With multiple small children and a working wife, I felt pressed to get the job done as expediently as possible so that we could move on with the other activities that make weekends fun.  And being a former operations guy, I figured that the best way to make that work was to divide the work so that the kids who were old enough could do something productive while I tackled the power engine applications – mowing grass, weed whacking and such.  The one who was less than about seven years of age wasn’t expected to do much and could run and play so long as they stayed within sight.  Once a child turned seven, then there was an expectation that he or she could do something to assist. 

But my goof was believing that just giving an easy task was sufficient while I took care of the other jobs.  Yes, a first or second grader can do some minimal sweeping.  But what looks manageable to a 40-something guy isn’t the same for a kid, even if it really isn’t much.  So the kids would complain about how much they had to do and the situation would deteriorate.  And today, I heard one of the older kids channeling my years-ago grousing to Youngest who complained about the work.  And when I went over to help Youngest pick up yard waste, the complaints ceased.  It wasn’t the work that created the issue, but rather the sense of being alone in a job that looks unmanageable to a kid.

So how would I do it differently?

  • Scale back my expectations of work to be done and the appropriate time-frame in which to do it.
  • Understand that the complaints might be laziness, but entertain the real notion that perhaps the child just wants to do the job with his/her dad.
  • Recognize that I need to do a better job of multi-tasking as I shuttle between the power-equipment work and the childrens’ tasks.

Kids need to see the work necessary to keep the daily life running.  And they need to have some jobs to teach responsibility.  But making it an unpleasant situation through crankiness only defeats the purpose and does a disservice.

And I have to think about I’m going to have a conversation with the grousing child and re-visit some old issues.

Upcoming Site Changes

Just a note that the site will undergo a change in the coming week.  The site will have a larger number of topic categories as the initial categories listed at the top of the site are becoming too overly broad.


PracticalDad Tip:  Don’t Keep the Disinfectant Spray With the Laundry Supplies

Sometimes things go smoothly and sometimes they fall apart.

With a two story house, I keep a disinfectant spray bottle – containing bleach – on each level so that I can minimize the steps.  And on the main level, that bottle hangs by the trigger from the wire shelf above the washer/dryer.  Also above the washer/dryer hangs a bottle of stain treatment spray.

You see where I’m going with this.

In the process of loading the washer, I found that one of my dark shirts needed a quick treatment and reached for the white bottle to spray the stain.  It was after the shirt came out of the dryer that I realized that the item was ruined; I can’t even wear it and make it appear as though it’s some weird tie-die design.  It’s fortunate that nothing else was ruined.

So, what do I take from this exercise?

  • I could say pay attention to what you’re doing or
  • I can find a different high location on which to store the disinfectant.

I’ll opt for the latter.  Rats.

PracticalDad’s Information Folder

When you’re bouncing back and forth amongst kids, it’s easy to set aside school and activity paperwork and lose track of it.  Unfortunately, this paperwork – showing schedules/contact names, field trip information, registrations, and all many of stuff – is just as important as the tax receipts.  So I keep a folder at the kitchen desk to hold specifically and only that information.  And I’ve come to live by it.

Today was one of the days where the system broke down.  Middle had a choral concert this evening, and a form was sent home weeks ago by the music teacher with all of the pertinent information including the all-important what-to-wear.  This form unfortunately didn’t make it to the folder after being noted on the family calendar.  Consequently, this morning found all manner of angst about what would be appropriate attire since what a sixth grader finds appropriate doesn’t match PracticalDad’s definition.  This chart exemplifies the conflict:

                                                                Pants                              Shirt                              Shoes

PracticalDad                                         Navy Blue Dress          White long-sleeve      Black dress shoes

Middle Child                                          Blue Jeans                    White t-shirt                Black sneakers

Making the situation even more difficult was that the students were being bused to the high school immediately after school and wouldn’t be home to change, so what they put on that morning was it for the concert.

Now here are a few comments about what you’ll hear from kids who want their way.

  • All the guys are wearing t-shirts and blue jeans.  Lemme get this straight.  I’m the only parent out of more than fifty sets of parents who thinks that a concert deserves more than looking like a skateboard convention? 
  • All the guys are wearing t-shirts and blue jeans (part two).  Remember that any twelve year old boy who enjoys dressing in a dress shirt and slacks is going to be thought of as the town freak by his peers, so none of them are willing to admit that they have to dress appropriately.  They’re blowing smoke.
  • I can’t wear this all day!  Why can’t I just take it with me?  Because dear son, if you put it in your backpack it will wind up in your desk and forgotten.  If you put it on a hanger, it will probably fly out the bus window if it even makes it to the bus for the trip to the high school.
  • It’ll just get dirty on the playground.  Dude, the staff ain’t stupid and you won’t be on the playground today.  And you’ll note that there’s no mustard on your lunch sandwich.

Had I not been so engrossed in an argument with Middle, I would’ve thought to call another parent.  And after he left, I made sure that I pulled the folder to verify that other upcoming event information was there.

As it was, he went to school in the PracticalDad approved attire just like all of the other kids in white dress shirts and dark slacks.  And yes, he heard about it afterwards, too.


Raising Your Voice

Let me share a secret with you and it’s one that many who promote hands-on fathering don’t share.  Children are really hard work.  Frustrating, irritating work that only changes in the manner of challenge over the years.  And don’t be surprised if you find yourself responding in ways that might be condemned on Doctor Phil or Supernanny.

Why?  Because you’re dealing with growing, changing individuals who are lacking common sense, self-discipline and the understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around them.  Your world might, but the larger world largely doesn’t give a rat’s butt whether Junior gets to stay up for fifteen minutes past bedtime.  And it’s not really politically correct to show individuals reacting out of frustration when their buttons have been pushed multiple times.

This isn’t excusing bad parental behavior.  You can’t go smacking kids, calling them names or behaving like a bigger kid than they are.  But don’t spend your time measuring yourself against an idealized image of a father portrayed in the media either.  Because their secret is that there really is no ideal father out there.  We’re living on a cusp of a new social structure in which fathers are taking more and more of a hands-on role in the family and household, whether due to choice or economic reality, and the old models are no longer operative or relevant. 

If you want a better indication of what involved, time-intensive, hands-on parenting is like for the parent, think of Bill Cosby’s routine on giving the kids chocolate cake for breakfast.   The wife’s reaction to seeing the kids spend their breakfast noshing on dad-permitted chocolate cake is more typical for any parent responsible for the lion’s share of child-rearing.  Either mother or father.  So understand that we’re in the process of watching the father’s image move from that of Bill Cosby to that of his wife, who’s thoroughly out of patience with the nonsense that she’s witnessing on the part of the adult and the kids.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about after this morning’s foray into absurdity by two elementary school boys.  One won’t make a decision on what pants to wear yet refuses to don what I’ve pulled out.  The other first asks what the temperature is going to be and after being told a typical wet and chilly early Spring day, walks out of his room in sockless sneakers, Bermuda shorts and a cotton Polo shirt.  As I stand at the top of the steps counting the minutes to departure, bouncing back and forth between the duellling arguments, my voice rises and the one accuses me of taking my anger out on him because of the other.  My response is that I wouldn’t be yelling if he’d not argue with what is sheer common sense.

It’s taken years to accept that being a hands-on parent doesn’t entail saint-like patience and that a raised voice isn’t the mark of bad parenting.  It’s not how I choose or try to spend my time, but it doesn’t make me bad either.


Keeping In Touch With the Kids – On a Budget

Your kids actually would like to spend time with you, even if they don’t readily admit it as when they were younger.  The problem that I’m running into sometimes is that what the kids want to do involves going out and spending more money.  So how do I try to handle things?

First, if the time involves going to a bookstore or other retail spot, I try to set up the parameters ahead of time.  Drink?  Yes/No/Maybe  Snack?  Yes/No/Maybe  Purchase?  Yes/No/Maybe  Even if they later badger me, I can fall back on the original parameters. 

Second, I try to be consistent about the personal rules.  No credit card to pay for food and snacks.  Pay only with cash and not with change (all my change goes into a money jar at the end of the day). 

Third, I sometimes remove the credit card so that I can fall back on its absence if the badgering reaches the point that even I have a problem with the pressure.  And yeah, they can really make it difficult to keep saying no.

Which leaves us with the prospect of being able to learn how to enjoy simple browsing, a valuable skill to know.