Handling discipline consistently is probably the most difficult aspect of disciplining children. Because you need to be consistent in multiple ways:
- Consistent over time with that particular child;
- Consistent when having to shift between disciplining one child and another;
- Consistent in conjunction with the mother so that the kids don’t receive competing messages.
Consistent with that child
At heart, kids are creatures of habit and routine. They can handle a bit of change, but they’ll do best when they know what they can expect and what’s expected of them. In addition, not all kids respond to the same forms of discipline – even in the same family – so it’s easier for you if you stick to what you know works. Having to constantly "reinvent the wheel" for correcting behavior can be self-defeating, especially if you’re having to do so while thoroughly torqued with them.
Consistent among multiple children
This is probably the most difficult aspect of all.
Even when they’re a bit older, they are egocentric. So don’t expect any immediate rational conversation or sympathy for the fact that you’re contending with another recalcitrant pre-schooler. And frankly, kids will start spinning out of control if they perceive that the little miscreant who presently has your attention is getting it because of poor behavior; let’s face it, egocentrism means that they want attention, sometimes in whatever form they can get it.
I’ve found that when there are issues with more than one at a time, my best response is to separate each to their room immediately. The child is physically safe, has an opportunity to calm down and it gives me a brief opportunity to regain my sanity/composure as I move from one child’s situation to the next. Unfortunately, I wish that I had understood this when they were younger since some of my worst moments as a father came when having to contend with dueling meltdowns amongst squabbling children.
Believe me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with briefly isolating them while you work to regain your own self-control so that you can handle each child’s discipline that is best for that particular child. Some children are highly sensitive and respond well to nothing more than some conversation while others look at conversation as a joke and require more serious measures for effective discipline to occur. And yes, each of mine respond best to different measures.
Consistency with the Mother
I’m convinced that all of the great generals of history were – at heart – children since they all understand divide and conquer so well.
Being consistent in handling discipline with the kid’s mother doesn’t mean that a father must handle discipline exactly as a mother. But each of you has to understand that while there are different styles of handling kids in a stressful moment, the measures used should be consistent. Time outs, counting, loss of privileges – each parent can use whatever works consistently even if one parent is more emotive in the moment than the other.
If two parents aren’t consistent in their approach to discipline, then the natural inclination of the kid will be to shift to that parent who’s "easier" with the child; the end result will be that the one parent is pitted against the other with the heartache that’s going to ensue.
And the cardinal rule of two parents is this: Never challenge the disciplinary measure taken in the moment by the other parent, excepting abuse. If you disagree with a disciplinary measure, you can privately intercede with the other, but never overtly break ranks with the other parent. Both my wife and I have interceded with the other when we thought things were handled poorly, but we’ve tried to never break ranks in front of the kids.
And that’s perhaps one of the hardest things of all.