Enforceable? It seems odd at first since the first inclination of many dads is to just impose the punishment and be done with it.
But remember that discipline is more than just punishment, it’s also teaching, and this is where enforcement comes into play along with the others.
Remember that part of discipline is to help teach a kid to distinguish right/wrong, make good choices and also understand the concept of consequences.
To help the kids understand and grasp consequences, many parents – me included – will give a child a "choice" of outcomes; let’s be frank, it’s usually a threat. You can either choose to toe the line or you can expect a specific outcome. Many will phrase it in a negative light – act badly and deal with a bad outcome. But it can be phrased in a positive light as well – act well and expect a good outcome. Regardless of the phrasing, it is important that it be sometime that can actually be backed up. Failing to enforce or deliver the outcome will create even more disciplinary problems since the kid will lose any sense that there is any real consequence.
Frankly, it helps to spend some time thinking through what consequences are most appropriate for that child. A father can be utterly torqued with the child – been there, done that – and it’s frequently in that mindset that you have to handle Junior’s issues. And in the heat of the moment, a father can come up with some totally unsatisfiable consequences and that is the kiss of death to the child having expectations of discipline.
What can you consider to help find something appropriate?
- Do they have favorite toys?
- Do they have favorite activities?
- Is there a particular task that they have to do?
- Is there a special event or activity planned?
All of the above take a negative approach to discipline.
The flip side is that effective discipline can be positive as well without resorting to bribery. Close friends of ours are masters of tying activities to desired behaviors – you can play with the neighbor’s kid after your room is picked up to my satisfaction/practiced the piano/taken out the trash. This however, does entail some thinking about time. Is there sufficient time for the kid to meet the expectation and then enjoy the consequence? Kids have no sense of time and playing with little Mikey isn’t an enforceable consequence if your child has met the behavior but doesn’t have the time to enjoy it. If this happens often enough, the kid’s going to fail since there’s no expectation of consequence.
The Enforceable Rule of Thumb
Bearing these things in mind, I have a rule of thumb about what makes an appropriate enforceable discipline.
- Is this illegal or going to land me in the news? No, you can’t threaten to leave them at the airport since that’s abandonment. And yes, I’ve heard a father threaten to leave his recalcitrant kid at the airport while the rest of the family went to Florida.
- Is this tailored to the kid or is it going to impact other kids or the rest of the family? You might want to threaten to cancel a trip to the movies, but will that entail a punishment to the other kids?
- Does it touch them where it’ll have an impact?
- Is it too cumbersome to pull off? You can threaten to remove all of the child’s toys, but where do you put them and how long will it take to do?
While it seems intuitive, enforceable discipline is still easy to goof in the heat of the moment. And it’s as important as consistency and immediacy to good discipline.