Discipline:  Is Clemency a Good Idea?

My three major concerns in enforcing discipline are immediate response, enforceability, and consistency.  But another question that occurs is whether clemency is ever advisable.  Does giving a reprieve create more issues?

Another child – a friend of my own kid – returned home after dark after having a mechanical problem with his bike.  He erred in assuming that his elder sibling would pass his whereabouts to the parents, who were briefly away.  The father’s response was to ground him as a reminder that it’s his responsibility to inform them of his plan and then obtain permission.  I’ve done the same thing when one or more of my own have failed to inform or show up late.

But Murphy’s Law can crop up when the grounding occurs within a short time of an event that is particularly important to the child.  In this instance, my son had invited this boy and others to a Halloween Scary Movie night.  What might Dad do?  Should he grant clemency?

What are some of the considerations on whether to provide clemency?

  • What did the child do to deserve discipline?  Is it recurring?  This occurrence was a failure to think and not being "bad", and is a rarity for the child.  Dad’s discipline wasn’t meant to be punitive as much as to force the child to understand that there are consequences for (in)actions; and not keeping Dad apprised of his whereabouts is meaningful.
  • How is the child handling the discipline?  If the kid whines and creates an issue about the discipline, do you want to grant clemency?  Or will doing so encourage future whining and general nastiness?  Kids have to learn that they will encounter unpleasant situations in life and that whining can make it worse.  As one father said, his pastor referred to it as learning to "suffer well".  I agree, although we refer to it as "sucking it up".
  • Does the child ask for the reprieve and if so, how does he handle it?  Kids have to learn how to speak without whining and if he can manage to actually carry on a conversation, then there’s possible merit in rewarding that effort.  Frustration and emotion are difficult to control and the effort should at least be noted, even if you deny the request.
  • What’s the nature of the upcoming occasion?  Does it involve other kids or people with whom he should associate?  You don’t have to say I don’t approve of this guy, but allowing him to attend after finding out who else is involved sends a powerful message.  Is it a one-time occasion that won’t come again?  My father gave me a reprieve to attend my junior year homecoming dance.  And then it was back into the doghouse.
  • Know your child.  Will he use this as a reminder or excuse to demand further clemencies?  Not everyone will use this occasion as a tool for future demands and some kids will respect the deal.  You might want to consider if it’s going to haunt you in the future.

Kids and situations can be so variable that there isn’t always going to be a right decision.  But asking these questions can help with the thought process as you consider the situation.

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