Fatherhood and Discipline:  It’s Not Like Television

I enjoy watching shows like "Supernanny" but find myself conflicted while watching it.  On the one hand, it does a good job of introducing important tools and points that bring the particular family from train wreck to functional.  But even assuming that everybody’s not on absolute best behavior for the camera, the one hour limit doesn’t show the maddening, frustrating efforts at getting to that desired point.

Being an involved father – or mother for that matter – isn’t always easy.  The end of the show displays an engaged family playing in the yard and smiling happily.  But the reality is that while those moments certainly exist, there are plenty of other moments where you’re trying to ride herd on and teach kids that sometimes aren’t going to cooperate.  The non-cooperation can be limited to one child but if there are more kids involved, it’s likely to spread as kids start to veer off the track for various reasons.  They might find it fun to drive Dad over the edge or they start to misbehave to gain attention like the repreobate sibling.  Or they join in solidarity of teen rebellion.

Let me give you an example.  Time-outs are a good disciplinary tool when the kids are younger and a TV show will demonstrate it being done by a parent in a several minute segment.  You might see the Dad returning the kid to the spot when he tires of it, but that only takes a few times before the kid knuckles under – and that’s exactly what it is – and remains there.  And again, at the end of the show, things are infinitely improved.  But the reality is that the process by which a child learns that you’re serious can take far longer.  I’ve had early time-outs take longer than an hour as the child repeatedly gets up to leave without permission and the mutual frustration level is high.  But you can’t quit because that only teaches the child that further disobedience is permissible.  So don’t be surprised if you find that your voice and blood pressure are raised and an out-of-body view shows you to appear to be on your last shred of patience.

So what are your options?

  • Tag-team the situation with your mate so that you can get a short breather before re-entering and taking your turn.
  • Enforce the discipline with further measures.  I’ve enforced time-outs with a recalcitrant child by using a three-count with loss of favored toys/privileges for refusal to cooperate.
  • Then be sure to enforce that measure.
  • Send the child to bed for the night.  They’ll scream and carry on but will eventually wear out and you’ll get some quiet.  If that means it’s as early as 5 PM, so be it.  There are times when the child is legitimately at the end of his tether due to exhaustion and simply cannot control himself.
  • If you’re alone and have to take a breather to keep from snapping, take that break and remove yourself.  Then go back and resume.
  • When the situation is finally resolved, remember to go back and follow up with some conversation about behavior and consequences.

There are times that you will become angry and some of those times are entirely appropriate.  Being angry doesn’t make you a bad parent.  The difference is what you do with the anger and how you channel it.

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