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Making your child a partner in family discipline

Matthew Bayley

A fundamental of creating trust and credibility between parents and their children is through the use of consistent and evenhanded discipline.For some, this can be a paradigm shift, where discipline is no longer a reaction to a given situation. It becomes a well-thought-out plan to maintain safety, respect and order.The logical consequence to this approach is that children grow up trusting that their parents keep their word. People who keep their word can be trusted; therefore, I can trust my parent.If a goal of inter-family communication is that your children come to you first when they have problems or questions and when they have to choose between peer pressure and family rules they always choose family rules, how you manage the issues of discipline and respect will be the foundation on which your long-term relationship with your child will be built.The approach I am proposing takes the emotion out of the punishment. We no longer wait until we are fed up and frustrated to lower the boom. Instead, we fall back on the established rules. These are the rules – you broke the rules – here are the consequences.My wife will readily admit that I am the soft touch in the family. It is not my basic nature to be stern with children. This set up a dynamic where I could easily be run over by an exuberant youngster.I enforce the rules of our household and the rules in my karate school firmly because logic dictates that to do otherwise would be counter productive for the children.A parent, after watching a couple of classes, commented on how well-behaved my students were and how patient I appeared to be while teaching. After thinking about it for a couple of seconds, I replied, “I expect children to break the rules and get rambunctious. I just don’t let them know I expect them to.”Fact: Children break rules. Fact: This is part of children becoming healthy adults. Children will push their boundary partly to express their continuing development into adulthood, but also partly to make sure that the boundary still exists.Children love perimeters. It helps them feel safe in their world. That is why children oftentimes would rather play in the box that a gift came in than with the gift itself. The walls of the box give children an easily definable world to relate to.Children feel loved when parents set and enforce rules, especially when they are consistently and fairly enforced. When rules are not set, children will act out to get attention. Children would rather have negative attention than no attention at all.I have, more than once, observed a parent ask a child to do something half a dozen times, each time a little louder than previous, until they are screaming at their children. Essentially, the child has learned that they do not have to obey until their parent’s voice has reached a certain decibel level. This process takes up a lot of time and energy and does not convey respect to the child and, just as important, it does not teach the child to respect their parent. However, this method does teach children that the way to get results is to yell louder.Admittedly, I am only an expert on what works for my family. Early on, when disciplining my children, I got across the point that when I ask them to do something, I am not practicing for when I really mean it. I mean it the first time I say it, and there are consequences if I have to say it a second time.An important rule is never say anything that you are not willing or capable of backing up on the spot. If you are not willing to enforce rules of behavior in a store, then don’t try. It will not take your child long to figure out that they can get away with inappropriate behavior in stores.In both the disciplines of teaching and martial arts, there is an axiom: If what you are doing does not work, it probably never will, so do something else, and keep trying new things until you find what does work.As children get older, it is extremely effective to include them in the process of developing consequences for actions. This helps make the disciplinary process more acceptable to the child and it empowers them because it gives them the feeling that they have some control over their lives – that they are, in a sense, their parents’ partners in the household.If we want to have credibility on subjects like sex, drugs and violence, we must already have created a foundation of trust and respect with our children. I am functioning, of course, from the premise that parents want their children to be their best friend when they grow up.I use two balancing concepts when dealing with young people:1. Somebody has to be in charge and they’re too short. It is going to be me.2. Long-legged puppies must run. Children will be children. You never know what to expect next, so enjoy their childhood while you can.Matthew Bayley, who writes about safety issues, operates Vail Academy of Martial Arts, celebrating the grand opening of its second school at the Vail Gymnastics Center in Avon and its 10 year anniversary serving the Vail Valley. Children and adult classes are offered at Aria Spa & Club and Vail Gymnastics Center in Avon starting at 3:30 p.m. six days a week. Call 949-8121 or visit vailacademyofmartialarts.com


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