Discipline Mistake #2: Our consequences don’t fit

Sometimes in the process of disciplining their children, otherwise sane and sensible parents suddenly lose their grip on reality.

Sixth grade Kati had a moment of weakness during a math test; she peeked at her neighbor’s paper to see problem number twelve. She had never cheated before, and on her first attempt to cheat, she got caught. Her dad wanted to come to the school, so the three of us met in my office. She admitted her wrong, and sat with her head down. Dad announced that she would not spend the weekend with her friend Megan. A tear ran down her cheek. Obviously he had hit home. Then he went on: “and you are off the softball team, and you are out of the class play, and you probably won’t get to go to camp this summer.”

Whoa! Dad. I think you made your point and then went too far.

Here are several factors that we need to consider when we discipline, so that it fits.

A.    Age
Making a four-year-old sit for thirty minutes in time-out or a twelve-year-old sit for four minutes in time-out are equally inappropriate—one too harsh and one too easy. The rule of thumb is one minute for each year of age. If that doesn’t fit, “time-out” probably doesn’t fit.

B.    Offense
The punishment must fit the crime. In Kati’s story above, the dad overdid it. He went beyond correcting a problem to seeing how long he could make his list. Kati’s welfare was lost somewhere in that list.

C.    Personality
Each child is a different person and consequently requires more or less severity depending on her unique personality. While some children require only a firm tone, others need a two-by-four. The standard can be the same, but the consequences can differ.

D.    Wrong reasons
The right reason to discipline a child is for his benefit. The wrong reason is for our convenience, because we are embarrassed, because we are angry, or more. In other words our discipline can be focused on what we get out of it, not what the child gets. That’s a mistake.

E.    Takes too long to unfold
Discipline that drags out over a few weeks often lacks punch. It loses its effect because the child adapts, and we parents tire of playing bookkeeper and change the consequences.

Would you like to add to this list? If you have any examples of discipline that just does not fit, simply make a comment below.