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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Discipline Your Kids Like a Man

by Dustin (bio)

Disciplining children has come a long way, and yet many of us fathers still feel unsure of the best methods for punishing our kids.

In the 1960s and 70s, discipline looked different than it does today. My dad and his three brothers knew a beat down was coming when they would see my grandfather's hand move from the steering wheel to the top of the seat back of their old station wagon. This was the warning sign that a rapid-fire backhand was about to be initiated. Fast-forward to the 1980s and 90s. My dad's weapon of choice was spanking, a highly effective and fear-based (albeit short-term) solution. But spanking soon became "punishment non grata" in the late 90s and early 2000s as books and articles (and Dr. Phil) hyped the notion of reasoning with children. The problem, as we know, is that children aren't rational ... and neither are we.

So what works? Well, we learn rather quickly that losing our temper and shouting can lead to some nasty consequences, the least of which is additional behavioral issues or lashing out on the part of the child. When my daughter was almost two I learned that shaking my finger at her and saying "no" was quickly met with her returning the action when I turned off the TV during Sesame Street, took away her toy in church, or yelled at the cat for missing the litter box.

What works are six techniques I have honed from years of parenting.

As a father of three children under the age of seven (with one on the way), I have tried virtually every tactic and have found several disciplinary methods that produce real results. Now, before I share these tactics, I want to make it clear that I’ve had my fair share of parenting guffaws -- the other day my daughter mocked me by asking if I enjoyed not having any hair. In return, I asked her if she enjoyed being a brat. My wife jumped in to salvage the interchange, which was sinking like the Hindenburg. My point is that no parent is perfect and it is never too late to begin or start again.

The Six Disciplinary Tactics
The key to manly disciplining is to roll out a variety of tactics, experimenting with different combinations depending on the context. There is no silver bullet, but employing a few of these techniques can help you regain control in a short amount of time:

1. The Naughty Space
This trick comes from the Super Nanny, that ingenious Brit that popularized the art of punishment. Would that we could all have a patient British nanny living with us full-time, but in the meantime this technique is effective for the mere mortal. The key here is to find a space that is less-than-desirable to be in, perhaps a corner, stair, kitchen chair, or couch cushion. Be careful not to pick a space with many distractions or an overly abusive space, such as a dark closet corner, basement, or dungeon. I intentionally left a blank in the name of this move because virtually anywhere can become a naughty "station." Assuming they’ve knowingly broken a rule, simply place the child in the space, explain why they are there, and set the timer for the same number of minutes as their age (e.g. five years old gets five minutes). When the time expires, talk through what happened, trade hugs and kisses, and revert back to pre-punishment demeanor. This last point is clutch – grudges have no place in proper discipline as they fly in the face of true forgiveness and reconciliation. This technique is most effective when combined with the "No Way Out."

2. The No Way Out
This move entails providing your child with two options, neither of which is desirable. Children want to feel empowered to make a decision, but allowing them to do so can be detrimental since they don't always know what’s best. Thus, providing them with two solutions to a problem, neither of which is very appealing, satisfies their desire to choose while constraining the options to acceptable choices. For example, "You can either eat your peas or you can go to bed early. It's your choice." Or, if you are against forcing your kid to eat peas, "You can help me clean the room or you can sit on the Naughty Tile. It's up to you." The secret is that the kid will end up cleaning the room either way. They may initially pick the Naughty Tile, after which time they will get bored and elect to help clean.

3. The Stare
Many of our fathers and forefathers perfected this timeless move and it still has practical application in our day. The Stare consists of a furrowed brow, serious eyes, a frown, and a "this is unacceptable" expression. It is best deployed in a public place where overt punishment might be awkward (read: church, birthday party, or funeral). For added effect combine it with a slow headshake. If properly executed, The Stare can yield immediate results.

I recently used this move at a friend's dinner party. In my peripheral I saw my kid climbing on the host's couch. The host looked over and saw this but wasn't particularly bothered by it. Just behind the host, I caught my child's eye and administered The Stare with a headshake as my kid slowly descended the couch, head bowed, and sat quietly on its edge. My friend said, "Gosh, your kids are so polite." I responded, "Mmhmm," shooting a look of accomplishment at my wife.

The Stare takes time to develop, and is only effective if you've been consistent with previous punishments -- consistency gives power to The Stare, while inconsistency and grandparents suck power from this move. I say “grandparents” because I recently gave my daughter the stare for not picking up at grandma's house, to which grandma replied, "Oh, it's okay. We can pick it up later after she goes to bed." My daughter looked at me with an air of entitlement. The Stare lost it’s power that day.

4. The Flinch
Unlike the flinch teenagers used to throw in your direction as a middle-schooler, as if they were going to punch you, this move is more of a quick lean or sometimes a step that says, "Okay, that's it. To the Naughty Step we go." It is also an effective move for a public place and can be executed immediately following The Stare if the latter doesn't seem to be working. You don’t necessarily need to follow through with The Naughty Space. The power is in the movement.

5. The Knee Drop
Not to be confused with an MMA move, this tactic actually consists of dropping to your knee to look the child in the eye and level the playing field. Children don't like to be talked down to anymore than the rest of us. By dropping to your knee, looking them in the eye, and firmly holding their arm, you can emit a sense of control and authority while still showing respect. This move is best accompanied by a quiet and firm voice and a phrase such as "Your behavior is unacceptable." Combine it with the “No Way Out” for added effect.

6. The Mimic
As the name implies, you simply mimic the behavior of your child to mirror back to them their ridiculous conduct. Although unintuitive, as it seems like this would demonstrate a loss of control, the move actually works to help a child gain control of their irrational behavior. I often use this when my kid says, "Get me milk!" in a whiny tone. Another use is when one child is complaining about the other by saying, "Joe did this to me." Usually, the child will laugh at you, at which point you can help them regain their wits by explaining that you don't understand that tone. As an added benefit, this move is enjoyable for the father -- acting like a buffoon in front of your children can relieve some real tension.

User’s Note: All moves should only be utilized with a calm, yet firm voice. Children want to know that you are in control. Losing control while administering punishment makes children feel insecure and off-kilter, resulting in a "who's in charge here" scenario that could lead to additional behavior problems. There is, of course, a ripcord that can solve a slip-up should you lose your temper ... it's called an apology.

In addition, each of these moves is meant to intervene before an unruly situation becomes truly dysfunctional. The goal, then, is talk through the child's behavior after the incident so that they understand what went wrong. For example, after sitting in the Naughty Corner for a few minutes, I will approach my child and ask them what happened, why they did that, and why they think their reaction may have been unacceptable. Something along the lines of "How do you think that made me/your sister/the dog feel when you did that?" works well. I will then always end with an apology from them, prompted by me, and a hug and kiss. This last part is essential because it reinforces the child but not the behavior. Back on good terms, your child will feel comfortable re-engaging in the activity or social situation without feeling like a criminal.

My boss recently reported back to me that she had successfully used a combination of the above moves to help her two-year-old son work through a back-arched, high-pitched-screaming tantrum. It ended with them playing a game as they cleaned up the Lego’s. As long as the rules of the house are clear and consistent, these are really the only tools you need to administer manly punishment. So give them a try and stick with the ones that work. If you lose it, take a moment to regain composure, apologize if necessary, and try again. Parenting isn't for the perfect. And, if all else fails, remember these words from Bill Cosby: "Even though your kids will consistently do the exact opposite of what you're telling them to do, you have to keep loving them just as much."

Do you have any additional moves that have worked well? Share them below and give power to the people!

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