As parents of multiple children, we are faced daily with the conflicts of our children’s schedules, activities, struggles and the need for discipline. When it comes to discipline in particular, what works for one child does not necessarily work for the other. What is fair and appropriate discipline for one is not necessarily so for the other. So, how do we handle the constant questioning from our children, “Why did I get punished when my sister did not? How come I have to clear the dishes from the table and all my sister needs to do is throw out the garbage? Why am I not allowed to watch any more TV but my sister is allowed one more show?”
My husband and I constantly feel we are dodging these questions, while at the same time juggling all of our balls in the air. At all times. And dropping any of them is never an option. Respite comes only with the sweet sound of silence when bedtime is complete and we can breathe a sigh of relief. When it comes to explaining discipline and the reason why punishments appear different or unequal to our children, we are faced with a dilemma. They all have different levels of understanding. And although we do not always have an answer that makes sense to a little person, we feel that in order for the message to be received, we need to at least try to explain the lesson to them in as simple terms as possible.
But how far should parents go in order to teach a lesson? Is there such thing as too far? There is no clear-cut answer.
A client recently brought to my attention an issue that she and her husband are currently struggling with in their home. An issue that is all too familiar to my family and to most of our friends at some point or another.
She is having tremendous difficulty getting one of her sons to comply with basic house rules. Listening to instructions is a task that he wishes to ignore. And we are not talking anything major, we are talking about getting dressed, making his bed, and brushing his teeth in a timely manner without needing to have the instruction repeated a dozen times.
Just to clarify….There is no hearing problem. That has been ruled out. There is no attention deficit disorder…that too has been ruled out. This family is currently dealing with a child who has outwardly admitted that he just does not want to do what is asked of him. He does not care to listen to instruction or direction. He takes the punishment, and then will cry for another chance or blame one of his siblings for distracting him from staying on task. But he does not appear to be learning from his consequences. Or maybe they are not severe enough. It’s difficult to say which is true.
As our children get older, obviously barring any obvious cognitive delay, it is unfair for parents to have continue to baby them. It does not do well for us or for our children in the long term. The family has decided that if their son cannot get up and ready for school on time, he will be late. He will have to walk in to class late, and explain himself. Something that he hates to do as it embarrasses him terribly. Something they wish they did not have to do either as too many late slips do not look good on a permanent school record. But they feel they are out of options.
So are these parents taking it too far? Is this too harsh? What are they supposed to do? Without literally standing over him every morning and instructing him to brush his teeth, comb his hair, get out his clothes …because if they leave he will pick up a book and start reading… does the punishment fit the crime?
These parents are concerned that this lesson might backfire and turn him off school altogether. But I guess this is a chance they are prepared to take as the level of frustration and stress in the house is almost too much for them. And the need to stand over him is virtually impossible with all their other responsibilities i.e. work, house, two other children, making dinner, chores, etc which also take up their time.
We all know what is best for our children. And we all make mistakes along the way. These parents are willing to implement some tough love with their child, in the hopes that the message will be received. Trusting him with a task and allowing him plenty of opportunity to follow through has clearly not been much of a motivator.
As such, discipline that is effective for one might not work for others, even within the same household. So when asked by our child why their sister gets treated this way, and them the other….the answer becomes more clear over time and as they mature. Mom and dad do their best to treat all their children in ways, which they feel, will work best. They are not always equal. They are not always the same. And they might not always appear fair. But the ultimate goal that we all have for our children is the same; to teach them to be responsible, respectable, and self-sufficient members of society. As parents, we all secretly pray that eventually our kids will get it, and not resent us for it in the long term.
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