My husband and I have very similar goals for our children, but we could not get on the same page about how to discipline them. Have you been in this boat, too? I have read many of Dr. Dobson’s books in their entirety, but I was having trouble putting what I learned into practice. My husband gets to be home in the evenings, and I am thankful for that; however, that means two chiefs have been trying to rear the same tribe with clashing ideas for the last seven years or so.
One way we’ve learned to manage our brood is through codes. My children have a lot of energy, and my husband is one of the pastors at our church. Energy on a Sunday morning with lots of hot coffee is not a combination that produces “oohs” and “ahs” from passers by. So we came up with the Sunday Rule. I can use it anywhere, for it is a code to my children that they are to have self-control and an awareness of the people around them. Another code is the seatbelt rule. If they can sit in the car for hours, I think they can manage staying seated when they are supposed to stay seated simply by harnessing (pun intended) their creative imaginations. The doctor’s office is a perfect place to utilize this. Our final code is Code Duckling. That is a command that requires immediate obedience and is used most often in stores and parking lots. They can get in a single file line quickly now.
These codes are not the three rules mentioned in the title though. They are helpful, yes, but they don’t help the daily relationships that are difficult for any child to navigate (or any adult for that matter). In order to help our rough and tumble boys, we decided to establish expectations. Several years ago, I typed up the following rules:
- Keep your hands and feet to yourself.(Also, do not hit with or throw toys/objects.)
- Listen and obey the first time.
- Use your manners. (Please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry are from Bear, Your Manners Are Showing by Kathleen A. Meyer.)
These rules don’t mean anything without consequences, and I didn’t realize that I had not even reviewed these rules with my youngest son until he asked me one day, “Mom, what is this taped to the wall?” This realization prompted action. My mom was kind enough to drive over for the weekend so that my husband and I could have a day to ourselves to have deep discussion and make lasting changes.
At breakfast, we discussed our strengths and weaknesses as parents, and I admitted my frustration with the fact that I could teach a classroom full of children but not run my home with consistent structure. So our consequences at home are now as follows:
- If a rule is clearly understood, the first consequence is an age appropriate timeout. During the timeout the child must consider which rule he broke, how he broke it, and how to do it differently next time.
- The second consequence is that a privilege is taken away. This is different for each child and for each circumstance. Note that we do not take away a need like food or shelter, nor do we harm them in any way.
- The third consequence is one swat to the bottom in a calm, controlled manner. My 6 year old has only needed this consequence once or twice since we established these boundaries. Note: I am aware of the debate around spankings. If you disagree with this method of discipline, that is fine, and you may skip over this and move on to #4 which is an idea I learned from The Strong Willed Child, also by Dr. Dobson. I plan to eliminate consequence #3 as the boys age as Dr. Dobson also suggests.
- I did not plan to have a fourth consequence, but my middle child asked for it and has only made it to this consequence twice so far. It is an extended timeout in his room. He is allowed to look at books, and we have a long talk when it is all over.
These consequences can occur over the period of one day for my younger son or for about a week or less for my oldest. They are completely different children, and their consequences reflect this. Establishing these expectations has provided a much needed peace in our home. With these boundaries in place, we have had so much fun with each other!
There has been a dramatic improvement in my boys’ behavior since these rules were established in our home. There has also been a dramatic improvement in my behavior! This has allowed all of us to demonstrate more self-control. I hope that our manners reflect God’s love to others. We don’t have it all together, and I still have my own mama-meltdowns; however, our relationships are worth protecting with these boundaries. They keep us all accountable to each other, and we make better choices because of this accountability. Hopefully my baby girl will benefit from all of this hard work her brothers are helping us through!