National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Delegating Discipline

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

October 19-25, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/14/08 at 2:54 PM

 

I know some parents who give kids a say in what consequences they should pay for their misbehaviors. What is your opinion on this approach?

Some parents believe there’s a time and place for kids to set their own discipline consequences: when they’re 27, and the place is their own apartment, maybe somewhere in Europe. I disagree. In fact, I’m certain that allowing youngsters input into at least some of their discipline is fraught with advantages.

First of all, sometimes kids confront us with such bizarre stunts that we’re too shell-shocked to think clearly. We can’t discern any possible rationale for their behavior, much less decide what to do about it. One source of ideas is the source of the trouble: “Iris, I’m not quite sure what to do about this. I’ve never had someone step on every petunia in my flower box looking for a Nerf ball. You tell me what I should do.” The first response you’re likely to hear is “I don’t know.”

You can help Iris gain some insight by following with “Well, if you don’t decide, I’ll have to. Give me something reasonable, and maybe I’ll go with it.” Iris may take a shot at being reasonable, especially if she thinks it will help her escape your “unreasonable” discipline.

A second advantage to concocting one’s own consequences is that the child may be more cooperative in seeing them through. Armstrong may more quietly shovel the snow by himself next time as the price for hitting his brother in the head with an ice ball this time. After all, he publicly picked that outcome. You have it on record with a copy at your attorney’s office.

Third, delegating discipline gives Buford a chance to ponder. In thinking about fair consequences, he is also thinking about the nature of his act. If he needs time to reflect, he can retreat to his room or a similarly quiet, cluttered place and return later with an answer or two. A few youngsters will actually provide several options. These are the ones destined to be counselor types.

Finally, you have the last word on all joint-venture discipline. Leave the matter completely up to Spike, and you could easily hear the likes of “Okay, I’ll write, ‘I’m sorry’ twice … you got any carbon paper?” If given enough time — anywhere between a minute and six years — most kids will conjure up a legitimate outcome: “I think I should pay for all new petunias with my allowance and not have any TV until I do.”

Then, too, kids can be harder on themselves than we would ever be: “I think I should write, ‘I am very, very, very, very sorry for making our home the ugliest house in the neighborhood.’ I think I should write that a million times. And I think I should pay for the broken petunias by mowing the lawn at a penny an acre with a manual lawn mower.”

You may have to temper Chastity’s self-discipline while adding a little meat to Spike’s. In the end, asking kids for discipline help can spur thoughtful answers, teach a good lesson — and keep you from getting an ulcer from struggling to think up something appropriate.

The doctor is always in

at DrRay.com.