National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

The ‘Look’ of Discipline

Family Matters: Childrearing: Why do my kids ignore me when I, their mother, tell them to do something, but all their father has to do is look at them and they jump?

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

Nov. 3-16, 2013 Issue | Posted 10/30/13 at 3:27 PM

 

Few children respond identically to both parents. Just as no two children are exactly alike, no two parents are exactly alike.

You and your spouse probably differ in many ways — warmth, talkativeness, patience, consistency, etc. Your kids’ selective oblivion is most likely nothing personal, but more a reflection of the dynamics of your interaction.

Let me explain in non-shrink speak.

Your lament is common. Typically, a child does respond better to one parent’s discipline. In your house, it’s Dad’s. Let’s consider why, starting with the little ones.

Preschoolers as a group seem to react more cooperatively to fathers than to mothers. In no way does this imply that moms are less-skilled disciplinarians. There are other influences. Dads have deeper, stronger voices. They tend to be more imposing and more commanding of attention, at least in the eyes of small children.

Of course, this usually wears off over time. Kids get bigger and more accustomed to Dad, and they’ll learn to tune him out too if he only uses the physical-intimidation factor. If he doesn’t learn to really discipline, kids will ignore his bluster.

There’s another reason Dad may get more cooperation: Kids generally push harder on the parent they are around more. For kids, familiarity breeds knowledge. They will use that knowledge to probe Mom’s weaknesses and inconsistencies to get what they want.

The means that the more time you spend around your children, the harder you must work to be consistent and to follow words with action.

Also consider the difference between your discipline styles: Is your husband more consistent than you are? If his "look" fails to get cooperation, will there be consequences? My dad’s resounding "Hey!" usually got my attention because I was certain something tangible discipline-wise would follow if I ignored the warning word.

Many parents recall the "looks" of their parents. How did our parents exert such quiet authority? It was their willingness to back up warning looks with action as necessary. Pretty soon, the gestures were sufficient.

With consistency in discipline, you too can "look" and get results.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, author and EWTN TV and Radio host.