Consistency Counts

Dr. Ray says consistent dicipline means less discipline overall.

I know discipline is necessary and healthy, but it’s hard for me to do. How can I discipline my son less without overlooking or tolerating misbehavior?

Get a stopwatch. Observe your son for one hour. Start the watch when he starts to misbehave. Stop it when he stops. Tally the behaving and misbehaving. Most parents would be surprised at the score. The good times almost always outweigh the bad times. In fact, the rowdiest kids usually behave 90% of the time — or more. It may seem the reverse because the bad times are much more memorable.

Here’s my point: It’s easy to overlook times and places when and where we can encourage and praise children. Most of us don’t mean to: We’re tired, occupied or disciplining another child. Still, another basic discipline law is: The more we notice good behavior, the less we’ll see bad behavior. I’m not implying you offer an unending stream of affection, praise, etc., but most parents can improve at quietly encouraging behavior that we personally view as important.

That said, in my experience, loving parents give a good amount of childrearing positives. Further, no matter how good you get at noticing the good, you’ll never come close to eliminating the need for discipline. That is an inescapable parenting fact of life. There are ways, though, to reduce the amount of discipline necessary.

First and foremost, discipline more, and you’ll have to discipline less. Put another way, if you are ready and willing to calmly and firmly discipline the instant the situation calls for it, over time you will need to discipline less. You will be predictable. Your son will have few doubts about your expectations and even fewer doubts that in short order you will back them up with consequences. You will not allow 28 minutes of arguing, negotiating, cajoling and threatening to persist until finally hitting your limit of discipline. You will discipline at the beginning of trouble instead of at the end.

“But if I send him to his room the instant his tone of voice gets disrespectful, I’d never see him,” you say. At first, maybe. But he’s smart. Kids often can read grown-ups better than we can read ourselves. The more sure your son is that you’ll do what you say — and now — the less he’ll push you to do it.

Put simply, the will to discipline makes the act of discipline less necessary.

Think of a dad or mom you consider to be a good disciplinarian. Did you ever notice how seldom he or she actually disciplines? They don’t have to. They established their rules and expectations early and clearly; thus, they spend less and less time re-establishing them.

There’s a surprising relationship between discipline consistency and discipline. As consistency goes up, the frequency of discipline goes down. If, for example, you discipline only 20% of the time that discipline is called for, in the long run, you will end up disciplining far more often — because a child will be quicker to test your limits. On the other hand, if you are 70% consistent (very high, indeed), you will discipline much less. No kid is going to ask for something that he doesn’t want but is real likely to get.

A colleague once gave me this analogy: Good discipline is like putting money in the bank. Put in a healthy amount early, and you can live off the interest later. Be willing to praise more; be willing to discipline more. The need for discipline will drop; the opportunities to praise will rise.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, speaker and author of

You’re a Better Parent Than You Think! and Back to the Family.

Watch his EWTN show, Living Right With Dr. Ray, Mondays at 1pm Eastern.