Divided Discipline

What to do about children who require different amounts of discipline.

My 9-year-old son brings much more discipline upon himself than does his 7-year-old sister, who is more cooperative by nature. He accuses us of being unfair and liking her more. Any way I can make him see we’re not playing favorites?

One mom put it this way: “If I discipline him whenever he deserved it, he’d get disciplined 10 times as much as his sister. As it is, I let him get away with about half of his nastiness, and he still gets disciplined five times as much.” Ultimately, either option is unfair to the child who behaves better. Why should he/she be held to separate, more rigorous standards just because a sibling is unjustly crying “foul”?

To begin, mete out discipline as it is deserved, independent of what a child thinks. A truth of family life is that no two children require equal amounts of guidance and firmness.

Second, quit redefending yourself to Justice. He’s determined not to agree with or at least accept the facts. You’ll only get dragged into protracted arguments which will likely convince him further that he has a legitimate gripe. After all, why would you spend so much time trying to talk him out of his perception?

Third, and most important, be extra attentive to Justice in between discipline episodes. Rather than struggling to make everything even between him and his sister, balance his discipline with increased affection and attention. Put another way, instead of disciplining him less, you’ll be loving him more.

Will Justice come to realize your true fairness? Probably not for a while. Over time, though, he’ll misbehave less. And then his discipline will be more, or should I say less, like Chastity’s. One other thing. The teen years are coming, and they can alter the whole parenting landscape. Sometimes the docile child flares up and the feisty one mellows out. There, now don’t you feel better?

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a

clinical psychologist, speaker and author of You’re a Better Parent Than You Think!

and Back to the Family.