Family Matters

Perseverance Power


Most experts emphasize the importance of consistency in good discipline. I've also heard you talk about perseverance. Is it just as important?


The value of perseverance depends solely upon one question: Perseverance in what? Perseverance in nagging, reminding, cajoling, pleading, over-reasoning, threatening and/or emotional assaults is more than worthless. It is counterproductive. It simply prolongs bad discipline habits that will teach Constance to persevere in ignoring or defying us. Excess words are the illusion of real discipline, so perseverance in talk leads mostly to frustration for both parents and kids. In short, when it comes to discipline, perseverance in words is bad.

Perseverance is good — indeed; it's of the highest value — when its partner is consistency. If we define consistency as reliably putting consequences upon misconduct, then perseverance is consistency over time, sometimes a very long time. Perseverance is the willingness to do what it takes for as long as it takes to teach the desired lesson.

Let's say that talking on the phone is a challenge for you. Not because you're socially awkward, but because your kids are like Pavlov's dogs. The bell rings and they get rude, rowdy and interrupt so much that you salivate in anger. Enough! You decide.

“Alexander and Belle, we have a new house rule,” you tell them. “When I'm on the phone, you will be respectful. If not, I will calmly excuse myself from the call, escort you to your rooms for the rest of the call and maybe then some. Please don't resist, get louder or come out. You'll be grounded for the day if you do.”

How long will you have to persevere in enforcing your rule before you get peace on the phone? 25 calls? 55 calls? 255 calls? I really can't predict. And at one level the number is not relevant. Your goal is to do what you said. In time (2023?) your kids will learn to cooperate.

Routinely I tell my clients: A simple approach used consistently with stick-to-itive-ness almost always works better than the most brilliant approach tried erratically or briefly.

Let's get back to the phone for a minute. Good, durable discipline will keep the following from happening: Riiiiinnnnggg. “Oh, hello, Father … Well, of course we would be flattered to be the role-model family for the church-children love-in … Father, could you please excuse me for one minute? I'm going to have a little love-chat with the children ..”

The mouthpiece is covered, the teeth are gritted. And then: “Get away from one another, you little brats. When I get off the phone, you're both going to be sorry you got out of bed this morning. I mean it — you are both toast!”

Uncover mouthpiece. Un-grit teeth. “Oh, what's that, Father? No, that was just our neighbor. She always talks to her children that way. Yes, we will pray for her; she needs a lot of prayer.”

Perseverance in real discipline — calm, resolute action — leads to less discipline. Perseverance in fake discipline — lots of words powered by emotion — leads to more discipline. Perseverance is only valuable in pursuit of real discipline.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is the father of 10, a psychologist and an author.

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