Dear Dr. Ray: I have two children as different as night and day. My son is so easy-going that sometimes he almost seems to be raising himself. My daughter has to do everything her way. Discipline just bounces off her. – “Half-defeated”
My last column spoke to the power of a child’s temperament and its impact on your parenting. Now let’s tackle perseverance, a quality critical to good discipline and a peaceful home.
“I’ve tried everything; nothing works” — a lament of exhausted and ready-to-surrender parents. As mom and dad describe how they’ve over reasoned, begged, spanked, denied Duke every privilege except breathing, and threatened to move out in the middle of the night, almost always I find that along the way they tried things that would have eventually worked. Either they didn’t use them regularly enough or stick with them long enough. Tireless Duke simply outlasted every piece of discipline his folks experimented with.
All discipline requires one crucial ingredient to be effective: TIME. It is rare discipline that works after a few tries. Most kids need weeks, months, and sometimes even years to learn lessons about this world. Even we grown-up kids have to learn much the long way.
To get some perspective on how long discipline takes to work, consider yourself. Don’t you possess characteristics you’ve been struggling with for years — things like procrastinating, losing your temper, talking about others behind their back? No? Okay, consider your spouse, then. Seriously, when you act impulsively or foolishly don’t you get disciplined, part of the time anyway? Your conscience bothers you, a friend reacts negatively, and the world puts some consequence on you. In fact, you’ve been getting disciplined for some of this stuff for years. How come you’re still doing it? Should we expect a child, after three weeks of going to a chair, to slap his head and say, “Oh, Mother, I’ve been so blind! I see what you’re saying, ‘I spit, I sit.”‘
When I was fourteen, my mother established a backtalk rule: Each disrespectful outburst led to one hour in my room. My bedroom was not somewhere I wanted to spend free time. It was basically a barren place, unlike the standard teenage room today, which comes equipped with a seventeen-foot video screen; twelve flavor slush puppy machine, and a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer. Upon first hearing of this cruel rule, I expressed my true feelings (one hour), mouthed the stock teen-under-the-breath- parting -shot (two hours), and slammed the door hard enough to wake the neighbor kids (three hours). By the time I got it through my thick adolescent head that each piece of backtalk cost one hour of isolation, I missed my whole summer vacation. When I finally came out, my eyes hurt from the light. Well, not quite, but I did resist my mother’s rule, and she did persevere. I slowly learned mouth control, a rough lesson for an adolescent.
One of the most overlooked facts of discipline is this: A mediocre approach used regularly and over time will work better than the most brilliant approach used sporadically and tentatively. Perseverance is as hard to practice, if not more so, than consistency, but the rewards are immeasurable for both you and your daughter. Through perseverance you will eventually see success, while your daughter learns lessons at your hands, not the world’s. And your hands are so much gentler.
To learn more about Dr. Ray Guarendi, please visit his website: http://drray.com