To Discipline or Not To Discipline… That is the Question

What to do when you're not sure what to do

Our 7-year-old son, Shane, is the life of the family.  He loves to be funny, a prankster, and an all around fun kid.  And he loves to hide.  

We’ll be in a store, and Shane will disappear.  In reality, he’s actually hiding around the corner or in-between the rack of clothes.  I’ve had to remind him recently that he can’t hide when we’re in public places.  Simply because it’s just not safe, and after a few seconds, mom and dad go into panic mode.

I was getting ready to leave the church recently and Shane was following me out to the vehicle. By the time I got in to leave, he was nowhere to be found. After searching, I found him hiding underneath the church van in the parking lot. While he thought it was the perfect hiding spot where dad would never find him, I had to have a stern conversation with him about the importance of safety and what is and isn’t acceptable when finding a good hiding spot. 

One more instance… a few weeks ago, my wife went down into our basement and smelt something burning.  She looked around and found that Shane had put his bendable-neck school light attached to his desk down on top of a pile of crayons, and the light was actually touching the crayons.  When I asked him what in the world he was thinking by trying to burn the house down, he said, “I was just trying to melt my crayons, Dad.”

Sometimes our children don’t always understand what we would consider to be common sense decisions that need to be made.  And in our adult minds, we’re ready to jump all over our kids in anger or even discipline for things that they may simply need to be taught otherwise why those things are not good ideas or decisions.  

So how is a parent to know when TO discipline and when NOT TO discipline when their child does off the wall things that you didn’t even know existed?  

It’s a conundrum that every parent faces at some time, so when the options are to discipline or not to discipline, here are a few reminders/principles to help you decide:

1. Correct the first time, discipline in times that follow 

The rule in our family is that if it’s something that we’ve never specifically corrected them or told them about before, we don’t discipline them (unless it’s a blatant issue of disrespect, etc), but rather, we make our expectations known.  This was the case with our son hiding under the van. While this was a very serious matter, it was also clearly done in innocence, not intentionally having done anything wrong.  We had a very stern and frank conversation to make him aware of the potential dangers of his choice and explained to him never to do it again.  

Once our children have been informed and “enlightened”, we will make them aware of future consequences if it happens again, and we will then hold them accountable through discipline in times that follow. (This rule has served our family well.  However, this does not work if multiple corrections are given for the same offense before discipline is enforced.  It is essential that you correct the first time only, and then consistently discipline for repeat offenses.)

2. Hear them out before flying off the handle

When we found the stench of burning crayons in our house, I could have easily lost it (and wanted to).  How could my son possibly take a chance at burning our house down?  What in the world was he thinking?  He certainly knew better than that!… Or did he?  After asking him about it (rather than immediately pouncing on him) I was able to understand that he thought that baking the crayons with the heat of a light was a good idea, the same as putting them into the heat of the oven, which our family has done before for school projects.  

Once I understood his thinking, I was able to calmly explain to him the danger behind it.  It’s important for us to remember that our kids want and need to be understood, but sometimes we just have to give them the chance. (Here’s an instance where I just about got this wrong.)

3. Always discipline for clearly intentional or disrespectful acts  

Recently, there was a time when Shane intentionally hit his brother in the “not so secret parts”. This was a time when discipline wasn’t in question. There are times when no warnings or explanations should be given, and the best person to understand when those times are is you, the parent.  

You know, based on the age and maturity of your children, when they are intentionally being mean, defiant, disrespectful, or even manipulative. These are times when you must win those small battles.  Because there are certain things that no parent should ever tolerate. Whether it be when a child blatantly says “NO”, or intentionally disobeys orders, discipline shouldn’t be an option, but an expectation.  

So, when you’re faced with the choice – to discipline or not to discipline, hopefully, the filter of these three things will help you make the right choice.

  • Enjoy some of the many faces of Shane… We think he’s pretty awesome.

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