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The Informed Parent

Code of Discipline - part 2

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Oct. 14, 2002

Last month’s article described a method that allows parents to develop a uniform and consistent disciplinary approach to their children. This month we will discuss the way to present the program to the offspring and how to implement it.

When you and your spouse have decided on a final list and a mutually agreeable form of discipline, both of you should sit down with your son. Carefully review the list and what will happen if he chooses to break the rules. Listen to him; let him express his thoughts and keep an open mind. You may find some of his ideas are valid and the list should be altered. Do not make a decision then. Tell him the two of you will discuss it and will let him know your decision. Hold your discussion with your spouse without your son being present, and respond to your son within hours, not days. Once again, both of you sit down with him and give him your answer. At this point it is non-negotiable.

It is a good idea to post the list in a prominent place, such as the kitchen, so that it is available to the whole family as a reminder. These rules are not chiseled in stone. As times change and children get older, the list must be updated. Remove outdated rules and add new ones. Each time, follow the same approach. It is important to delete the outdated rules, so that the list doesn’t become too long and crowded with unnecessary regulations. An overly long list presents a confusing and depressing concept to your child.

You will find the number of items on your code of conduct will be significantly less than you had imagined it would. There really are not that many things your child can do, or not do, that would warrant discipline. Also, you need not be overly specific. For example, “not doing your chores” suffices for “not making your bed, not picking up the toys in your room, not emptying the trash, and not putting your clothes in the hamper”. If you wish to specifically list the chores, do that on a list posted in another area, such as the bedroom.

Now both parents must commit themselves to consistent enforcement. Mom can’t enforce it 100% of the time and dad 50% because the same old problem will resurface. “United we stand, divided we fall” must be the motto of parents.

You will notice I did not advise what should go on the list or what constitutes your discipline. I do not know your family situation or lifestyle. Your expectations of your child may be considerably different from mine.

The code of conduct must be family specific. If you are not sure of the appropriateness of your desires, consult your pediatrician for general guidance, not specific rules.

Let your child know that if he chooses to break the rules, he has chosen to receive the punishment. His decision not only suggests that he does not wish to do his chores but that he wants the disciplinary consequences. This system does not preclude a reward for extra good conduct or achievements.

If you have more than one child, despite a broad age range, the code of conduct concept can still apply. Some will apply to one age group, others to another. It is not advisable to have two or three lists, or one for each child. This leads to comparing who has the greatest number of rules and sibling rivalry is fanned. Most of the time the rules are not age-specific. Those that are should be on the same “family list” and their application will be obvious.

In Summary

  1. Avoid crises as much as possible by having a code of conduct that clearly expresses the boundaries within which your child must live.
  2. The code must reflect your individual family’s needs.
  3. Mom and dad must present a united front.
  4. The code must be visible.
  5. The regulations must be consistently enforced.
  6. The child must realize that when he breaks a rule, he is choosing the discipline.

The order and calmness that this system will bring to a family will actually allow you to spend more time with your offspring in rewarding, positive and fun pursuits rather than in frustrating and guilt-provoking, sporadic punishment.

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