One of these days, I’ll have to tell you about my oldest son Noah. He was really something. Even my mom didn’t want to watch him. And she had 9 kids. But that’s a kind of long story for another day. Suffice it to say he was challenging.
One of the things which made Noah particularly difficult is that he simply wasn’t responsive to punishment. He wasn’t vulnerable to any sort of trickery. “Flattery will get you no where” may well have been his first complete sentence. Time out was me dealing with a two hour fight and I’m sorry, you don’t get to just make me miserable for two hours straight like that. Day after day. Just . . . nothing I tried really worked. He was getting better over time, but good Lord, at the rate we were going he was going to be having temper tantrums on his honeymoon.
I think it was while reading some book on positive parenting that I came across the idea which actually worked. And it’s the discipline trick I’ve turned to almost exclusively with all my other kids. Because it works. AND it teaches them skills that they need to be good, healthy people. But it’s so simple, you might think I’m crazy.
All I do is when they are behaving in a way which I am not willing to accept, I send them to their room. Crazy right? OK, so that’s hardly groundbreaking. But the twist is that that’s all I do. I don’t tell them to think about their behavior. I don’t tell them how long they have to stay in. As long as they aren’t hurting themselves or their things, they can cry and scream all they want. In fact, sometimes it’s not even their room. I just tell them to get away from me. And when I do, I tell them: “you can come back when you’re ready to be around other people.”
If they come right back out, obviously raring for a fight, I just send them back. If they start right back up, I send them back. If they want to have a discussion, they need to be calm enough to actually have a discussion. The minute they start being nasty or having a fit, I send them right back with the reminder that they are welcome to rejoin us and even discuss their concerns once they are willing to treat other people properly.
Often, the kid will come out of the room looking for comfort. And comfort is always given. If the kid is ready and able, we’ll talk about the problem and their behavior. We’ll discuss how he might handle things better next time. Sometimes we’ll make a specific plan. But I refuse to talk with someone who is obviously unable or unwilling to have a rational discussion.
Usually I make my kids talk with me when they come out of the room. But sometimes when I know a kid is embarrassed at their behavior, once they’ve had a chance to calm down, that I just let them rejoin us as if nothing happened. I might even make a point of giving them a little extra positive attention to let them know their OK. We can talk about it later, if need be.
It works because it takes the responsibility for controlling their behavior off my back and puts it where it belongs – with the people who actually are responsible for controlling their behavior. I just set the boundaries of how I expect that we will all treat each other. Which puts two things at the center of how we discipline them: developing self-control and how we treat the people around us.
Part of the genius of this method is that those two issues are at the root of nearly all other poor behavior. A misbehaving kid is a kid who is either lacking self-control or who has not made other people’s needs and wants a central factor in his moral decision making process. By starting when you’re dealing with things like temper tantrums and screaming at people, you lay the foundations of self-control and an awareness of how they treat others early. It makes everything else so much easier.
And it’s shockingly effective because human beings want to be around other human beings. Even the most introverted kid wants to come and hang out with mom or play with their siblings after a while. By sending them away when they won’t abide by the family’s community standards, we’re taking advantage of how motivated people are to be in relationship with each other.
And it makes life much easier for me. I don’t have to continually think of new and better ways to get a child who refuses to comply with anything to comply. I don’t even have to be right. If I’m being unfair, we can discuss that. But not while you’re screaming and calling me names. I get to set healthy boundaries for what I am willing to accept and the kids learn to live with them. It’s just like real life would be if we weren’t all co-dependent and dysfunctional.
So there you have it; the one super simple, super easy, shockingly effective discipline technique I turn to over and over again.