First, let me start by saying that I was the good kid. My sister? Not so much. She gave my parents a run for their money. (Spoiler alert: she has turned into a pretty great grown up.) If my parents would ground her for being late for curfew, she had already calculated whether that punishment was going to be worth it. If she didn’t have anywhere else to go for the next couple of weeks, it would be worth it to stay out and take the lumps.
Now I know that every parenting handbook you read will tell you that having consistent discipline teaches children boundaries and will result in better behaved kids. Believe me, I read all of those books too. I also went to college for Early Childhood Education and was taught the same thing there.
When my boys were little, I had the chart on the fridge that outlined the infraction and whatever penalty they would suffer if they broke the rule. If you do X, then Y will follow. My kids knew the punishment for lying, but sometimes they still lied. My kids knew the punishment for hitting each other, but they sometimes still hit. My kids knew the punishment for disobedience, yet sometimes they still disobeyed.
I’m not going to tell you that all consistent discipline is worthless, but I think there’s a little power in the unknown. When I started going off script, I found that they were a little more afraid to break the rules. When there’s a crazy person in charge, you never really know what will happen next! You should have seen their faces the first time I made them hold hands because they were fighting. For 15 minutes, they couldn’t get away from each other. If they could find a way to play cooperatively while keeping their hands linked, so be it. If they continued to squabble and couldn’t agree on what to do, well then, so be that too!
The other advantage to this approach is that it really helps develop your own sense of creativity. Those hum drum days of kids sitting in time out can be over! Think of something new that will catch them off guard. If nothing else, it will relieve some of the monotony of doing the same thing and getting the same results. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?)
We try to mix things up with our Before and After Schoolers too. Using unkind words? We might just ground you from speaking for a few minutes. Pushing to get to the front of the line? We might just reverse the whole line and you’ll be at the end. Then again, maybe we’ll just give the biggest helping of the special treat to the people at the back. They really never know!
Yes, we do have some hard and fast rules that always get the same result, but we’ve found that a little creativity in dealing with minor offenses really does work better most of the time. So get those creative juices flowing! If you’ve doled out a punishment that really fit the crime, share it with us here. I’d love to hear what you do at your house!
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!