Discipline seems to be on people’s minds lately. I have heard from anumber of you in recent weeks asking questions about what “method” ofdiscipline we use. I think it is important to note that many of yourquestions have focused on the problem of children who have differenttemperaments and thus respond differently to the same methods ofdiscipline.
What works for one child does not always work with another. Kidsare so wonderfully different from one another. Their fascinatingdifferences are part of the beauty, the joy, and the frustration of family life.
I’ll never forget the first time we punished Eamon by having himstand in the corner when he was a toddler. Oh, the humiliation! Thepoor child sobbed so sorrowfully and was so sincerely contrite that wecouldn’t bear to leave him there any longer than 30 seconds. All we hadto do was say his name and he came running to us for hugs and kisses.The boy was (and still is) naturally sensitive and sympathetic—whichmakes him very easy to discipline.
But our Stephen was quite another story. When we first punishedthis child by making him stand in the corner, there were no tears.There was no contrition. There was only rage. And obstinacy. He wouldhave stood in that corner all day rather than admit he had doneanything wrong. Yes, indeed. This was a very different child. He was(and still is) a significant disciplinary challenge.
Though it’s helpful to have some guiding principles (ie: spankingor not spanking, focusing on positive reinforcement or emphasizingnatural consequences), through the years we have learned thatflexibility is an important part of any parental approach.
With Stephen, we have learned what kinds of discipline work for him(catching bad behavior before it happens, emphasizing the grown-upaspect of behaving appropriately) and what kinds do not (standing inthe corner, for instance). Without changing our basic family rules forwhat is and is not acceptable behavior, we have changed the way inwhich we help him to learn these rules in order to accommodate hisvolatile personality.
Let’s not have a spanking/no spanking debate, but I’d like to hearabout your disciplinary approach. In what ways have you needed to beflexible? In what successful ways have you handled a child with aparticularly challenging temperament?