Unification News for

February 1998


Reality, An Effective Discipline for Children

by David Kasbow-Detroit, MI

Imagine a person going way over the speed limit as he races down the road. Suddenly the driver looks in his rear view mirror and sees the police. He pulls over only after being followed a long distance. He then protests he didn’t do anything wrong, that everyone is driving fast. The policeman says nothing but just starts writing out a ticket. The man starts to cry that it’s not fair and, besides, he doesn’t have the money to pay for a ticket. The policeman keeps writing. The man takes the ticket, tears it up and throws it on the ground. Now the policeman takes out his book and writes another ticket for littering. The man screams he hates the police and threatens the officer. Now another car pulls up and the man is taken away to jail.

In this scenario, the man in the car is of course acting like a child. Children use all the above tactics, and more, to get their way with their parents. The police officer of course is in the position of a parent, in this case a healthy, confident one. With too many parents, the childish strategies used above are unfortunately effective; parents give in to the child’s tactics or engage in a power struggle as they battle back.

Why are the police so effective while some parents are not? It’s because the police use certain basic principles of discipline effectively.

They use:

1) A clear set of fair laws agreed upon by the community

2) Actions, not words, to enforce the law

3) Enforcement that is respectful but decisive and consistent

The policeman doesn’t nag or scream: "Don’t you know you could hurt someone out here?" or "How many times do we have to tell you not to speed?" or "What am I going to do with you? You’re hopeless?" He just writes out a ticket and the system in place backs it up with ever-increasing levels of action. If the ticket is not paid, the fine goes up. If the person gets multiple tickets, his license will be taken away. If he drives after that he ends up in jail. All of this is done quite calmly. No emotion is involved, no excess energy is wasted.

This model I think can be of benefit to parents. Kevin Leman calls it "reality discipline." The theme is that in the real world there are numerous realities which we all must face to get along in society and the closer the parents model the real world in their family, the better off their children will be. For ideas on setting up such a model, see Richard and Linda Eyre’s book, 3 Steps to a Strong Family.

It is important to note that discipline is not punishment. The dictionary describes discipline as "training which develops self-control, character, etc." It comes from the word "disciple". This is an excellent way to think of raising children; they are to be Christ’s disciples.

The key to making it work is for parents to have the willingness to not protect their children from reality, to not bail them out. Of course, loving one’s children is to have a clear set of expectations for them, but just as important, loving them is giving them the freedom to experience the consequences of their decisions about following these expectations. To be blunt, it is to let them fall on their face sometimes. This is quite anxiety-producing for some parents. It’s hard to let Johnny walk to school when he sleeps in late and misses the bus. But it’s just this kind of experience which builds Johnny’s self-respect and self-esteem. When he can take responsibility for his failure and get himself where he needs to be, when he needs to be there, he has united his mind and body centered on the truth. Goodness is the result; he is an active responsible citizen. If he is bailed out by being driven to school time-and-again, he does not gain this victory over himself. And, treating Johnny in this way shows him more respect than nagging and yelling at him to get up in the morning. Furthermore, nagging and then driving him when he gets up late causes him to lose respect for his parents. He learns that their directions are not serious, that he is in control.

How early in a child’s life can a parent start using reality as a discipline? Leman, in his book Keeping Your Family Together When the World is Falling Apart, suggests it be used from the start. When the child is an infant, parents can get a baby sitter once a week and go out together. It’s good for the child to know he or she is not the center of the universe; and Mom will be a better parent after some time to recuperate.

A favorite battleground is the dinner table. I had a couple come in to counseling who would actually bring food with them when they went to visit relatives because their eight-year-old child was such a picky eater. They were more like servants of a little princess than parents. Every mouthful was discussed and debated. The child wallowed in constant attention. Parents don’t have to go through this. They have the right to cook what they want to eat. If it happens to be something that Suzie does not happen to like, let reality come into play: just don’t set a plate out for her. When she asks what’s going on, simply inform her that you knew she does not like this dish, so you didn’t set out a plate. She will either go hungry for one meal (which will not kill her) or decide the stuff isn’t so bad after all.

Through these kinds of experiences children learn to cope with the real world. By the time the really frightening realities of driving, dealing with the opposite sex and the temptations of drugs come on the horizon, the child has developed a sense that some serious consequences can come from his or her behavior. They will have internalized the Biblical direction of Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

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