Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, But the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
Last month's column ended with a mother telling a five-year-old child to pick up his toys. Mind you now, the mother in my example told the child. She did not ask, cajole, entice, or threaten. She simply said, "I want these toys picked up now" and walked away, leaving the child with her instruction.
Proper discipline involves three essential elements: correct communication, compelling consequences, and consistency. For obvious reasons, I call these the Three C's of Effective Discipline. It surprises most parents to learn that correct communication is the most important of the three. Parents who properly communicate instructions and expectations prevent, to great degree, the need for consequences. Their children do what they are told because they are told. But what if they don't? What if, for example, the child in the foregoing example does not pick up his toys? What should the mother do?
Before answering that last question, I need to make clear what she should not do. She should not repeat herself. She should not raise her voice. She should not threaten. She should not bribe. She should not make a game of picking up the toys. She should not give her child the choice of picking up the toys now or later.
She should either pick up the toys or leave them where they are and say nothing. If the toys absolutely must come up right away, she should pick them up herself. If they can stay where they are, she should leave them on the floor-Exhibit A. Regardless, Mom now has two equally viable options:
The direct approach: She immediately informs her child that he will not be allowed to do something he was looking eagerly forward to doing; e.g., going to the store for a new pair of sneakers.
"Billy," his mom might say, "these toys, which are still on the floor, tell me that you're having hearing problems today. I have decided, therefore, that we will put off the new shoes until your ears are working as they should."
Billy might, at this point, run in and pick up the toys. When he's finished, Mom should inform him that she will know his ears are better when, for at least two days in a row, he does everything she tells him to do the first time she tells him to do it, not the second. So, although the toys are now where they belong, his "healing" has just begun.
The delayed approach: If no consequence is immediately available, Mom can wait until later in the day to make her point. Envision the family at the dinner table. Everyone has nearly finished eating.
"Billy," Mom says, "you may excuse yourself and begin getting ready for bed. I'll be up in a few minutes to help you say your prayers and tuck you in."
When Billy protests that his bedtime is a good two hours away, Mom should simply tell him that since, earlier in the day, he was too tired to pick up his toys, he obviously needs to go to bed immediately.
"Besides," she might add, "I picked up your toys for you. There is a price to pay for everything, and my price is an evening without a child."
In either case, Billy will eventually learn-assuming his mother is consistent (the third C, remember?) in applying this very laid back, no-hassle (for anyone but Billy) approach to discipline-to pay close attention to what his mother tells him to do, and do it. Slowly but surely, the power (rod) of his mother's calm, self-assured discipline will separate Billy from the folly of his rebellious nature.