The Rules of Engagement: Disciplining your child starts with you

Bickering and fighting among spouses, however unfortunate, is part of every normal relationship. These can happen almost everyday and at any moment with the very heart of these disagreements usually caused by a lack of understanding on the part of both adults. Each party needs to take responsibility for his/her part in the spousal dispute. Unwillingness to listen or compromise will make the children, not the parents, the biggest losers in this verbal (and at times even physical) exchange.

Children are most impressionable during their first seven years of life and it is important for parents to establish early a proper foundation and structure in raising their children. As mentioned in previous articles, the first seven years of life (better known as the developmental years) are when a child’s values are formed (e.g., learning the difference between right and wrong). It is also the stage where children have the tendency to test their limits and see what they can or cannot get away with under their parents’ or caregivers’ watchful (or negligent) eye.

No License Required

Parents may not be aware of this, but parenting is one of the biggest, toughest, and most rewarding jobs in the world that doesn’t require a license. Medical doctors, engineers, accountants, and many others are required some measure of proficiency and licensure before they are allowed to legally practice their craft. Being a parent has no such restrictions and some parents are better prepared than others.

Parents need to realize there is no easy way to raise a child. Countless books and articles can give you several interpretations on how to raise children but at the end of the day—as parents—it is your obligation to yourselves and to your children to decide together what is best for them

The foundation of parenting

Any solid foundation of parenting starts with communication and participation.A gap in one or both of these elements can seriously jeopardize any of your child’s potential learning. During a child’s early years, he may have only a few seconds in a whole day during which learning can occur. Are you willing to risk your child not learning anything substantial because you and your spouse were too busy arguing?

Sabotage on different levels

Sabotaging a child’s learning is not limited to disputes between parents; it may also come from other sources such as the involvement of the extended family (e.g., grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts etc.) in child rearing. Last year, I handled such a case involving a 10-year-old boy with poor discipline and study habits. This boy had no motivation to study as he had been severely spoiled by his grandmother. The boy’s parents did attempt to establish some discipline but their efforts were rendered fruitless as they were unable to compete with the boy’s presents: a Macbook Pro laptop computer (which would read scanned books to him) and three iPods (one for his music, another for his movies, and one for his pictures). Parents need to be mindful that in situations such as this, the responsibility to exact discipline and intervene when necessary still falls on their shoulders. Talk to the grandmother about the situation and tell her how it is affecting the development of your child. Confiscate the gifts and distribute them gradually over the course of time.   Remember, no matter how good intentions may be, these types of gift-giving practices or similar methods can destroy years of implemented discipline.

What can be done?

First of all, parents have to be convinced that if they are faced with a similar situation, there is always hope provided they are willing to follow several rules. I call these “the proverbial rules of engagement.”

These rules consist of the following:

  1. A willingness to communicate. Whenever I bring up the topic of communication with parents of troubled children, many of them say it shouldn’t be about them, rather their children. Parents need to realize that their combined efforts in raising their children are the backbone of any future success in this area of their child’s development.   Parents need to discuss what they want their child to learn. As each of us is unique, husband and wife won’t see eye-to-eye on a number of areas, but through willingness to communicate and compromise, they may very well have taken the first step towards identifying what they would like to impart to their children (problem-solving).
  2. Active participation. One parent cannot do it alone. Both father and mother need to actively participate in the development of their children. This includes doing the small things such as consistently leading by example and not being an exception to the rules as well as spending quality time with your children (e.g., playing basketball or any other sport that they are engaged in or, if you are unable to do so, at least trying to know about their hobbies and talking to them about it).
  3. Education. There are many books that can give parents ideas on steps to take in raising their children properly. The Internet can also provide some material in this area, as well as the input of a psychologist or developmental pediatrician. However, it is important for parents to generate their own options based on this wealth of available suggestions, as each child—and your methods in raising your children—is unique.
  4. Trust in the process. It is often difficult to subscribe to new methods for a number of reasons ranging from a lack of knowledge to unwillingness to change. Parents need to have faith in the methods they are using to teach their children, as any marked results take time.
  5. Patience. Trusting in any process requires patience. Give a reasonable timetable in executing your proposed plan for your children before deciding to move in another direction or taking it to another level.
  6. Repetition. Positive change can only happen through consistency and repetition both in word and deed. In setting examples for your children to follow, you should not be an exception to the rules that you set (e.g., watching television after a certain period, sleeping late,etc.)
  7. Evaluation. After six to eight months, sit down with your spouse in order to evaluate how your values formation/discipline program has progressed. Ask yourselves what changes have occurred with your child and then reassess his development in line with the goals you have jointly set for him. If need be, look through “the rules of engagement” steps and see if there are any areas you may need to reconsider.

Parents are strongly encouraged to always remember that change takes time. It can also take much longer when bad habits are involved. However, parents should never give up as their children’s success in this area will be with them thoughout their lives.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: