Ten Common Child Discipline Mistakes Fathers Make

The First Five

Father scolding son.
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Yesterday I was visiting with a father who recently left my employer to work for another employer closer to his home. I asked him about living literally minutes away from the office and he said, "I love it. If I am on the phone and one of the boys is giving my wife grief, I can be in my car and in the front door before the call is over to get my boys to behave. I never want my boys to disrespect their mother, and being close to home has helped me intervene when I have been needed." This is a father who understands his role and the need for child discipline.

 And dads like this also know how to avoid many of the classic child discipline mistakes.  

These ten child discipline mistakes that we fathers, at times, make usually end up with results we don't intend and actually create barriers to our children's future good behavior. Watch out for these mistakes in your own parenting and discover ways to overcome these ineffective tools.

Losing Your Temper. While the behavior of our children may at times make us crazy, we must never discipline when angry. Raising your voice, swearing or getting out of control tends to teach the child that yelling, anger, and violence are acceptable in their relationships with friends and family. Instead, when you feel the anger boiling up, take a few seconds or minutes of "time-out" and regroup. Children respond best to a calm, reasonable approach that is direct and precise.

Physical Punishment. Spanking, jerking a child by his arm or hitting in any way, while often common during our growing up years, is simply ineffective.

It teaches a child that the way to deal with conflict is to use physical force. Again, timeout is a good idea to avoid physical discipline. Learning alternative child discipline skills can also help you break the tendency to lash out physically. Remember, your principal role is a teacher, not an enforcer.

Inconsistency. I see so many fathers discipline their children in an inconsistent manner. The same behavioral offense will have different responses at different times. A well-established and understood set of rules and standards with defined consequences tend to work the best. If one time your child uses a swear word you just laugh, and the next time (perhaps in different company) you impose a grounding or other choice, the child will become confused and not know what is expected. Being consistent in child discipline is the best way to teach them what is or is not acceptable behavior.

Bribery. Trying to bribe a child to behave in a certain way by promising a reward only teaches a child that they get a prize if they act inappropriately first, and then change their behavior. We want them to act appropriately the first time. A good child discipline alternative is to remind them how good it feels to make right choices or to simply give the predetermined positive consequence for positive behavior.

Unconnected Consequences. I have always thought that children responded best when the consequences of their behavior seemed to naturally flow. For example, staying out past curfew should have a consequence like coming in earlier the following weekend. If they prove that they cannot be trusted to live with a curfew, then they have to rebuild that trust over time. We had a son that had a hard time for a while containing his anger and would punch a hole in a door or wall. Needing to pay for and install the repair of the damaged items himself (and out of his pocket) seemed to me to be a logical consequence. When the consequence does not fit the "crime," then the lessons are not learned. So avoid giving unrelated consequence (like a grounding for having an overdue library book) and try to find natural consequences.

Being Played Against Their Mom. It is critical for mom and dad to be united in the disciplinary strategy. If a child can run to another parent and find leniency, it tends to destroy the other parent's credibility. Never override your spouse's disciplinary decisions in public. If you have a disagreement, air it privately with one another. And try to share the child discipline role between both parents regularly.

Confusing Roles. Don't feel obligated to get your child's consent for the discipline you impose. You are the parent and have the responsibility to discipline. Your word on a disciplinary matter is final and non-negotiable. As children mature, you can begin to share reasons why you feel as you do about things, but in any case, your word is final.

Imposing Excessive Guilt. Trying to use a "head game" like guilt almost always backfires. "I slave my life away for you, and you can't even clear your dishes off the table (or put away my tools or ...)." If you make a child feel responsibility for things that go wrong in your life, you are not acting like a parent but like a codependent. Stay away from the guilt trips and just impose consequences.

Lecturing. This is a trap that I often find myself in. Pulling the child aside and giving them a monologue of all the reasons why some behavior was bad usually doesn't result in learning but resentment. A better approach to child discipline is a dialogue finding out why the behavior was not where it should be. For example, if a child fails to do homework on time, a lecture on the value of education is probably not going to result in a change of behavior. Identifying reasons why the homework was not turned in and then developing a plan to address the reasons is a more productive approach.

Comparing with Others. This is another common mistake I see and lived out on many levels. "Your older sister was so good at practicing the piano every day; why can't you seem to get it?" We might see this approach as reassuring and offer hope. But instead, comparisons just breed resentment. Maybe the older sister loved and had a talent for the piano, while the current child excels at something else and does not feel a passion for piano. The comparison really serves no useful purpose. Try to see each child as a unique individual with his or her own talents and strengths.

By being aware of these common mistakes in our approach to child discipline, we can perhaps see them coming and make adjustments. Finding better approaches like the ones suggested can help any dad become a better and more effective parent and teacher. And behavior will improve in short order by using techniques that work better.