House Rules Help Conquer Discipline Problems
Next, discuss the rules as a family, not only so the kids understand, but so that they can have some input. For example, your picky eater may ask to have “Eat what you are given” modified with “or you can have a ham-and-cheese sandwich and an apple.” Children may have rules they’d like for mom and dad, too. After all, if the kids aren’t allowed to swear when they’re frustrated with homework, should Dad be able to when working with the computer?
Once rules are decided on, they should be written out and posted. For children too young to read, you can draw or cut out pictures to illustrate the points. For teens, the list idea may seem insulting, so a contract or family meeting minutes with the rules enumerated and agreed upon may be more appropriate.
Parents may also want to include a written set of consequences. Family philosophies differ on this: some parents believe that set consequences help the children make responsible decisions and keeps them, the parents, from overreacting; others prefer to have more freedom. Bates, for example, says she doesn’t have a list of consequences because she likes the “element of surprise” and time to make the consequence fit the offense.
An alternative is to make a list of consequences for the parents to choose from. This can help keep parents from either excessive punishments such as “You’re grounded for three months!” or not doing anything because they are too flustered to think. Some ideas might be doing push-ups or jumping jacks, docking allowances or grounding (with minimum and maximum).
Rewards may be enumerated and built into the system, too. Clinical psychologist Dr. Denis Nissim-Sabat of Fredericksburg, VA, says rewards are important to help children focus on learning what is appropriate behavior, rather than simply to punish them for what they’re not supposed to do. Again, this can vary by family philosophy. Kimberly Fletcher, mother of seven whose husband is currently stationed at the Pentagon, uses an obedience chart, and when a child follows a rule, he or she moves a token up a space. At intervals are rewards they can earn, like stickers or candy or a treat. Nissim-Sabat also suggested specific rewards like going to bed on time every school night for a week means staying up late to watch TV on Saturday.
Other parents believe these rules constitute normal family behavior and should not merit rewards. “Society has norms of behavior, and so does our family,” noted Bates. She does, however, have rewards for extraordinary behavior. In fact, Bates said that the thing she’s enjoyed most about having the house rules posted is that they’ve freed the family up from having to worry so much about everyday behavior so they can concentrate on deeper issues like sacrifice and giving of themselves.
After all, the point of discipline is not just to stave off anarchy, but to help our children become better people.
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