Welcome back to Secret Dad Business (Part III)
Today’s topic is an important one. Everyone has an opinion on it and it can create quite a stir. It seems that most people are set in their ways when it comes to this topic, so if I offend anyone….tough luck. If you don’t agree with me, that’s cool. Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts, but try to keep it constructive. Remember people, this is just my opinion based on my own upbringing and my experience as a Dad.
So what is this mysterious topic? Discipline. Discipline for us as Dads (and Mums too), discipline for our kids and in a way, discipline for our society.
Okay, I’ve mentioned the words “discipline” and “kids” in the same sentence. I can picture some of you rolling up your sleeves and preparing to throw in your thoughts. It’s one of those discussion points that fires us up, and rightfully so if you ask me. Our kids are precious (if you don’t think so stop reading this now, dig a hole in the back yard and stick your head in it) so the idea of anyone else ‘disciplining’ our kids or passing judgement on the way we discipline our own kids brings out that primal protective nature in us. I’m glad it does. It means you care about your kids. So give yourself a pat on the back.
I’ve mentioned before that being a parent is tough, and I meant it. There’s no manual on how to do it, no courses to take. You just make it up as you go, hopefully with a bit of pre-thought into it. My Mum always says “There’s two ways to bring up your kids, and both of them are wrong.” I never used to understand that phrase until I became a Dad. She was right. A lot of the time we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t when it comes to raising our kids, especially in the discipline department. We want our kids to have morals and good habits, but we don’t want to be overbearing and dominant. So what do we do?
Unfortunately too many parents these days forgot that their role is just that; a parent. You are not their mate, you are a Dad or a Mum. Your role as a parent is to raise your child so that they grow into a happy, well adjusted, contributing member to our society, and to do that you’ll need to use all the tools available in your parenting tool box; including discipline.
Yes I understand that reasoning with your child might work on some occasions, but I don’t think this is truly possible until your child hits a certain level of maturity and understanding. Plus, to be honest, what are you teaching them? How in any way is this teaching them about what the real world is like? When they go and get a job and their boss says to do something, you can bet your life that he or she won’t be prepared to sit and reason with your child as to why they should do said task. There should be an ingrained sense of respect for their elders/superiors already present. They will not be entering the workforce on an equal playing field as their bosses, so it’s best to learn this fact from day dot.
I hear a lot of ‘older’ people saying “when we were kids we never did that” when observing the behaviour of the younger generations. While on the odd occasion I am forced to call bullshit (case in point; teenage P-Platers driving their cars too fast. I’m sure that’s been going on since teenagers, especially boys, have been allowed to drive) on the older folks selective memory of their childhood, more often than not I have to agree with them. I remember as a kid and a teenager that I grew up respecting and semi fearing the police. These days I see the younger generations hurling abuse and taunting the police. In my heyday that would have resulted in a good whack from the officers and a night in the lock up, but kids/teenagers today know that the police and other officials can’t touch them for fear of being charged themselves. This ‘soft touch’ has generated a generation or two of kids/teenagers who have no sense of respect for authority and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of action vs consequences. For me personally, I fear this problem will have dire results in a few decades. And we can’t really blame the kids for this can we? After all, where is this attitude coming from?
Okay, for fear of being labelled an ‘old timer’ myself, I’ll get back to my point.
Discipline, or lack thereof is everywhere. Recently my wife, my two sons and I went and stayed overnight at a zoo. It was fantastic, but our experience was almost ruined by a group of other families who were also staying there. It was a large group of four families who all knew each other and came together. My family and two others were there separately. As part of our stay over, we were lucky enough to get a ‘behind the scenes‘ tour of the zoo and the animals in their night enclosures. We were warned by the staff though that no children were allowed to carry torches on the tour because if they accidently stunned an animal with the beam, the animal could attack or charge. You can imagine my concern when we started off and I noticed that every single one of this group’s kids had a torch in hand and was happily waving it around so that it flashed in our eyes and all over the place. The staff stopped the tour and asked the parents to take the torches off their children, however it became apparent that this did not occur. What ended up happening? The kids shined their torches at some of the animals who went into a panic and scuttled off. But that’s not the worst of it. A group of these children started throwing rocks. They couldn’t see what they were hitting but whatever it was made a large bang every time a rock hit it. The staff were busy so were unaware of what was going on. I made eye contact with one of the other Dads, the kind of eye contact that says “Do something about your kid or I’ll do something about you” He walked over to the group of stone throwers, stood behind them and laughed at the banging sound?!? I couldn’t believe my eyes! Finally one of the staff heard the noise and came running over to stop the kids. She yelled at them to stop because their target was in fact the Rhino enclosure!! A bloody great rhinoceros was standing right where their rocks were hitting, and he was not impressed. Can you imagine if he’d decided to charge the gate and us? After she yelled at them, each kid threw at least one more rock! What struck me was the utter disregard to authority each one of these kids had, and even more astounding was that it was a direct reflection on their parents.
That’s right, I said it, your kids level of discipline is a direct reflection of you as a Dad (or Mum). If your kid is an unruly nightmare, guess who’s responsible? You. Nobody else, just you. Stop blaming their teachers at school or their naughty little friend Johnny who’s a bad influence. You as a parent are responsible. The same goes for kids who are grossly overweight (and there’s plenty of them around these days). I hear parents using excuses like “He just loves that kind of food,” or “She won’t eat anything else,” or “He cries until I buy it for him,” Wake up! You are a parent, not a friend. Even a good friend would say no anyway! You can’t blame your young kid for being overweight! Who buys the food? Who controls their spending money? Who organises their time so that they can exercise or play sport?
This is where the role of ‘parent’ as opposed to ‘friend’ really comes into play.
As a parent you need to be the one who sets the rules and boundaries. Let’s face it, most kids will try to test those boundaries on occasions just to see how far they can go and to see whether or not you’ll enforce them. And that’s ok, it’s normal. While some kids are blessed little angels, most kids will try their luck every now and then, some more than others. Be prepared for that and follow up on the consequences of them testing the rules. One really important point to remember is this; be fair and be consistent. Boys especially need this from you Dad. They don’t want to live in fear of a Dad who will lose his mind over something small one day, then brush it off the next. That breeds anxiety and no kid deserves that. Be fair with your punishment and consistent. Let them know that breaking the rules will result in consequences. This is a great example of what the real world is like and what life will be like when they get old enough to leave home. Mums this goes for you too. Your kids don’t need an unpredictable Mum when it comes to discipline. They need to know you’ll be fair and consistent with your punishment too. And don’t just leave it to the Dad to do the enforcing. You’re perfectly capable yourself. Dads, that one is for you too. Don’t leave the ‘hard’ or ‘un-fun’ stuff to the Mums. Man up. Remember my mantra, “you’re the dad, not the friend.”
Another very important thing to remember is this; your kids will learn much more about how to behave and self-discipline by watching you, rather than by you yelling and screaming at them. Lead by example. If you get up of a morning and get your chores done before work, maybe even a workout, that’s how your kids will grow up to behave. Get them to join in. They’ll see you keeping active and fit and getting your stuff done around the house and just think this is the norm. If they see you preparing nice healthy meals to take to work, you’re setting a great example for them and they’ll thank you for it later.
I was contemplating talking about a few different methods of disciplining your kids, but I’ve thought better of it. This is a deeply personal experience and one only you can gauge is right for your situation. What I can tell you about is my upbringing and what I do with my sons. When I was a kid my Dad was the disciplinarian of the house, mostly because Mum wasn’t real big and scary and she’s a bit of a softy anyway. Dad is a big bloke, so naturally as a kid, he looked scary when he got mad. It usually only took a glance from Dad and I had an “attitude adjustment.” When I became a teenager though, for lack of a better description, I went mental. All I wanted to do was fight, play sport and do things to get the adrenalin pumping. It was a scary time for my parents. Now although my Dad looked big and scary, he’s actually very placid and calm, so it was hard for them to understand where all my aggression came from. This aggression had me kicked out of several schools. Surely it couldn’t just be pent up energy when I was playing so much sport already? They tried the ‘containing’ method (grounding etc) but that just made me more of a caged dog. They tried a whole bunch of different methods but none of them really worked. Then, one day my Dad recommended I take up martial arts and everything changed. I had found an outlet and yep, it was 99% too much energy. My parents saw the changes in me and encouraged my new interest thoroughly. I have to hand it to my parents for not throwing in the towel and persevering with me. The Army and my wife followed and I’m now Captain Calm. I had found outlets that got all that aggression out and my wife is the most calming person ever, so all was good.
Now I’m a Dad and I use different disciplining methods for each of my two boys. My eldest, B is just like his Mum. Calm, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent and well behaved. For him I use a “lose it” approach. If he mucks up, he loses things like time on the Playstation, or no reading at night. Pretty simple stuff really. My youngest though is a spitting image of me. My parents and Aunts and Uncles all think it’s like stepping back in time when they hang out with him. For his punishment I use what worked on me; the ‘disappointment factor.’ Containing him does no good. It makes him worse, just like it did for me. I keep him busy and if he mucks up, I just let him know that his mother and I are disappointed. That’s enough to keep him in line. Usually though, he doesn’t muck up if he has an outlet for all that energy. Sometimes it’s a matter of thinking outside the square and sometimes it’s the gift of experience.
Okay, I’m going to leave it there. If you take just one point away from this that’s good enough for me. Please remember my mantra; “You’re a parent, not a friend” and use whatever form of discipline works for you in your house. And no, hitting (not smacking) is not a form of discipline. It’s just you losing your cool and showing how little self-discipline you posses. I’ll say it again, “man up.”