I Might Discipline Your Child

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
disciplining children
Steve Debenport / iStock

When I first had my son 13 years ago, I spent my days wearing a deer in the headlights look as I studied other parents at playgroups. I quietly watched how other moms handled tantrums or hitting. I sidled up to moms in the grocery store and eavesdropped as they chastised their kids for misbehaving. I felt like I was caught with my pants down in my new role, and I needed all the help I could get even if it was from sort of stalking other moms.

I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t raising jerks who would grow up with entitlement problems. As I did my field research in Paneras, playgroups, and swim classes over a period of years, I slowly but surely figured out how to effectively discipline my kids. And I realized pretty quickly that the kids with the worst behavior had parents who did very little to curb their children’s maniacal behaviors.

In our house, we have rules and consequences. My kids hear the word “no” more than they hear “yes,” and I’ve been known to eject them from an activity or playdate for poor behavior. They have chores they don’t get paid for, are responsible for their homework, and I haven’t emptied the dishwasher since it became their sole responsibility two years ago. My husband and I have taught them how to own up to bad behavior, and they know how to issue a heartfelt, appropriate apology when they’ve done wrong.

My point?

I take disciplining children seriously, and if your child is interfering with my child’s safety or acting like a playground bully to my kids, I’m going to say something. And since I’ve got 13 years of experience under my belt and my “Give a Damn” broke when I turned 40, I have started opening my mouth when I see bad behavior in action. I feel more confident in my parenting than when I started out, and I don’t mind one bit if I look like “that mom” in front of my kids’ friends. If you are in my house and misbehaving, you will face the same consequences my kids do, plain and simple.

That’s right: If your kid shoves my kid, I’m going to speak up. If we are at a PTA event and your kid is rude to me, I will call them on their behavior. If your child is being a monster on the swings and my kid has been waiting for 10 minutes for their turn, you better believe this mama is going to say something. I’ve spent too many years drilling good behavior and discipline into my kids that I’m not willing to sit by and watch them get trampled for following the rules. I will be polite and respectful when I speak to your child, and frankly, I fully expect that another parent would call my kid on their poor behavior too.

Oftentimes, I will at first approach the mother of the offending child to see if we can come up with a peaceful solution for all involved. I have found that engaging the parents and asking for help with a stressful situation on the slide can lead to a better understanding of everyone’s needs on the playground. Many times, speaking up has also lead to teachable moments for my children in how to properly and respectfully approach a child with special needs.

And let’s be clear: My kids are no angels, so if you see them acting a fool, please feel free to give them a what for if I’m not in earshot. Trust me: My kids respect those parents who have put them in their place, and I appreciate those friends who aren’t afraid to help me keep them in line.

So, yes, I will be that parent who explains to Johnny that it was my son’s turn on the slide. I will be the parent who tells Timmy that I’m sure he wouldn’t say that word in front of his mother. And I will be the parent who will look a bully in the eye and make sure she knows whose mother I am. I want my kids to see me assert my convictions clearly.

Speaking up in front of my kids shows them how to stand their ground and speak their minds. Saying “no” teaches them that adults are in charge, no matter when their parents are around. And when a kid sees an adult stand up for them, it teaches them that adults will always have their backs. How is it wrong for an adult to create a teachable moment for a child, regardless of genetics?

Parenting is hard enough to do on your own day in and day out. We think nothing about writing articles and doling out advice on such things as breastfeeding, potty training, and sleeping through the night. Why wouldn’t we all help each other out when it comes to disciplining children? Why can’t we all fully commit to the whole “it takes a village” adage and lend a hand in all aspects of parenting, not just the day-to-day tasks?

Because let’s face it: If someone else is dealing with putting my kid in time-out or yelling at them for not sharing the swings, that’s a few minutes I can have to breathe and figure out how the hell to do this parenting thing.

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