When You Kind Of Suck At Disciplining Your Kids

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
disciplining children
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My husband and I are raising good kids. I know this. We have taught them to be kind and considerate, to always do their best, and to look for ways to be of service. It’s a work in progress, of course, but so far so good. At 15, 11, and 7, they’ve never gotten into any significant trouble, are respectful and responsible (most of the time), and are genuinely nice kids to have around.

Frankly, I’m not sure how we’ve managed this feat, because according to all that I’ve read and heard about the importance of consistency and consequences, I kind of suck at disciplining my kids.

On the one hand, I’m pretty good at the teaching part of disciplining children. We’ve coached our kids in character traits (which we call “virtues”) since they were little, and we talk through behavioral challenges that arise using that language. I let them know what is polite and appropriate in various situations, and we sometimes role-play specific scenarios that I know might trip them up. I have a very open, loving, and honest communication policy, and they trust me with their questions and concerns. So with the proactive aspects of “discipline,” I feel like I’m pretty solid.

But the whole other side of disciplining children — the consequences when their behavior strays — UGH. I just can’t seem to stay on top of it. I’m inconsistent. I’m forgetful. I’ll dole out a consequence for some kind of infraction, but then forget to follow through with it. I set up systems and reminders for chores, or for earning extra allowance or screen time, and they last about two days before I decide it’s too much work and we’re doing OK as is.

I tell my kids I’m not going to say something more than once, and then I say it two more times before losing my cool. I set a terrible example, getting on my kids for their messy bedrooms when I have books and papers overflowing my nightstand, clean clothes piled all over my unmade bed, and piles of random stuff to sort strewn about the floor. I set limits for screen time that get breeched more often than not because I forget how much time they’re supposed to have, or I get distracted and don’t notice when the timer goes off. I don’t make them eat food they don’t like for dinner and let them negotiate snacks at bedtime (it’s always something healthy like apples or bananas and peanut butter, but still). They don’t rule the roost, but I do worry sometimes that I’m not strict enough.

I read about moms who take a tough-love approach to teaching their kids lessons, like my friend, Harmony, who recently removed every single thing from her son’s room and required him to earn it all back with good behavior. I admire her gumption and conviction, and I think that’s a great approach — but I can’t ever see myself doing it. Not because I disagree with it; it’s just not in my personality. I’m a laid-back, Type B mom. I think doing something like that would scare my kids more than anything, because they know it would take a heinous behavioral issue to elicit something that extreme on my part.

And so far, despite my lackadaisical approach to the consequences side of discipline, our kids haven’t exhibited any major behavioral issues. They’ve each gone through some tough phases and we’ve had to figure out how to handle those, but that’s generally just been normal kid stuff. More often than not, the challenges we face with our kids have more to do with shyness or anxiety or irritability due to insomnia — issues that would be really unfair to try to punish them out of.

But my inconsistency irks me. I’m not worried that it’s going to turn them into little monsters; I think we’ve proven that that’s not going to happen. My biggest worry is that it’s going to turn them into me — that they’ll struggle with consistency and discipline in the same ways that I do. Someday, they’ll have kids with someone else’s DNA and with totally different personalities, and they won’t have inherited the ability or learned the skills to lay down the law and stick to their guns. I’m also worried about how that might spill over into other areas of their lives. Just because my method (or lack thereof) has worked out OK for us doesn’t mean it will for them.

Then again, we all have to figure out life — and especially this parenting gig — as we go, right? Maybe one of these days one of our kids really will pull out all the stops and give us some grief that requires a firmer hand. Or maybe they just don’t have it in them, in the same way that I don’t have it in me to stick with a discipline method.

My hope is that my strengths on the proactive side of discipline make up for what I lack on the reactive side. Like our kids, I’m a work in progress, too. I’m crossing my fingers that my kids will at least see me trying, recognize that I’m human just like they are, and appreciate that there are hundreds of ways to raise good kids, even if discipline isn’t your strong suit.

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