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Six Dubious Discipline Techniques

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Chores are on the “dubious” list because they tend to be used too often, and inappropriately. A chore should only be used as a disciplinary consequence if it's directly related to the misbehavior. If a child spreads papier-mâché goo all over the bathtub and leaves it, yes, she should have to clean the bathtub. Now. If a child doesn't feed the dog when it's her turn, she shouldn't have to clean the bathtub, she should have to feed the dog.

Tales from the Parent Zone

A couple of years ago I edited a technical specifications document for a company that builds construction materials. I learned that, before putting construction materials on the market, engineers give them stress tests to determine the “allowable load” (the maximum stress that can safely be imposed on the materials) and the “ultimate load” (the point when something breaks or the product reaches its maximum resistance). Kids are like those engineers; a child who is “bad” is testing your (and the world's) allowable and ultimate loads for reliability.

Constructive Criticism

Criticism is easy to do, hard to do well, and even harder to get your child to take without feeling angry, picked on, or inadequate. Even when you're trying to be constructive, it's difficult to criticize a child in such a positive, helpful way that he can correct his behavior while still feeling good about himself. If you're going to use constructive criticism as a disciplinary technique:

  • Don't scold your child, put him down, or come down too heavy.
  • Keep the criticism specific to the behavior (don't start attacking everything about him) and support, suggest and educate.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Reassure your child that it's the behavior you're critiquing, not him.


Whoa-surprise! Why is grounding on the “dubious” list? Grounding-making a child stay home as a consequence for misbehavior-is one of the most commonly used consequences for older kids and adolescents. But just 'cause it's popular doesn't mean it's the best choice (said the parent to the teenager deciding whether or not to get a tattoo).

Most parents impose grounding as a reaction rather than as a response to a situation. “That's it! Maya, you're grounded!” But effective grounding entails far more than just making your child stay home.

Think about the other uses of the word ground. When you ground a loose wire, you give it a way to discharge its loose energy. Getting grounded also implies getting in touch with the earth, centering, getting balanced, and all those groovy things. Simply making a kid stay home doesn't do any of those things.

Below are some of the pros and cons of grounding. Don't leap to it! Consider well. It must not be overused.

Positive Aspects of Grounding Negative Aspects of Grounding
Grounding demonstrates clearly that actions lead to consequences. The way most parents use grounding, it's rarely related directly to the misbehavior.
When you use grounding correctly, as a consequence for a related lapse in judgment or a child's inability to regulate himself (he was late and he didn't call or he missed his curfew), the grounding provides guidance from you on how to regulate himself. Simply forcing a child to stay home and miss social activities doesn't teach why his behavior wasn't appropriate.
Grounding can present a rare and valuable opportunity for a busy family to stop, slow down, and take some time at home to reconnect with each other. To get grounded, as it were, with all the positive implications of the phrase. This can turn into family time. Grounding a child means grounding yourself, too.
Grounding is rarely fully enforced. Most groundings are imposed in the heat of the battle, and rapidly forgotten about as soon as the weekend comes. Make your consequences consistent!

Removing Privileges

As your child grows, she's generally allowed more activities and responsibilities. Some of these are optional, and are known as privileges. The key word here is optional, and that's where the consequence of removing privileges usually runs into trouble.

Grounding is a form of removing privileges—the child loses her freedom for a short period of time. Or, if Theo has lost five library books in three weeks, it might be appropriate for you to take away his library card. But aren't there better ways of teaching responsibility short of removing it? (Establishing a corner of a bookshelf for library books, marking due dates on the family calendar, you taking control of taking them back—because the point is to have access to books.) Removing privileges is effective only when you make certain that you are not undermining something you are trying to encourage (like going to the library). Remove privileges only after deep consideration, not in haste.

Before you begin removing privileges as a disciplinary technique or consequence for a misbehavior:

  • Think about more productive, educational, options.
  • Don't make a removal of a privilege a punitive action.
  • The privilege removed should be clearly in scale with the misbehavior.
  • Remove privileges on a temporary basis, or this dubious consequence will lose its effectiveness.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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