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Enforcement is key to discipline – Good Parenting

Defiant daughterDear Dr. Debbie,

My 9-year-old daughter has a lot of freedom. She’s usually off on her bicycle somewhere with her best friend, and I often have to go looking for her after coming home from work. My husband works primarily from home and is supposed to keep an eye on her until I get home. His attitude toward discipline, I feel, is very lax. This makes me the “the bad guy” when it comes to enforcing chores, bedtime and the occasional consequences. He may tell her to go to her room if she’s being rude, but never makes sure she goes.

Today I found her in the park with her friend and told her it was time to come home. She rode around for 10 more minutes which made me look like a fool — asking, telling, then yelling at her to come home. I ended up threatening to lock up her bicycle. Fortunately for us all, her friend’s mother came along and told her daughter it was time to come home.

My friends warn me that we’re headed for trouble in the years to come if we don’t tighten up. If she doesn’t listen to us now, what chance does she have to get through the pitfalls of adolescence?

In it Alone

Don’t miss last week’s column When a 3-year-old is jealous of a parent – Good Parenting

Dear In it Alone,

The important thing about discipline is to keep it simple but enforceable.

Discipline is the link between parent and child that helps the child to do what the adult knows is best for her, even if the child doesn’t agree. When the child trusts that the parent is looking out for her best interests, the compliance rate is much higher than if she thinks parents never mean what they say or are only out to ruin her fun. When the rules are based on what is unquestionably best for her, she gets the added bonus that what one parent says is backed up by the other.

We need to tighten up both your approach and your teamwork.

Freedom with limits

Have a serious discussion with your husband about what the two of you agree should be the rules for your daughter’s out of school time. This should include safety factors in your neighborhood — street traffic, known crime areas, dangerous wildlife, etc. Your local police department may open your eyes to dangers or relieve your fears. If your husband is unwilling to be your partner in this critical function of parenting, enlist your daughter’s friend’s mother to join forces with you. Perhaps you could set up a discussion with a police representative for all the parents and civic minded adults in the community about children’s safety and adolescent trouble.
What are the physical boundaries of where your daughter can go? When and how should she check in? What time does she need to be home? You shouldn’t have to go looking for her only to be ignored. Make your rules more likely to be followed by supplying her with a watch or a cell phone.

Review with her the homes she could go to if she needs a band aid or a bathroom when she is too far from her own. Besides good neighbors keeping an eye on one another’s children, there are ways to monitor a child’s whereabouts with the latest technology for tracking and communication. This will become even more critical in a couple of years.

Real consequences

Rules for children are only as strong as the enforcement adults are willing to carry out. The goal of discipline, of course, is self-discipline. However, along the path to maturity, most children benefit from seeing that the rules are so important that adults will go to the trouble of making sure they are followed.

Explain that the cause and effect is up to her. For example, instead of hunting down your daughter as you have been doing, now you will require her to be home at a certain time or to come home when called. There is a logical consequence if she fails to comply. She could lose her bike privilege the next day, which can be enforced by putting the bike in your car when you leave for work. It’s hard to be tough on your child, but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary for her well-being.

If your husband cannot bring himself to help create and enforce limits for your daughter, make an appointment with the school guidance counselor. They have summer hours as well as hours during the school year. The counselor may have good advice for you and should be able to tell you about free and low-cost resources for individual consultation or a parenting class.

Counseling for your daughter is also a good idea. This may be through school, your religious center or another resource. A good counselor will help your daughter to see how she is responsible for her actions and help her to make better choices for herself.

Power up the love and concern you have for your daughter with good rules and a strong enforcement team.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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