Disciplining for Success


Dear Dr. Ray: I know discipline needs to be consistent to work best, but it seems I'm on my kids all the time, and I'm not seeing much improvement.

A core truth of good parenting: Good discipline will bring great results — given enough time. The key word here is time, best defined in years, not weeks or months. This truth is why the best of parents can get discouraged and frustrated. The results you want often come with the speed of a glacier, not a flash flood. What's more, as is so with much of parenting, the hard truths about kids are even harder for us grown-up types. As slow as we think the kids are to learn, our rate of maturation is more snail-like. Focus on this next time you're wondering, are they ever going to get this?

Putting discipline in a realistic time frame will reduce your exasperation. It won't cure it. Sometimes parents feel they are on their kids because they are on their kids. We confuse real discipline with words and emotions. Nagging, negotiating, pleading, threatening, yelling, chastising, lecturing — are all illusions of discipline. They may sound like discipline, feel like discipline, even get cooperation here and there, but they are not discipline. More and more of each is needed over time to get the same results. Thus, a self-perpetuating pattern evolves. Ninety seven percent of what we are doing is fueling- our feelings of futility because 97% of what we are doing is futile. It is mostly verbal clutter and emotional turbulence. Only a small part of what is happening is real discipline — limits enforced by consequences. Real discipline leads to less discipline over time. Illusory discipline leads to more illusory discipline over time.

Sometimes discipline takes a long time to work because we take a long time to discipline. Hunter has been stalking his sister, Harmony, for the better, or should I say worse, part of an hour. Variously we've ignored, reasoned and warned, thereby grasping a few seconds of intermittent peace, for Harmony and us. Nothing we've tried has brought lasting peace (with kids, "lasting" means 12 minutes or more). Finally we act: "Hunter, you will be your sister's servant for the next hour because you tormented her for an hour." I tell my boys, "Don't get mad. This is good preparation for marriage."

Now, in fact, you did discipline - but also, in fact, you waited for nearly an hour. Likely there were dozens of individual bits of misbehavior that went undisciplined during that time. So, while Hunter paid the price for his actions in the end, he played almost the whole game for free. For discipline to work well, it must not only be real discipline, but it must also be timely. The longer we wait to discipline, the longer we'll wait to see success.

There is good news and there is bad news. First the bad news: The best of all discipline with the best of consistency and the best of timing takes much longer to shape character than most of us realize. The good news: What is more crucial than shaping character?

Dr. Ray


Ray Guarendi. "Disciplining for Success." National Catholic Register. (June 16-22, 2002).

Family Matters is a weekly family advice column of the National Catholic Register. Reach Family Matters at familymatters@ncregister.com

This article is reprinted with permission from the author.


Ray Guarendi is a father, clinical psychologist, and author. He has been a regular guest on national radio and television, has hosted his own national radio show and writes a syndicated parenting column. In addition, he has written several books, including Discipline That Lasts A Lifetime, You're A Better Parent Than You Think!, now in its nineteenth printing, and Back To The Family. Visit his website here.

Copyright © 2002 National Catholic Register

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