An “F” on the Discipline Report Card

We will now move into the “F’s” on our Effective Discipline Report card, having completed an exploration of the five “C’s” (Calm, Clear, Confident, Compassionate and Connected) and the three “D’s” (knowing when and how to Deny, Demand and Delegate.)

Fairness in discipline

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and GrandmotherDevelopment

The first “F” for parents to consider is how fair their expectations are when they are disciplining a child.

Disciplining is about teaching and guiding a child and setting limits. As we said with our “D’s,” it is about denying, demanding and delegating.

None of these are effective if expectations are not in line with the child’s abilities. It is not fair to deny, demand or delegate something to a child if that child is not capable of managing an appropriate response when told he or she cannot do something, or when told he or she must behave in a certain way, and more specifically, when he or she has to take responsibility for doing something.

Imagine how unfair it would be to tell a young toddler he or she had to sit absolutely quietly for very long period of time, or to demand that a preschooler succeed in calculus, or give the job of preparing a broken washing machine to an eight-year-old!

Expectations are a key driver behind decisions to discipline.

Expectations can be made on the assumption that it is reasonable to assume a child is capable of doing or not doing something. How often have we as parents stopped to ask ourselves from where do our expectations come?  How often have we done research necessary to determine what is fair to expect in a child?

Sometimes expectations are more about wishful thinking than true capability. Sure, it would be wonderful if newborn babies slept through the night, but is that a fair expectation? No! Is there an occasional newborn who sleeps for extended periods of time? Yes, but that is an exception rather than a rule.

Just because one child can do something does not mean that all children are capable of doing the same thing. Children mature in their own unique ways. They need and deserve parents to determine what is fair to expect. 

In the classic book Your Child’s Self-Esteem, author Dorothy Corkille Briggs shares the following: “You cannot know what is reasonable to expect until you are familiar with what children in general are like. Expectations are more likely to be in line when they are based on the facts of child development, keen observation, and in consideration of your child’s past and present pressures.” [Page 52].

Briggs suggests that parents take an “expectation inventory” when deciding on expectations for the child [page 53]:

  • Why do I have this expectation?
  • Where did it come from?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Is it based on my needs or my child’s?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Does it realistically fit this particular child at this age and with this temperament and background?

By stopping to ask oneself these questions, it can be much clearer if, when and how a parent should discipline a child. Unfair expectations are often at the root of struggles around discipline. 

Invitation to reflect:

  1.  How aware are you of what you expect of your child?
  2. On what do you base your expectations of your child?
  3. Do you have resources to help you better assess what is reasonable to expect of a child of this age, this temperament, and with his or her unique background?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network