Street Corner Fathering and 4 Steps to Better Discipline

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We can teach our children powerful life lessons without resorting to public embarrassment. There are important principles to keep in mind when we’re correcting our children and seeking to shape their behavior.

Another dad is in the news for “going public” to address an issue with his child…

One day during spring break, he took Michael, his 7th grader, out to the corner of a busy intersection wearing a sandwich board sign.

The issue was the son’s poor grades. Michael brought home three F’s, and his teachers reported that he’s a class clown. This is how his father decided to “send a message.”

The front of the sign read, “Hey, I want to be a class clown. Is it wrong?” Then, on the back: “I’m in the 7th grade and got 3 F’s. Blow your horn if there’s something wrong with that.” It appears he got plenty of honks.

Maybe you’re like me… You empathize with this dad’s concern that his child could be come a “statistic”; you’ve probably shared his desire to do something decisive that will get his child’s attention. I do affirm him for taking action. Too many children today aren’t held accountable for their behavior, and many of them don’t have involved fathers or father figures.

You can never know for sure, case by case … but I would expect actions like this to have some negative long-term effects, whether in the child’s life or the trust he feels toward his dad.

I believe there are positive actions we can take in these situations. We can teach our children powerful life lessons without resorting to public embarrassment. There are important principles to keep in mind when we’re correcting our children and seeking to shape their behavior.

1. Don’t make it about you. I know many dads struggle in this area, including me. When a situation comes up with our kids, sometimes our default responses aren’t healthy. We might be more concerned about getting some peace and quiet, putting the child in his place, or maybe even asserting our own right to be “in charge.”

But those things are more about what we feel than what is best for our children. The goal is for our children to view us as teammates or cheerleaders on the road of life, not adversaries. Some have even described healthy correction as rescuing our children from the danger that comes with a life of disrespect and disobedience.

2. Do use consequences to teach your child. Sometimes he won’t learn unless he loses a privilege or his life gets much harder for a day, a week, or longer in some cases. Consequences get his attention and can have powerful results. They also prepare him for the real world, where irresponsibility and disrespect will cost him in very real ways.

At a young age, your child needs to know that you mean what you say. If he gripes and complains, that’s when you know it’s working! Just make sure the responsibility rests squarely on his shoulders to fix the situation; that increases the chances that he’ll learn something.

3. Don’t embarrass or humiliate—even as a last resort. It’s okay to show some emotions; often it’s good for a child to see that you’re disappointed, sad or even angry because of what he has done. Just make sure those emotions don’t lead you to go too far. It may seem contrary to what seems natural, but the best approach with a behavior issue is to be objective and calm—giving your child real-life consequences while expressing confidence that he or she will do better next time.

A child who has messed up should feel remorse and sadness, but those negatives should quickly lead to positive motivation. If our actions as a father shame or humiliate him, his lasting memory from the event will likely be more focused on about the intense emotions than any lessons he can use in the future.

4. Do stay positive. Keep your ultimate, big-picture goal in mind: to help your child learn and grow from mistakes. Everything you do should be about that.

Positive discipline is done out of love and leads to hope. It’s an expression of nurturance, not just correction—and that makes sense, since both have the same goal of helping our children become confident, well-adjusted people. Even in correction and discipline, our children should come away from the experience with a clear impression that “Dad loves me.” “He’s doing this because he wants the best for me.”

Discipline is a big topic, and this is only a brief outline. What other ideas or tips are useful for you in tough situations with your kids?

Written by Carey Casey

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