Q: My 21-month-old has started hitting. Whenever he hits his 4-year-old sister, I put him in his crib until he calms down. Recently, however, his sister has started hitting back. I don’t want her thinking that I go easier on him when it comes to discipline. How do I implement fair and effective punishment for the same offense for children of different ages?
A: I sense that you’re over-thinking this situation. No matter how you discipline the two children when they get physical with one another, your daughter is going to feel that her punishment is unfair. In fact, no matter the offense, if the child in question doesn’t think the punishment is unfair, then it’s probably ineffective. “That’s not fair!” should be music to a parent’s ears.
Even though your son “starts it,” you should punish both of them. If you don’t, your daughter is likely to begin provoking her brother to hit her. Siblings are renowned for that sort of thing. When you put your son in his crib, sit your daughter in a chair in a fairly boring area of the house. When you let your son out of the crib, let your daughter out of the chair. Does that sound fair enough?
Q: I have 32 years of teaching experience, mostly in second grade. All of us veterans have noticed that classroom discipline problems have been getting worse with every new year. At our school we have lots of problems with open defiance, disrespect, and constant interruptions. The most recent administration, however, considers any sort of punishment inappropriate, even having a child sit out recess. What’s a teacher to do?
A: The reason classroom behavior has been going downhill for at least thirty years is growing numbers of parents who don’t adequately discipline in the home. These same parents don’t support discipline from their kids’ teachers and even become defensive when anyone even suggests that their kids fall short of perfect.
From the point of view of principals and other administrators, the parents in question are impossible to deal with. The standard administrative response, therefore, is to try and avoid confrontations with them, no matter the cost to teachers. That’s why so many teachers complain to me that their administrators, and even school boards, don’t support their efforts to discipline; that they even go to great lengths to pacify protesting parents.
One way to avoid such confrontations is to prohibit punishment of any sort. This may seem “enlightened,” but the best research indicates that appropriate punishment is associated with not just better behavior, but better overall adjustment as well. If it is just to reward excellence, then it is also just to punish misbehavior.
A disciplinary vacuum is quickly filled by discipline problems. Under these very trying circumstances, many good teachers are leaving the profession early. After all, they didn’t sign on to be abused.
Unfortunately, I have no pat answer to this growing problem. My advice to teachers is fairly pragmatic: Choose your battles carefully. My advice to parents: Wake up! My advice to administrators: Find your backbones.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his web site at www.rosemond.com.