Discipline the Right Way

As a vice principal, my primary role in my school is to serve as disciplinarian. I’m also a former Marine, so people assume I’m a hard ass like the Drill Instructors in the video. However, I strive to deliver discipline in a way that preserves the student’s dignity, helps them learn from the mistake they made, identify the root cause of the issue, and help them repair harm that they might have caused. It is a very challenging job because more and more kids these days are showing up at our schools with brains impacted by trauma. It is important then to ensure that discipline teaches as opposed to punishes kids. I do this all day, every day.

Why then do I feel like I do such a crappy job when I get home with my own kids?

All Pro Dad has a fantastic article on “five common discipline strategies that dads should avoid.” Unfortunately, I find myself doing three of these things a lot of the time when disciplining my own children! Let’s break them down, and maybe recognizing that I have a problem will help me to find the best solutions.

  1. Yelling. This one is easy. Right? When I deal with misbehavior at school, I am stern but I never raise my voice. At home? Ummm. Well, sometimes I feel like my patience is tapped. I try to remember what it was like to have a Drill Instructor screaming in my face. Early in boot camp, I froze when yelled at. Over time, the more we got yelled at, the more it became just white noise in the background and we functioned just fine. That’s all good for Marines immersed in the chaos of the battlefield, but probably counterproductive when dealing with two kids fighting over watching “Moana” or “Zootopia.” Eventually, the yelling gets tuned out, as does your message.
  2. Threats. At work, I don’t make threats. There are instances where it is important for students to know that certain actions can lead to detention, suspension, or even expulsion. When it comes to those moments, I usually begin with “your actions have given me no choice” or “your actions have tied my hands.” Unfortunately, when dealing with my own kids, it’s usually “if you don’t eat dinner, you don’t get dessert.” Forcing compliance only goes so far because they take one bite, they refuse to take another, and you’re back to square one.
  3. Bribes. This one is similar to “threats,” but instead you are offering something in return for good behavior. “If you eat dinner, you get to have dessert.” Now, for simply completing a normal and necessary task like eating dinner, they feel entitled to get a treat or a prize for it.

The last two are trickery and lying. Thankfully, I don’t do these things either at work or at home. Read the article if you want to know more. I find them so repulsive that I don’t even want to write about them.

So, what to do.

  1. If you do one, two, or all of these things, own it! As a parent, you cannot expect your children to learn from their mistakes if you can’t learn from yours. If you haven’t read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, read it now. You should strive to be a leader of your family. As a leader, you need to own to your mistakes if you want to grow and help those you lead, in this case your children, to grow.
  2. Take the emotion out of your discipline decision making. In my mind, I go back to boot camp and the “organized” chaos (same video as above) around me. It was hard to think let alone make a decision. Maybe you’re not a Marine. That’s okay. Channel a difficult moment in your life and how you dealt with it. Take a deep breath. Walk away for a moment if you need to, and then address the issue.
  3. Address the issue by helping your children reflect. Kids in school are learning about restorative justice as early as kindergarten. If your kids can talk, help them reflect and process what they did wrong. Restorative justice questions can be used whenever a rule is broken or harm is done. Here are the questions to ask, but know that self-reflection is a vulnerable process. Ask the questions in a calm manner, and give them the time they need to answer them:
    1. What happened?
    2. What were you thinking about at the time?
    3. Who has been affected by what you have done?
    4. What are you going to do to make things right?
  4. Help them make things right, but let them own it.

Do I always go through this process with my own kids? Hell no. Sometimes I lose it and my voice level rises, or I use threats and bribes. But I strive to discipline “the right way,” which I believe are the things I outlined above. I’ve seen it at work and at home.

Discipline should be about the learning and not about the punishment.