Parenting

Expert's Latest Theory on Discipline: Don't Punish, Collaborate

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Discipline: Non-parents love to criticize the lack of it while parents these days seem to always second-guess themselves when it comes to responding to their child’s bad behavior. The latest expert commentary comes from child psychologist Ross Greene’s new book, Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child. Greene’s theory is this: Children misbehave because their skill set doesn’t jive with their environment or the expectations of superiors. In other words, your child draws on the walls with crayon because he can’t logically comprehend not to, even though you’ve told him a thousand times before. Greene’s solution is to sit down with your child and talk about ways to solve the problem instead of issuing a punishment. In other words:

Timmy, I’ve told you a thousand times not to draw on the wall with your crayons. Can you tell me why you’re still drawing on the wall with your crayons?

Because I want to.

Timmy, clearly you do not have the ability to comprehend my expectation that you will obey the rules instead of fulfilling your own selfish desire to destroy my house. How can we solve this?

I’m going to go draw on the wall now.

Ok, good talk.

Reviewing Greene’s book over at The Atlantic, Katherine Reynolds Lewis praises the psychologist’s work, which she’s incorporated into her life as a parent: “In so many ways, it’s a relief to admit that I’m not truly in control and to stop feeling that I should be.” If her goal was to sell me on Greene’s philosophy and his book, she failed me right there. If I’m not in control, and there’s only my child and me in the house, that means my life is dependent upon the decisions of a 15-month-old. Um, no.

Greene’s ideas aren’t without merit. When it comes to the root of parent-child conflict, Reynolds states the obvious:

So many adult-child conflicts ultimately boil down to a power struggle. The child is doing something the adult doesn’t like and resists attempts to make him change.

Where she and Greene appear to fall off-track is in their conclusion:

By shifting the goal from power to collaboration, Greene opens a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of trying to be in charge, parents simply seek to influence their children.

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Honey, let me “influence you” not to touch the hot stove. Oh, don’t want to listen? Ok, off to the ER we go. Dear, just an influential word of advice not to binge drink at your friend’s house while his parents are away. Don’t like that idea? Ok, we’ll meet you at the police station later on. Your child will encounter plenty of “influences” in his life. You aren’t meant to be one of them. You are meant to be a parent, the person who teaches him how to gauge every influence he encounters.

The only reason discipline is a struggle for parents is that discipline is hard. It is stressful to have to work all day and then come home to do more work. It is challenging to repeat yourself a million times. And when you have an extremely independent child, taking control can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do. Why? Because all you want to do is love your child and be loved in return. And no one loves being disciplined.

Except kids, of course. They may not show it, but they love the structure and security that comes from knowing mom and dad are in charge. By following hard, fast rules lest they suffer the consequences, your kids are also learning how to develop healthy habits and routines that are foundational for a life well lived.

Save the collaboration for the board room. When it comes to your kids, mom and dad still and should always know best.