Family rules: Speak softly when wielding the discipline stick

Story by Joyce Buck
(Utah Families)
Mon, Oct 1, 2012
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t installment of Utah Families, a twice-monthly column by faculty members of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. Members of the department will offer practical information on topics related to families and children.

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It was the typical parent-of-a-teen dilemma. Should I call for emergency help, get in the car and go searching, or just keep pacing the floor while the wee hours of the morning ticked away? My young son, just 13, was out with older friends, and it was way past curfew.

Family rules were swimming in my head. Did my rules allow me to “blast” this child right off the face of the Earth as soon as he appeared? In my efforts to be the “authoritative” parent — the one whose rules are clear and associated with well-understood consequences — where had I gone wrong?

As I paced the floor, I rehearsed my speech. I would be angry. Emotional honesty is critical. But I also felt that it was important to find out what was going on. “Seek first to understand” is one of Covey’s habits for effective relationships, and it was one of my primary rules for successful family relationships. I kept rehearsing.

The young man finally came home, quietly slipping in the back door. I met him, hands on hips. Yes, I was angry, just as he had suspected I would be. But my where-have-you-been voice was not too loud (actually, not real soft, either), as I expressed frustration, fear and sleeplessness.

Then, I flopped down on the couch and motioned for him to sit by me and asked, “So how was it?” What followed was nearly an hour of the animated retelling of the evening’s adventures, spiced with delightful detail and accented with sparkling eyes. It had been really fun! And the retelling was really fun for me, too. We felt happy and close.

The night was well spent when he finally asked, “Well, Mom, how long am I grounded for?” (Grounding being the already established consequence for coming home late).

We negotiated the activities he would forfeit. There were teeth in this grounding (the rules said, if you make Mom suffer, you must suffer, too), but it was delivered with a friendly swat on the back of the head, and a good-night (or rather a good-morning) kiss.

There were some additional rules in operation here: It was clear that there would be no sleeping in, and there were responsibilities to take care of when the sun came up, and repeat offenses would double the consequences.

But as he went off to bed, my teenage son turned around and said, “Hey, Mom, I love how you do grounding.”

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Weber State University.

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