The “D” Word: Discipline

Dawn Davenport



As kids get older, discipline can shift to time-outs to discussions about trust and responsibility.

I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot lately. Actually, not for the obvious reason of needing to do some, but because of the relative lack of disciplining that actually goes on in my house nowadays. When my kids were younger, my favorite form of discipline was the think-it-over chair. It was basically the same thing as timeout, but I liked the name think-it-over because it focused on what I believe is the heart of timeout. The errant one had to sit until he had thought over his misdeed, come up with a better way to handle the situation the next time, and suggest a way to repair any damage he had done to the thing, person, or relationship. I’ve always been a sucker for alliteration: retreat, repent, and repair.

What struck me the other day was how little top-down disciplining we do now that our kids are older. It seems like our interactions now revolve mostly around discussion and trust. We seldom ground our kids, and when we do we couch it in terms of their having to earn our trust again. As in, “I’m not comfortable with you going over to Johnny’s since last time you forgot to call and tell me when you left to go to Susy’s. Feel free to invite him over here.” I do take away electronics when I need to get their attention, but I try to tie it to something logical, like “I think you need to lay off TV until your grades improve because you obviously need more time to study.” I have let it be known that I would take their cell phone away if they text during meals or church. We don’t have a set curfew. The child tells us what she is going to do and suggests a reasonable time to be home. Amazingly, they are almost always quite reasonable, although I have been known to suggest going to an earlier movie so they won’t be driving so late. Although trust is at the heart, it doesn’t hurt that we check-up on what they say and stay connected to other parents about what is going on. It’s like the old adage in diplomacy: trust but verify.

We had lots of structure when they were younger and weren’t the type that gave our younger children lots of freedom. Their privileges very gradually increased with age, responsibility, and experience. Our kids don’t get their drivers license until they are 16 and don’t drive alone until they are 17. They don’t get a cell phone in middle school. They don’t have a Facebook page until mid to late high school. None of this is written in stone, and our younger kids are getting some of these privileges sooner than their older siblings, but the general philosophy is to gradually give more freedom as the child ages. It’s much easier to loosen the reins with age, than to try to tighten them when you realize your child needs more structure.

I really think that the most effective disciplining with teens is relationship based. The most important thing we do is continue to stay connected with them by doing fun things together. Although it needs to be something we all enjoy, it is more important that they think it’s fun. That means Peter and I have to do most of the compromising. I absolutely love to go on hikes as a family, but my kids stopped enjoying these a few years ago, so we dropped that as a family activity. I also love to go on picnics in the national forest, but again, these became “boring” a few years back, so we crossed them off our list. Now we have Guitar Hero Tournaments, play Hearts, and have a family TV show that we watch every week while eating pizza in front of the TV. Not exactly Rockwellian, but we all look forward to it. I don’t know if maintaining positive connections will be enough to assure that my kids will grow safely into productive happy adults, but I believe to my core that it’s a big step in that direction.

In some ways, I hate to blog about stuff like this because it makes me seem like I have all the answers. I don’t, and I know it. I also don’t really know how my approach is going to work. The problem with parenting is that it’s hard to see cause and effect and end results when you’re in the middle of it. Are my kids going to “turn out right”? Are my kids doing OK because of what I’m doing, or am I just lucky? Truthfully, I don’t know.

My kids have not been perfect or problem free. We have our share of bad choices, bad grades, and bad attitude. Peter and I have made more than our share of mistakes. I hate know-it-alls, especially know-it-all parents. What propels me to share my parenting thoughts is that I hear from some of you that it helps and is reassuring to hear from someone further along the parenting path. It’s true that most other parenting and adoptive parenting bloggers have young kids, rather than tweens, teens, and beyond. So I humbly (and I really do mean humbly) share my thoughts and journey with you. My kids and I are works in progress, but for the most part, I’m enjoying the process, and that has to count for something.


Image credit: TNT Photo

21/04/2009 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to The “D” Word: Discipline

  1. Avatar Kathi Turner says:

    Thanks for following me on twitter. I have enjoyed your website and blog. Your common-sense, creative, and ever-adjusting insights to parenting is good to hear. I will borrow a few ideas for counseling my families, including my adoption families.

  2. Avatar Dawn says:

    C lo, that’s all any of us can do. Fortunately, the relationship you’re builidng now is what you carry into the teen years with you.

  3. Avatar c lo says:

    As I approach the teen years, all I can do is hope that I have a decent enough relationship with my kids to make this kind of stuff work.


  4. Avatar Mr. Shelby says:

    Great advice. Finally after 5 years, Shelby and I are almost in the second trimester. I’ll be here often for advice!

    Mr. Shelby (from iclw)

  5. Avatar Jill says:

    I’m not a mom yet, but that sounds like the parenting/discipline style my husband and I plan on using someday. It worked for us!


  6. Avatar WiseGuy says:

    Potent advice there!


  7. Avatar Gordon says:

    Great blog you got here…keep up the good work.

  8. Avatar Heidi says:

    Now all Ihave to do is create the relationship, which right now seems like a big task. My 7 and 10 year old are both so stubborn! I had my husband read this blog and his take was that we could start by doing some things we all enjoy. It seems so simple, but I like what you said. We asked the kids what they wanted to do and they both wanted to go rollerblading. We agreed but rather than at the skate park, we’re going to rollerblade around the real park this Saturday. We are all 4 really really looking forward to it. I think you may be onto something. Thanks, as always for your ideas!

  9. Avatar Erin says:

    Not sure yet whether our next step will involve IVF or adoption, but I’ll know more on Monday. I’m excited either way and either way I’m sure I’ll be back. Thanks for talking about one not being superior to the other, I appreicated that.

  10. I use to be the over protective mom. Annoyingly so! Then I realized getting dirty with them was A LOT more fun. I am not the parent I thought I would be and I am very happy for that. I have a lot of trust in my daughter and believe I’ve given her the tools to make the right choice. My son is still pretty young, but we intend to do much the same. Thank you for not saying your perfect, nor are your children.

  11. Avatar Kristin says:

    That sounds a lot like how we handle things with our kids. And, you are right, its not all roses but over all it works well.


  12. Avatar randi says:

    When I read your teen parenting blogs, I always feel less scared about the teen years. I’m glad that you and your kids aren’t perfect. I don’t think I would find it as reassuring.

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