Discipline for Dads

Effective discipline requires positive attention and good relationships, says Tom Beardshaw from Fathers Direct. Tom gives his top tips for how parents can work together to discipline their children.

How to discipline your children - as a team

When most people hear the word ‘discipline’, they have in their mind an image of some kind of punishment. In fact, sometimes it seems the only big ‘discipline’ issue of the day is whether or not parents should use physical punishment.

But this is such a small part of the whole picture. The word discipline comes from the same linguistic root as the word ‘disciple’, and this is a big clue as to what discipline really should be all about – bringing children up with a sense of right and wrong in the context of a close and trusting relationship with someone in charge (hopefully the parent!), and someone else (hopefully the child!) doing most of the learning.

In fact, discipline should be much more to do with nurturing and encouraging good behaviour than it should be about punishing bad. And the key is understanding what motivates and excites your child, so you can help them find the motivation they need to behave well and do what is asked of them. Knowing and understanding your own child’s personality and character is at the heart of good discipline.

Positive parenting

A great thing to remember is that children will do almost anything to get the attention of their parents. If you leave them to themselves when they’re being well behaved and only intervene and talk to them when things have gone wrong, they’ll quickly learn that it takes bad behaviour to get what they want – you. So the first rule of discipline should always to give lots of positive attention to children when they’re behaving well, and withdraw attention when they’re being naughty.

In the archives of roles that have been attributed to fathers over the centuries, the idea that dad should be a discipliner of his children has often cropped up. It should come as no surprise to anyone, however, that it’s actually mums who do far more disciplining of their children – simply because mums do more parenting in general.

Yet there is a persistent sense of a father’s role in providing punitive discipline to his kids – summed up in the old cliché “wait till your father gets home” – something that children are most likely to hear when they’ve grown to the point where mum doesn’t feel able to cope with disciplining a large surly teenager anymore.

For many dads, stretched for time with their children, this can create a problem. A common response to having precious little time with your children is to be very playful and fun – filling time with high energy, play, treats and games. While this can be hugely effective for bonding quickly, it can make life really complicated if dad suddenly attempts to turn into a stern disciplinarian. The problem is that the relationship hasn’t developed sufficient depth for a teenager to really respect their dad ordering them about.

Relationships are the key to discipline

For many dads, the real challenge is developing the kind of relationship with their children that creates the depth and closeness needed for discipline to be effective. This means devoting time and energy to them, and understanding their world – their friends, interests, hobbies and what they love. These are the keys that will unlock a relationship that’s capable of bringing real discipline into a child’s life.

Top tips for discipline

  • When your children are really young, discipline simply won’t work – if they’re under the age of about two, and are doing something you don’t want them to, simply pick them up and plonk them down in front of something else. 
  • Try to motivate your kids to be well behaved – it always works better then bribery or threats. Don’t dismiss bribery though! 
  • Pick your rules carefully – make sure there are only a few, that they’re easy to understand and that you ALWAYS enforce them. 
  • Try to have consistency with their mum, even if you don’t live together. Children get confused if there’s no consistency. If mum is disciplining the kids, always back her up in front of them – even if you don’t agree, you can deal with that later. 
  • Try to use praise for good behaviour at least three to four times as much as you tell your children off for bad behaviour. 
  • As your children get older, in their teenage years, it’s your job to shift from a ‘manager’ role, where you organise their life and tell them what to do, into more of a ‘coach’ role, where you listen, understand, and offer your advice to them.

Related links

  • Just for Dads: New Supernanny Forum
  • Dads at Christmas: How can help your partner make the most of the Christmas break? The Supernanny website and leading Fathers organisation Fathers Direct have compiled the best ideas for children and dads this Christmas.
  • Dad's view of pregnancy and child birth: They tend to be a forgotten factor during pregnancy and childbirth. While mum and baby are showered with concern and attention, Dad’s thoughts are seldom heard. We chat with two men about their experience of first time fatherhood.
  • Resolving Your Discipline Differences: Relationship Counsellor Paula Hall from Relate has these practical tips for moving on from the one thing you and your partner may never agree about.

Find out more

  • Fathers Direct is the national information centre on fatherhood. It is a non-profit organisatio which provides news, training information, policy updates, research summaries and guides for supporting fathers and their families.

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