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Doling Out Discipline

Nobody wants to get the dreaded call from the teacher about how your kid misbehaved at school that day. And yet there I was – with the principal no less – trying to process how my seven-year-old threatened one of his peers and then wrote F-bombs all over his dry-erase board, showing off to the class. 

When the shock wore off and I picked my jaw up from the floor, I immediately got flung into raging dad mode. In my head, I ran through heightened emotional scenes that included “how could you” or “you know better” and “grounded forever!” with me wagging my finger at him. Yes, I know that scolding him won’t get us anywhere, but I needed that release and for him to know how angry I was.

Luckily for both of us, there were a couple of hours before I had to pick him up from school. Being a bit calmer and more rational, I took a different approach. We always talk about how actions have consequences, so I focused on the onslaught of consequences that were coming his way. We had a calm discussion about what happened as he explained his side of the story. There was no real reason for his behaviour that he could articulate so I didn’t push for one. We reviewed our expectations of him and stayed true to the consequences narrative. There were privileges that were removed (all his Lego and all screens for a week), there were chores that would be increased (laundry sorting, garbage collecting), and there was a hint of “old school” discipline deeds sprinkled in for good measure (writing out lines). 

With tears in his eyes, he didn’t dare protest. He got right to work, no questions asked. I’m not sure why, but I was prepared (almost hoping) for a bit of resistance. But I think he understood the severity of his actions and maybe he felt that he wasn’t in a position to discuss the terms. 

I’ve been criticized by family for being too harsh on him. “He’s just a boy”, “He’s testing the limits”, “He’s not a bad kid”. While some of it may be true, I still feel that it’s our job to make sure our kids understand our expectations, especially when we’re not around. Ideally, I want my kids to make good choices on their own because it’s the right thing to do… but until they get there, I’m OK with my kids also fearing a bit of the consequences that could follow.


Frank Emanuele is a proud father of two boys, a special education teacher, and a director of Dad Club London.


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