Remember how easy discipline seemed when you only had to consider it in the hypothetical? Before you had kids of your own, you might have looked on in horror at that toddler in the restaurant—he was pulverizing a crunchy snack and making it “snow” all over the floor! You might have vowed never to be that parent who bribes their child with cookies just to peacefully exit the playground.
Yep, the whole “what I thought...how it is…” line is one of the most trite-but-true inside jokes of parenting—mostly because a huge part of parenting really does involve just winging it. This fact is never more obvious than when you find yourself (or watch someone else) navigating the muddy waters of discipline. And although there is no way around this, there might be a way to get a leg up: a solid foundation of family rules.
Worried this will just formalize your role as a buzzkill? Fear not. Really, it's just an opportunity to communicate values and impose structure, rather than merely reacting to a situation as it unfolds. Dr. Heard-Garris, a pediatrician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, shared her view on the matter with the New York Times: “stable, consistent rules are the first step before you talk about the actual approaches to discipline.” In short, rules provide a healthy daily dose of consistency, which means you can breathe a little easier at times when it makes more sense to be flexible.
But what exactly are these rules? Well, the best ones channel proactive discipline into the creation of new routines, ideally fun and inclusive ones that give your child a sense of agency. Tovah Klein, child psychologist and toddler whisperer, sums it up neatly from the perspective of the child: “today may be different, but I have a routine to return to.”