How Dads Can Run a Tight Ship

Dr. Michael Obsatz

March 1996

How Dads Can Run a Tight Ship

Dads in the 1990's are faced with many decisions about raising their children. The world of child rearing is more difficult and scary than when most of them were growing up. There are gangs and violent crime, deadly sexually - transmitted diseases, and a climate of anti-authoritarianism. There is a strong message about being tolerant, gentle and accepting of one's children. But along with that can come a lax discipline style with minimal structure. Since the 1960's, there has been an increase in anti-authority feelings in America. We have learned that presidents, lawmakers, police and clergy cannot always be trusted. Father's, rather than "knowing best", are portrayed on television as dufusses, i.e. Homer Simpson and Al Bundy. We have just recently emerged from an era of "do your own thing". The challenge for the 1990's is to combine love with limits, freedom with structure, love with toughness.

Dads are rarely the sole breadwinners in most families and few dads are the sole disciplinarians. "Wait 'til your father comes home" is a message of the past in most families. So, how does it make sense for fathers to discipline their children? Does sparing the rod really spoil the child?

I believe that fathers have an important and unique role with their children and with other people's children - as scout leaders, coaches and mentors. With one's own and other people's children, the following aspects of discipline, limits and structure seem to make the most sense:

  1. Learn enough about child development to set reasonable expectations for your children with regard to chores and skills.
  2. Let children clearly understand your expectations of them in each area.
  3. Increase what you expect as children grow older and more mature. Explain why you are increasing your expectations.
  4. When you ask them to do something, give them a good reason of why it needs to be done.
  5. Help them learn how to accomplish things by modeling for them.
  6. Explain how they are part of a family and family members each need to pitch in and do their share.
  7. Give a child some choices - of tasks to do and when they can do them.
  8. Be clear about consequences for misbehavior or lack of task completion.
  9. Make sure the consequences fit the misbehavior. Do not use physical punishment or verbal shaming.
  10. Give feedback quickly and often, so children know how well they are doing.
  11. Live up to your own ideals - walk the talk. Be consistent in word and deed.
  12. When you do something for others out of compassion or generosity,verbalize why you are doing what you do.
  13. If you are part of a two parent family, make sure you and your spouse agree on discipline styles and expectations.
  14. Give verbal affirmations as well as physical affections as rewards. Don't make money the only benefit of completing chores appropriately.
  15. When a child makes a mistake, comment on the mistake, not the child. The child needs to realize that we all make mistakes, but he or she is not a mistake.
  16. Don't be distracted or dismayed by comments about how others' children don't have to help out.
  17. While you can occasionally mention how much more you did as a child, don't moralize or the child will tune you out.
  18. Encourage your child to learn a skill where practice is part of his or her day - i.e., sports or musical instrument.
  19. Discuss the meaning and value of self-discipline with your child.
  20. Keep charts of progress the child makes.
  21. Include spontaneous activities and just pure fun.
  22. Vary tasks. Make sure boys know how to clean and cook and girls know how to do yardwork and change furnace filters.

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