Child Discipline: Divide and Conquer


My husband and I were raised very differently when it comes to discipline. He has vague memories of his much older sister being forced to sit at the dinner table until she either fell asleep or ate the food on her plate, but he himself has no recollection of this type of severe discipline. In fact, I joke around that he was left to raise himself and his parents were just fortunate that he made the right choices and turned out well. My home, however, operated a bit differently. There was the fear of God, the fear of “the switch” (a stick from the lilac bush that sat on top of the fridge, peeking out to remind us it was there), and the fear of things that we loved being taken away. I have yet to find out if the wrath of God is real, but I can say for certain that the switch made only the rare appearance and my entire Barbie collection survived my naughty childhood.

To complicate things further, before becoming a parent I taught middle school. I learned how to discipline based on my interactions with a room of thirty plus tweens, some of whom not only talked back but cursed in my face. While the tantrums of a twelve year old and those of a two year old are sometimes similar, I can’t exactly send my children to the discipline office every time they act out.

My first child turned out to love order and discipline as much as her very calm father, so I got used to parenting while living inside a pretty unusual reality. My daughter rarely threw a tantrum and chose to do the “right” thing without even being told most of the time. I have to admit – my husband and I became lazy parents. We didn’t need to install child safety anything, perfect our “you’re in time out” voice, or even learn to effectively count to three (does that evenwork?), then just for fun God sent us our son. He is me to his very core. His eyes flash when he’s about to do something naughty like knock over his sister’s favorite something, and his tantrums can last for hours. HOURS.

This is when we figured out that sometimes parents need to divide and conquer. My husband’s patience matches our daughter’s, so when she launches into one of her nearly tween diatribes, he is able to listen calmly and speak with her in their very rational language without acting from a place of frustration. Likewise, when our son’s anger wells up and he is about to explode, I am the one who has been there, done that and can slide in to diffuse the ticking time bomb. We’ve not only found that my husband is better at dealing with our daughter while I’m better at dealing with our son, but we’ve also found that the kids tolerate a different level of discipline from each of us.

When I had my first child, my brother suggested that I go ahead and put my name on the Supernanny waiting list. While I don’t think we need her – I hope we don’t! – I’m not sure that she would approve of our divide and conquer philosophy. With a little luck, she won’t read this…

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