So for a while now, my wife and I have been struggling with the idea of how to go about disciplining our kids. We have no interest in raising undisciplined monsters who are over-indulged. On the other hand, I have huge issues with spanking being the only tool in a parents tool kit. Too often, it’s lazy parenting (“do what I say or I’ll beat you”) or worse, done in anger and frustration. The anger and frustration thing really bothers me. I don’t care how often you “explain” to your child why they are getting spanked, when it’s done as the discipline or choice or done in anger/frustration, the child is going to associate violence with that parent.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to spank a butt, but I want it to be one of my last tools, not the first thing I reach for. (Have you noticed how defensive parents get about their decisions on how to raise their child? No one wants to be thought of as doing a bad job/screwing up their kids. We may have to bring back to having a therapy jar.*)

Over the last couple months, we’ve settled on a “levels” system. Ours was adopted from the one my sister uses, though hers has levels with sub-categories of points and involves a lot more paperwork (ultimately, it’s similar to the system used at the Juvenile Detention Unit. In other words, we might as well get our kids used to that system).

We have two boys, Reese (Maurice the II) and Malcolm. Each has their own personality, likes, and dislikes, so we had to tailor their punishments for each of them. In short:

Level 6 – this is the Holy Grail of levels. A pipe dream. They have to sustain being at Level 5 for a week. It’s the equivalent of me being so good, I get put back in my parents’ will. (To be fair, Reese did actually get to Level 6 for one brief shining moment to show that he could do it. He got to pick his prize, which was to design a family evening, anything from a trip to the zoo or Children’s Museum to Chuck E. Cheese. For him it meant ordering in Chinese food and getting a toy he had his eye on. The next day, he promptly lost his mind and went down a couple levels).

Level 5 – where they should be. All privileges intact.

Level 4 – they lose candy (Malcolm) and allowance (Reese). For the record, allowance (all of fifty cents a week) was instituted so that they could see how long it takes to save up to a) go to McDonald’s or b) buy that toy on television.

Level 3 – they lose videogame (Malcolm) and crafts (Reese).

Level 2 – they lose bedtime reading (both).

Level 1 – they lose television time (both).

Level 0 – they lose play date privileges (because we’re so active with friends, we have about four a week. The down side is every night we’re met with the question “who’s coming over tonight?”) The kid is on lockdown. No privileges. Except books. They are always allowed books.

A few months in, this is working surprisingly well. We keep the system simple for now (they are only 5 and 6) so that they understand the consequences for their actions. As they get older, I’m sure we’ll tweak it a bit. They’ve also become a bit of “Level Accountants”, always wanting to know what level they are on and what it will take to get up to the next level. I can live with that. The “no-no paddle” has a nice layer of dust on it.

It’s our continuing experiment in raising children. The downside to having the kids 14 months from each other is that we didn’t have time to work out the kinks on the first one in hopes of getting it right the second time around. Nope, we get to screw them both up at the same time.

*An early idea of mine: every time we did something we thought would screw up the kids, we’d have to put a dollar in the jar. Let’s just say that “Naked Daddy Time” nearly bankrupted me (HEY! It was their own fault! I don’t know why kids feel the need to never let you even go to the bathroom by yourself. They didn’t expect a song and dance routine.)

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