It may not be a popular thing to say, but children take much pride, pleasure, and joy out of f&^%ing with you. Regular disciplinary tactics fail in producing positive results in children’s behavior by not taking this fact into account. You want to discipline quirky or bad behavior? Then you have to go guerilla on the kids; no fighting kid battles with a line of soldiers they can knock down. You’ve got to jump out of the trees.

I really enjoyed finding posts like Quirky Discipline Rules that Work on Preteens and Quirky Discipline Rules where moms have described their mode of operation in exasperated discipline moments. All their responses seemed perfectly rational moves to me. It started reminding me of my own knack for wacky discipline tactics.

I got a call from my mother on Sunday. Seems my daughter had showed off some choice vocabulary.

My mother: “Do you know what your daughter just said? And who she said taught her that word?”


And then my mother, in a very smug way, informed me that my daughter had (in context at least) said "the S-word" and informed both grandmothers that she learned this precious gem of a swear word from me. Before she could get any smugger, I told my mom to tell my daughter where Mommy had learned the word.

My mother: “Paloma, Mommy learned that word from Grandma."

Ouch (and I’m so happy my mom came clean on this one).

Overall, the three of us got out of this situation the knowledge that yes, we were all responsible for our foul mouths. We also learned that one should keep this vocabulary in the family, and of course these are adult words. No further punishment needed, just reasoning and admissions of human error.

Sometimes though, you have to come up with something stronger. My mother used to turn around and walk out of a store if we misbehaved in public. Yes, even if she was about to buy us something for dinner. You only stare down a can of Del Monte green beans once to know that acting out in the grocery store is not a winning situation if the end result is canned food from the back of the cupboard.

My mother meant what she said. She used to have a plaque in the living room that said ”Act Like an Ass and You’ll Be Treated Like One.“ That totally worked with us. If ever we thought our smart mouth or screaming didn’t warrant discipline she just pointed to the sign. My grandmother, on the other hand, rattled the wooden spoon drawer. We never actually saw the spoons but the rattling shook us to our core.

I’m a verbal person. I go in that direction over the overt spank, though spanking is what I grew up with. There is something to it that does indeed produce shame in one’s behavior. Shame in small quantities is a good thing in my book — lack of shame leads directly to the sense of entitlement American kids have now.

It’s hard to give a time-out when I value time alone. Buddhist-wise, that just isn’t an appropriate punishment, is it? Here, let me mess up your future meditation by forcing you to think about what you’ve done in a quiet, serene place. Also, to me time-outs seems to be culturally based in middle-class suburban American values.

So what do I do? I psyche them out. I mess with them right-back-at-ya-style. For instance, my daughter will make the cat wail one too many times after repeatedly being told to be nice to the kitty. I’ll ask her, "Okay, which punishment do you want? Should I pull your tail, ask the kitty to defend himself and bite you, have your allowance taken away, or what?" Somehow. "choose your own punishment" seems to work the best. I usually get this as a response:

”But Mommy! None of those are good choices! I don’t want any of those things!“

”Well Snagglepus and I don’t want tail-pulling and stomach-squeezing, and yet we don’t have a choice.“

This exchange almost always ends in her looking at me like my twisted logic just trumped her twisted logic and she whispers an ”I’m sorry“ to the cat, adds something about "Wait, I don’t have a tail," and then scampers off to some other sort of mischief.

In other instances I just tell the truth and hope that’s good enough. Example:

”No , you may not play Hannah Montana in this house while I’m around. If I hear it again, it goes in the trash.“

”But you listen to your music.“

”Well, mine is better. You listen to some great stuff too. Mommy just doesn’t like icky commercial pop. It can be your secret pleasure on headphones, but if I hear it again I’m going to have such a headache I’ll be unable to make dinner. Hey, I’ve got stuff you all hate, right?“

That works, too. Acknowledge the bad taste and the good taste and what will happen if the behavior continues. And yes, Hannah Montana will make me insane enough to serve Del Monte green beans still in the can.