(This is the 3rd in a series on discipline and parenting.)
What kind of discipline works?
Any kind, really, so long as it speaks to your child. I spanked SOME, but only for defiance or for actions that could cause someone to be injured. If I was doing it again, I doubt I would choose to spank. But I don't think it matters the route you take, as long as you remember you are disciplining - not punishing, not harming, not humiliating. Be creative. What does your child value most? Cell phone minutes? Cookies? Staying up late? Hanging out with friends? A favorite toy? Facebook time? An upcoming event like homecoming? You know your kid better than anyone. Pull the plug on it. Proactive discipline works as well. What does your child hate? Cleaning the bathroom? Writing essays? Pulling weeds? Any of it will work, as long as your child dislikes the discipline more than they LIKE their bad behavior. And, no, your child is not allowed to scream and cry and throw a fit about their discipline. That just calls for further discipline (like doubling the punishment.) Eventually, and if you are consistent, it won't take long, your child will learn not to break the rules, and will also learn to accept discipline without whining or crying.
If being consistent means that you absolutely, positively, ALWAYS, 100% of them time MEAN WHAT YOU SAY, that means we as parents must THINK and LISTEN before we speak. One of the best books I read as a young parent was "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk". One of the lessons I gleaned from this book was how to give kids choices. Giving choices is is a healthy way to teach decision-making. But be sure when you offer choices, that you respect your child's decisions.
Example 1: If you don't care, REALLY don't care what your 5-year-old wears to Kindergarten, fine. Let her choose her own clothes and be prepared to let her wear mismatched socks with green shorts and a purple striped turtleneck. If, however, you do care, then pre-choose a few items and let her pick from within your limitations.
Example 2: Dad says, "Hey kiddos! We're going to Wal-Mart. Do you want to go?" The kids say "no", but Dad says, "Too bad, you're going anyway!" If what Dad REALLY meant was "We're ALL going to Wal-Mart and you have no choice but to go with us." then you are teaching your children that their opinions are not important and not valued. Always say what you mean. Then always mean what you say. Your integrity as a parent depends on it.
Granted, we aren't perfect. We say things we don't mean. We even give in and forget to be consistent. When we do, we need to be able to apologize to our children. "I know I just asked you if you wanted to go to Wal-Mart with me, but that was unfair, because I really need you to go with me. I'm sorry I gave you a choice when you don't really have one."
Part of fair discipline also means that you LISTEN to your children, and you can't listen if you don't let them talk, regardless of your child's age. Even more, listening sometimes means doing a little observing and even a little "remembering what it was like to be their age". When Kevin was about 4, he had a piece of chewing gum he wanted to spit out. We were in a small store, so when he told me, I pointed to the lady at the check-out and told him to go ask her if he could throw it away in the trash can behind her counter. He refused. I insisted. He refused. I got angry and informed him he would do it NOW or get a spanking. He still refused. We left the store calmly, went home, and I spanked him. Some time later we were in another store and he needed to go to the bathroom. I showed him the nearest employee and told him to go ask her where the bathroom was. He refused. I insisted. He refused. I informed him he would do it NOW or get a spanking. (Sound familiar?) He still refused, with the same resulting spanking as before. Only after this time I actually stopped to ask myself why he had done this. He was not generally defiant or strong-willed. Although when I asked him, all I got was, "I don't know." What was the deal? Finally it occurred to me: My son was MY son, and I was the shyest kid in class until the age of 16 or so. He was shy. He was so shy that for him, the spanking was preferable to talking to new people. So with a little reflection, I learned my kid wasn't being defiant, and I also learned another aspect of his personality that needed some guidance. If you know my son, you know shyness has not been an issue for him since we worked through it by the time he was 6.
There are two methods some consider "discipline" that almost never work: yelling and lecturing. Yelling communicates a lack of control on your part, it is unpleasant and embarrassing for everyone within earshot, and not least of all, it makes you look like a jerk. Lecturing is kind of like trying to water your garden for the entire summer all in one afternoon, it's overkill and kids just learn to tune you out.
One greatly untapped avenue of discipline is community. Once I heard a mom tell her son as he was leaving for camp, "have a good time, behave yourself, and remember: if you do something wrong, I am praying that you will get caught." WHAT? Yes, and she meant it. Give the people who are most involved in your child's life (teachers, friends' parents, friends, youth ministers, etc.) your permission to set your child straight when he/she gets out of line. Also, as a parent, be willing to listen. Don't ever assume "NOT MY CHILD", and conversely, don't ever just assume your child is guilty either. Listen, be smart. Sometimes mercy is way more important than discipline.
Be creative. Be smart. Be consistent.