Parents desire to provide a safe, loving environment that is nurturing to their children, but lack of discipline provides a breeding ground for hurt feelings and disrespect. In a blended family, or a family consisting of parents and step-parents, a discipline plan is just as critical, or even more so, than in a traditional family.
A blended family can benefit from modeling their discipline approach after that of a schoolwide system. In a schoolwide program, the plan is well thought out and applied consistently by everyone on staff. This is an excellent example for blended families.
Key requirements for the success of the program include:
● A thorough, written plan that is developed by both parent and step parent with input from children, especially regarding incentives
● Children being fully aware of desired behavior and consequences
● Character education
● Rewards for good behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior
● Consistency in applying rewards and consequences
Resources for Developing a Family Plan
Even though parents and step-parents can utilize books directly geared towards parents rather than school, they must follow one principle – remain unified in their approach. An excellent book geared towards families is written by renowned family expert, Dr. Kevin Leman, entitled Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child’s Attitude, Character, and Behavior in 5 Days (Revell)
Involve the Entire Blended Family in Generating the Discipline Plan
The entire blended family should gather together and learn how the discipline plan will be implemented. Children can provide their input on the types of rewards or acknowledgments that they would like to see for appropriate behavior.
The incentives for appropriate behavior have to be meaningful. They have to be something that children will work for and have a desire to achieve. Different children have different motivators. Parents should ask their children which types of rewards would be most valued and prized. A word of caution – these rewards should not be too costly or parents will not be able to implement them.
Parents and step-parents should be in control of the consequences since children will sometimes come up with consequences that are too severe. However, they should listen to the children’s input in this area as well.
During family meetings to discuss the discipline system, children should also be encouraged to share their feelings about behavior that they feel is not correct. For example, some children may feel deeply hurt when their siblings tease them. Parents and step-parents can work together by teaching children the harmful effects of teasing.
Books such as The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Teasing, for younger children, and The Hundred Dresses, for older children, are wonderful books that show the effects of teasing from a child’s perspective. When children’s input is gathered and respected, they will be more likely to follow and believe in the discipline plan that they helped to put together.
The Need for Character Education
Some families may choose to include religious teachings, such as those from the Bible, to teach character traits. An excellent book by former Secretary of Education, William Bennett, The Book of Virtues, uses stories to teach virtues such as self-discipline, compassion, work, honesty, and loyalty. The Book of Virtues can serve as a possible textbook for character education.
Parents can learn from teachers and school systems who have studied behavior management for years. Research by the Virginia Department of Education, published in An Introduction to Effective Schoolwide Discipline in Virginia, has shown “they can resolve most behavior problems the same way that they deal with academic problems – through direct and systematic instruction. Effective discipline means decreasing the use of punitive disciplinary practices, and increasing school personnel’s reliance on more positive intervention plans. This subtle change can make substantial changes in students’ classroom conduct and academic achievement. ”
For parents, this research shows the need to teach character education and focus on rewarding positive behavior. While negative behavior must have consequences, the overwhelming goal of the discipline plan should be to teach appropriate behavior rather than just punish inappropriate behavior.
Guidelines for Consequences
When consequences are given, they are to be agreed upon in advance, whenever possible. Children should know the consequences that they will face for inappropriate behavior before the offense is committed. For example, some parents will choose to use time-out or loss of privilege for inappropriate behavior. In this type of scenario, children would know that if they pushed a sibling, they would face one minute of time-out for every year of their age. This translates into five minutes of time-out for a five-year-old.
Consequences should be fair and not overly harsh. Parents can look at the consequences given by school systems, other parents whom they admire, or televisions shows such as SuperNanny and Nanny 911 for ideas.
A consistent discipline plan will help provide a safe, nurturing environment for raising children and step children. All children, even in a blended family, need to learn guidelines for appropriate behavior and be taught about virtues such as honesty and hard work. They also need to experience rewards for appropriate behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior.