Disciplining School-Aged Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Taking away a team sport to discipline 9-year-old

Sept 2006

My almost 9 year old has had chronic behavioral issues at school-- disruptive behavior in class, being sent out in the hall, or being sent to the principal's office. Typically this is shouting out or goofing off.

We've tried many disciplinary techniques and at times gotten counseling-- all with pretty lukewarm results. Last year my son was on a competitive, travel team (I'll leave the sport out just to conceal identity). He's quite good, really loves it and especially loves the travel, staying in hotels and all the rest of it. Some of the tournaments require travel that has meant missing a half or even full day of school, maybe 1 or 2 times a year. Participation is a huge commitment for us of time, energy, and $$.

By the end of last year, we were so frustrated with the behavior at school that we began to threaten taking away the sport-- but we wer torn, because taking him off the team mid- season would also have hurt the team. We stuck it out, but warned that if the next school year didn't get off to a good start, we would not allow him to join the team again.

Well-- here we are, 3 weeks in -- and 2 notes home, and a visit to the prinicpal. So, we are following through-- but I am deeply torn. Am I taking away the one activity in which he has a healthy outlet for his energy and spiritedness. Are the social skills he's learning there more important than the few hours of school he might miss. Am I being old fashioned about thinking that if he doesn't tow the line at school, he loses his real love? My heart is breaking along with his to see how devastated he is since yesterday when the final straw was added to the camel's back.

I would so appreciate the advice/insight of someone who's been here or of a professional anon please

i can't advise on the method (taking something away that he loves as a consequence) but i think the idea of not letting him play not only punishes him, but his team.

as a mom of two kids who play organized sports, one of the values that we stress is the responsibility of being on a team. we show up for practices & games. it is a commitment that they take seriously.

so what to do? if he likes going away for tournaments- the hotel experience, etc. how about just leaving immediately after the game? no pool time, no playing with buddies right after. when we do tournaments, especially far away, there are many group activities that my kids enjoy just as much as the games. so, perhaps you can have him honor his commitment to his team, but not the ''extras'' & fun stuff that go along with it? good luck a sports mama

We almost made this mistake with my son about 8 years ago. I am so glad in retrospect we didn't! He didn't have behavioral problems, but he was doing very poorly in school. He wasn't doing homework, was skipping class, etc. At the time we thought that if we took him off the team, he would spend more time on academics. Also his desire to be on the team was the one thing we could hold over his head to get him to pay more attention to academics. In the end we let him continue to play. His grades never got above a C average all through high school, but I now believe that the only reason he HAD a C average (instead of a D or F average) was because the coach wouldn't let the kids play unless they had a C average! And it was fine, as it turned out - he still went to college! But the more important reasons to keep your son on the team are: 1) it may be the one thing he's good at. He needs to feel that he can succeed. This gets really important for his self-esteem as a teen. 2) Being on a team teaches and reinforces all the good behavior you want to encourage. As he gets older, he will be held to even higher standards of team play and co-operation. I think you should also talk to his coaches about this. They may be able to help. Good luck! Ginger
Haven't been there, and am not a therapist, but the mother of my God Son, who is well-mannered, told me that if you set a consequence for bad behavior, you have to follow through on it. One thing I might do is ask your son what's it all about. Ask in the most gentle non-threatening way possible. Perhaps take him out to a special dinner with just the two of you (ONE parent and him) and ask him what's going on. I think there's something going on at school, or he needs more attention at home. Perhaps he's too smart or/and has a learning disability (not mutually exclusive). Has he been evaluated for ADD? Does he have enough peace and space in his life? Just some thoughts, hope they help. Wishing you the best
I have heard of this scenario sooo many times - usually the child gets labeled ADHD or some other often medicated disorder but in many cases it turns out that the child is so under stimulated and unchallenged in the current environment that he/she becomes restless, bored and self destructive. Your son could be gifted and stifled in a place that can't meet his needs. His behavior might be his way of crying out for help. The problem with the ''no child left behind'' idea is that sadly, no child gets ahead either. If this clearly not the case with you son, then getting to the ''root'' cause of the behavior might be more beneficial to the both of you than punitive methods. Taking away his sports (which gifted children often turn to as ''downtime''), does not really address the ''why'' of his behavior. Furthermore, it takes away any internal motivation to behave appropriately. The carrot/stick mentality to discipline is flawed in so many ways. If you are interested in reading more about it, check out a book by Alfie Kohn called ''Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason'' Good luck and please consider the possibility of your son being gifted (and possibly in a way that may not not be obvious to you).
I think you're wise to reconsider your position on this. My father did it to my older 30-plus years ago and my brother still hasn't forgiven him. You are right that the sports team is giving your son a lot of benefits. Although, I wonder if the fact that he travels with this team makes him feel like a big-shot who doesn't have to follow the rules. 9 years old is awfully young to be on a travelling team. Maybe he isn't mature enough to balance that responsibilty with school. Is there a middle ground? Can he be on a different team (a school or local youth-league team) until he earns the right to be on a travelling team again? Maybe it can be a lesson in responsibility and working toward a goal.

Or, perhaps there are there other privledges you can take away. Punishment can run the gamut from grounding him to taking away all of his possessions (except his bed, clothes, and toothbrush) and making him earn every single thing back. Or every minute he misses class time due to being in the hallway or principal's office equals one hour of work around the house or community service. anon

I wanted to add something to my other post on this topic. (I'm the one who suggested a middle ground and non-sports-related punishment.) If you don't think the traveling sports team is the reason for the school problems, then you need to ferret out the cause. From the sound of your post, it seems that you are focusing on the consequences and not on the cause of his actions. Does he have an undiagnosed learning disability? Social problems? Something is going on to make him act out in class. You need to find out WHY he is repeatedly having these issues anon again
Hi, My gut reaction is that you should not take the team sport away from your son as a disciplinary measure. Sports are so healthy for children, especially children with discipline problems. They help with self-esteem too. Would it be possible to take him off the traveling team? Would it be possible to change school? It seems as though punishing him for his behavior is not the solution -- have you tried ''Positive Discipline''? It is something that you and his teachers could work on together. And you might get his coach to help you solve your son's behavior problems. The coach clearly has a lot of authority (at least in your child's eyes); your son might respond to the coach differently than he has to you. In fact, you could ask the coach for advice about how to handle the discipline issues. This probably sounds ludicrous on some level, but in my own experience as an athlete and child, my coaches were tremendous helpmeets to the parents on all sorts of issues. In any case, I strongly urge you to find other solutions to your son's discipline problems. Taking his sporting privileges away may well backfire. Good luck! Anon
My son did terribly in school, he wasn't always in trouble, per se, but he skipped classes, didn't do his work, etc. The one thing he did have was his sports. The ones he was involved in, he excelled at. I would never have taken those things away from him; it was the one place he was actually confident and proud of himself. Take away the TV. Take away other extracurricular activities. Take away the computer. Take away his favorite shoes. Anything, but his sports. I say that only b/c it doesn't sound like the sports are what is causing his disruptive behavior and he is good at it. Something else is at the root of this problem, I highly recommend you find counseling before you rip him away from the place he gets praise and admiration and has prowess. At least a counselor can give you a better idea about what punitive measures would be most effective. I do understand your frustration with a truculent student, as I have Been there
I would think it very sad if you took away from your son the only thing he seems to really enjoy and be attentive at, which could also back fire on you. Perhaps you could sit down and have a heart to heart with him, perhaps he does not fit into the classic grading school system maybe he is bored by the classes, he could be too intelligent even. This is my advice look into progressive schools and listen to your little boy Kelly
Something that I read in TIME magazine, I believe it was, about boy discipline. Multiple things were mentioned (like letting boys stand, as opposed to sit, when they do their homework or do desk work in class), but I think it worth sharing that the article emphasized the need not to take away P.E., recess, or sport as a behavioral consequence because, ironically, of the need of the boys (or high energy girls) to move their body. Inotherwords, if you have a kid who seems to have some kind of aggressive or is disruptive or fidgety, really unable to control his body, you want him ''moving energy'' in a sport or recess or running around a track. The article offered that measures where physical movement are taken away often worsen the behavior.

You didn't mention whether you had tried therapy for your child--maybe, this is something beyond his control--ADD or some other behavioral issue?? You also didn't mention whether or not your son is experiencing a particular stress at home or school. Could he be and you don't know?

Good luck, but I definitely vote for not taking away the sport Julia

I am a child psychologist who works with children with disruptive behaviors. Your situation sounds very frustrating and very familiar. My advice would be not to take away the team sport. It sounds as if it's something he is good at and that he enjoys and that life at school might be very hard and very frustrating for him (and you) right now. For many kids with disruptive and difficult behaviors at school, it's extremely hard for them to control those behaviors, even if they know, in theory, that they shouldn't do them. The are often impulsive and act in the moment without thinking about the consequences afterwards. Consequences should be small and immediate--some small privledge removed that same evening, or better still, something that happens in school (like loss of time on the computer, or loss of part of recess). Then your son should have a chance to try again, immediately. If you decided to take away his participation on the team, that would probably be for a whole season and he'd have no chance or incentive to earn it back until the next season. That length of delay is most likely too long to have any immediate effect on his day-to-day behavior and might just make him more discouraged and more difficult at school. It sounds to me like it might be a good idea to work with a psychologist or someone at the school to help set up a system to make things easier for him at school. Good luck--I know this kind of issue is very very frustrating and not at all simple. But, as you said, the team sport may be one of the few things that's making your son feel good about himself, and also the social skills that he's learning are very valuable! child psychologist
hi, Our son also struggled in school, at the time, we were so stressed and worried -

anyhow, we had also considered pulling him out of his sport (basketball) but everyone we talked to said not to - his teachers, counselors, therapists.

what we did was make a loooong list (posted in his room)of other things that would be taken away if he continued to not turn in homework or achieve at a minimum (c's) in all of his classes. This included cell phones, clothes, television, going out w/ friends etc.

take an inventory of what your child values - and give him a list. then if he does not do the basic outlined requirements (turn in ALL homework, tell you about where he is having trouble, tell you if he got in trouble before you get the phone call, no acting out etc.) then it is up to him to stay w/in the ''law''/rules...the basketball should be lowest on the list after several failures. also you could talk to his coach about benching him a game or so for various violations - that stings and is not as dramatic as pulling him all together. don't know a coach who wouldn't support that.

we did this and it totally worked like a charm. we even took all his clothes once and locked them up for a week (he had a few pairs of plain clothes and ragged shoes to wear to school).

you have to follow through on the consequences. after one or two missteps you should see improvement in their behavior and attitude.

we also enforce these consequences without lectures, yelling or beratement - which i think definitely helped our relationship. there can be so much stress and tension in the house when you are in this type of situation.

also, by keeping him in the sport - they have something they are successful at - if they have nothing - imagine the depression and despair. we used bball as a constant metaphor for other areas of success - hard work translates into better achievement etc. good luck to you on the other side now

Disciplining 8-year-old for getting suspended

June 2005

My son has been suspended from school for bringing a weapon. I was called by the principal of his school and informed of the situation. At first I thought it was a plastic toy or something. I was soooo wrong. It was a pocket knife that belongs to his grandmother's boyfriend. She and her boyfriend had been camping this last weekend and he had used it during his trip. I could very well believe that he found it outside, however I am having trouble believing his reasons for carrying the item. My first reason to not trust him is his explanation he gave the principal. About two years ago there HAD been a man posing as a cop and used his disguise to lure children and hurt them. We talked to the kids about it and just told them they really needed to be careful about strangers and to go to the school office if something seemed fishy. That was two years ago though and it just doesn't sound convincing. Secondly when I arrived he was surrounded by some of his friends who were talking about a bully. When I got home my husband and I both asked him about a bully but he said he wasn't being bullied. I don't think there is any reason for him to deny a bully, I feel he can trust us enough to share anything regarding a bully.

Overall he's a good kid. A little manipulative with his younger brother and can bs, but we know when he is bs-ing with us. We've talked to him about zero tolerance at the beginning of the school year and what it means so I'm at my wits end. I know we can take away tv and movies and dessert, but I would like to discipline him in such a way that 1) he never does that again and 2) he learns something from this experience. Considering he's a really good student and citizen at school, his principal felt suspension was the best course of action.

Has anyone else had this happen? How did you handle it? Any suggstions would be deeply appreciated. Wants to discipline with positive results

There's not much sense in trying to uncover the true reason why your son brought the pocket knife to school. You probably won't get the straight answer anyway. Besides, for most 8-year old boys, pocket knives are just cool. If he has one, he's gonna carry it around. The reason could be as simple as that.

I don't see how positive discipline can work on this one. This is more of a case where your son has to learn by facing the consequence of breaking a school rule. Suspension is appropriate. Tell him that if he brings the knife to school again, he will get suspended again or worse because it will be a second offense; maybe he'll get expelled. Remind him that if he's expelled he won't get to see his buddies and do fun things at school anymore.

How did he get the pocket knife from your grandmother's boyfriend anyway? Was it lent to him by this man or did he secretly take it? Did he lie about how he got it? I'd be more concerned about this than the reason he took the knife to school in the first place. CC

I would not dismiss the possibility of bullying, at least as perceived by your child, out of hand. I had a very unpleasant experience at the hands of a boy one year older than myself when I was in 8th grade, and no adult took it seriously. Ironically my mother got mad it me for, you guessed it, walking down the street with a pocket knife in my hand; she did not take the bullying incident (which these days would be treated as kidnapping) seriously. That is not to say that your child may have blown something minor out of proportion; and bringing a knife to school is out of line. But please dig deeper into this bullying issue, to see if it is a real issue that needs to be addressed, so that your boy knows that he does not have to be taking care of it himself (in an inappropriate way). -Once bullied, twice shy
Perhaps discipline isn't in order. Used to be, most any kid would have a pocket knife. Used to be, pen knives were for opening tin cans and skinning fish on the weekends. Having 'inherited' the knife while camping, it may be that the more traditional, innocent use of the knife was what your child had in mind; perhaps he was proud to be now treated as an older boy trusted with a new tool, and just hadn't yet separated what is good and wholesome from the inane rules and insane reality of the modern schoolyard. Perhaps explaining to him that his intention was fine, but there are rules to comply with would be a better course than discipline. Explaining that in a better world, it should be OK to have a pocket knife, but because there are some kids who may actually use a knife to harm someone, there are rules that everyone needs to comply with to protect each other. A child should be disciplined for doing wrong; breaking the rules isn't necessarily wrong. It's a lapse in judgement. Whatever you do, you should let him use the knife when camping etc. a Dad ... with a couple of pocketknives I got from my Dad I hope to pass on

Disciplining 5-year-old for kindergarten misbehavior

October 2004

My 5 year old son has just started Kindergarten. He comes from a play based preschool, with almost no structure. While his kindergarten is structured, I chose it because I believed it was a good transition froma play based preschool into the real world...one big table and a lot of centers. Anyway, my son has gotten into the habit of talking to his neighbors when the teacher is talking, and not coming inside when recess is well over. I am a single-parent and my mom says to spank him. I have taken away his television for 30 days and no playdates in this time frame as well. While he has been generally well behaved, I don't want this to be a pattern. Any advice? Help!

I am a firm believer in trying to match the punishment to the crime, and I would gently suggest that in what you have described, your son is not going to be able to connect a long punishment like ''30 days with no TV and no playdates'' with his behavior that previously occurred in kindergarten. How about a meeting with the teacher and working out a little system where each day, you get a ''report'' on how your son did on a specific task (either talking in class, or quickly coming in from recess). The report could be in person or a little note that your son gives you when you pick him up. If he has a good report for the day, he gets TV and/or a playdate that day. No good report--no TV or playdate. This seems to me a better way for a 5 year old to associate his behavior with the resulting reward or punishment. Hopefully after a week or two of this, you will have been getting consistently good reports, and you won't have to do it anymore. Wishing you the best of luck! Claire
I can sympathize with you - my daughter began misbehaving in first grade, and into second grade. My ex and I had recently split at that point, and she was taking out her emotions regarding the divorce at school rather than home. We were not able to work through her issues in first grade - she was very disruptive in class - and even sitting outside the principal's office didn't help. The same issues began immediately upon starting second grade, but by that point she was seeing a counselor, who recommended evaluation sheets filled out by the teacher every day. Her teacher was excellent - she ended up modifying the sheets so that my daughter's behavior was evaluated every 2 hours, and the sheet had to be signed by me every night. So my daughter had to be accountable for her behavior in both places - home and school. The changes were rapid, within a couple of weeks, the disruptive behavior had pretty much stopped. I recommend trying something similar with your son - even though the behavior stems from a different origin, it may work. Plus it helps you feel more proactive, like you are making a difference even though he isn't with you. Kristen
First of all your son is probably have a completely normal period of adjustment to a structured environment. Is your son's not listening just something that happens at school or is he that way at home? When my 2 boisterous kids are wound up, I can't get them to listen even to me, and the teachers are unwilling to shout as loud as I do. The eldest is being evaluated for ADD (I think it's more tempermental diversity that a disorder in her case), not so I can get her put on Ritalin, but for help in strategies to deal with this and a few other behaviors that are causing trouble at home and school. She's very sweet and never mean to anyone herself, but if someone is aggressive toward her at school, she really loses it. Our behavioral specialist is Dr. Larry Diller in Walnut Creek. He is an author of a few books that look philosophically at how we are approaching the more willful and active children. For instance, Ritalin will even help normal kids sit still and listen better to the teacher, butis this what we really value in society that we must medicate everyone (he does give Ritalin to about 20% of his ADD kids). His website is ''www.docdiller.com''. Good luck! Mother of spirited children
Kindergarten is a difficult transition for many kids. The expectations are completely different from any other environment for your child so far. I recommend that you talk or email the teacher regularly to get updates on your son's progress. As a first grade teacher, this has been very helpful when working on a behavior issue with a parent of one of my students. I would also take care that the punishment for your son's behavior be correlated to the behavior you want to change. So, if he's socializing during listening time, he may need to spend a minute of his free play/recess time at the table with a book. If he doesn't heed the bell for recess to finish, he misses one minute (or however long it takes for him to come in) at the beginning of the next recess. I know this requires the teacher to enforce this, but in my experience, it is very effective. Your son should understand this logical consequence to his behavior after only a few days of missed recess minutes. See if the teacher will take these suggestions. If it's not possible, you could also take play time at home away, but only limited amounts. Use a timer so your child can understand and feel somewhat in control of the time taken away from play. 30 days of no TV is too long a time for a 5 year old to understand and remember why the TV was taken away. Keep it simple and as logical a consequence as possible. Good luck! Remember, it's only October and this is a big transition for your son. Liz
You need to talk with the teacher and work out a plan together. Punishment for something mommy wasn't even there to see can be hard to grasp right now. And spanking long after the fact... I have a hard time with that, and suspect you do too. My son is also having a hard time too - easily distracted, bugging other kids, etc. His teacher has come up with breaking his day down into smaller time chunks (circle time, work time, recess, etc) and giving him a sticker on a small chart for each time block he does well. If he gets a full day of stickers, he gets 5 minutes of ''Me Time'' in the section of the classroom he likes best. Another Mom
My son, who just turned five soon after kindergarten began, had the same issues. He is very relationship oriented and wanted to play more. The teacher had to speak to him everyday about sitting still, not talking to other children while she was giving a lesson, looking at her while she was speaking, paying attention etc. She even had to give him time outs. I began to feel bad for the teacher, what a disruption to her class! I could talk to my son till he was blue in the face about listening, your ''job'' is to pay attention in school, your punishment is xxx, no more t.v. privleges etc. and nothing worked.!

Then I volunteered in his classroom last week and realized how bad the problem was. Right then and there I decided that I needed to take him out, give him the ''gift of time, and re- enroll him in Kindergarten next year. I have never felt so strongly and so firm in my decision to pull him out, and I knew it was right. He needed more time to play (because of the kindergarten standards there is so much work and very little time for recess - what a shame). He was emotionally immature, even though he could do the class work. He was also one of the younger kids.

Needless to say pulling him out of kind. and enrolling him back into his old preschool has created havoc on my schedule and life. It has also meant more expenses. I've been able to communicate my decision as a positive, ''you need more time to play,'' ''we can go to kindergarten next year when your better able to sit still and listen'' etc. So far so good, and he loves being back in his old preschool. I should also mention that his ''play based'' preschool did diddly squat to prepare him for kindergarten. I needed to be more involved in letters, writing and phonics than I was - hindsight! We live in a very competitive school district, and the pace of the school work moves very quickly, and by not listening he might never gain an edge or be on top of the curriculum.

You cannot totally fault your child for not being able to sit still and listen at this age. Some children simply are not at that stage! My son tried so hard, but couldn't conform. By giving him an extra year I hope to prevent any negative feelings about school. I truly believe that kindergarten through 1/2nd grade is the time children form an impression of WHO they are in relationshpip to school. Are they good at school or not? I should also mention that I did NOT want my son retained in kindergarten for having failed. He would be stigmatized for a long time, since he would be in school with the same children till 12th grade. Good luck with your decision. Believes in the gift of time

I think you are on the right track with using restrictions rather than spanking -- the research suggests that it doesn't have a positive long-term effect on behavior. One possibility is shorter term limits -- you'll need to talk to the teacher about this, but you can make a form for his behavior each day with boxes ''Good Listener'' (happy face); ''Too much talking'' (sad face). On the days he is a good listener he gets to watch TV, on the days he talks too much, no TV. Or you could do it the other way around and find some kind of small reward (a Yugio card worked wonders for a friends' son), and on the days he does well he gets the reward. After a couple of weeks of success, you wean him of the reward by finding a weekly reward (i.e. a small toy/a package of cards). Punishments/Rewards that last more than a day or two usually don't work well with kindergartners because they can't see that long into the future -- also it gets hard on you, because once you've taken TV away for a month, you have to think of some other escalating consequence.

Another approach would be for you, your son and the teacher to have a meeting. With you present, she can explain to him why it's important to listen, and you can reinforce her message. At five, he's still just learning appropriate school behavior, and how to listen to directions. Ilene

Too Strict?

September-October 2004

My husband and I have always been extremly strict with our son. We raised him by setting very high behavoir standerds and telling him abosolutly NOTHING bellow these standards are acceptible. We do use spankings (though we only use these on VERY rare occasion), and we insist upon old-fashioned disipline methods. We emphisize respect, esspecially with adults (always call ladies (Ma'am and men Sir). Indeed, we have taught not to speak unless spoken to at table, insist that he be a gentleman and so on. This has worked very well, he is a exceptionaly bright, sweet, happy, and extremly well-behaved child. However, my husband recently drew to attention that none of his friends have these rules, and, though we forbid him to ever complain about rules of any kind, he may get jealous and think it unfair as he gets older. My husband also has been wondering if our extreme strictness and disipline is not really very good for him in the long run. So I wanted to ask other parents,

  1. How strict is too strict for a little boy (of six)
  2. What sort of disipline do you use on your children? and
  3. What is your opinion on strict, old- fashioned disipline?

To me, discipline is about the kind of person you want your child to be in the long run. My goals are to have an independent child who is empathetic with others and who realizes her potentials as an adult -- that is finds a career that is important to her and satisfying relationships. I think in developing your discipline strategy, you need to focus on your goals as a parent. Given my goals, I try to work on getting my child to see the other person's point of view, and to reflect on the consequences of her actions (not that we always succeed). So, not knowing your goals, I'll just mention a couple of areas I would have questions about. The not speaking unless spoken to could be a significant problem in school. When there are 20 or 30 children in a classroom, a child who doesn't ask for help is likely to be ignored. Second, is your son getting any practice negotiating the limits on his behavior -- kids who can negotiate have an easier time working things out with other kids and with adults outside the family. Third does your discipline system have any kind of a feedback loop (like family discussions) so that it can evolve with your son as he develops?

Best wishes as you think through your own philosopy.


I would like to address only one part of your post. You mentioned that you have taught your child that he is not to speak at the table unless spoken to. When I read this I felt quite sad, both for you and your son. I hear the most amazing things from my daughter... little memories from preschool, or random thoughts, or questions about the world -- all of which just bubble up from the percolator that is her brain. They pop out all of a sudden and I simply can't imagine stifling that. We have had so many wonderful, interesting conversations that originated with HER. Now, I do understand where you're coming from... you want to have an adult conversation; you don't want to be interrupted; you want him to learn to respect others when they are talking, etc. But I believe we are doing all of that with my daughter, yet still allowing her to speak of her own accord and, at times, to lead the conversation. She is learning to wait her turn to speak and to say excuse me when she wants to cut into the conversation. I think a child is much better served if he or she is taught to be a polite but active participant in conversation than if she is instructed to sit back and be quiet. In fact, it seems to me that if you encourage your son to speak up and share his mind with you, you'll be showing him the respect that you are asking of him.


As a child, my parents were very strict with me and my siblings. Overall, I don't think we are the most well-adjusted adults. This has made me question whether having a well behaved child (the outcome of strictness) necessarily results in a well adjusted adult. My goal as a parent is to raise well adjusted adults. Not to necessarily have well behaved children. While I would love for my children to behave as well as your child does, to try to get them there would surely do some harm to their spirit.


I think before you can decide whether or not you are too strict, you must first consider what it is you want as a family, and how you define family time. For example, dinner time/table time at our house if FAMILY TIME, not a time for children to sit in silence. We take turns going around the table, giving each person a chance to say something about their day and so on. The children are included in this process. I, too, want children who are respectful (but not fearful), polite (but not silent). I think in addition to assessing whether or not you are too strict, you must also assess what you want from your family and what type of relationship you want with your child. Remember, we learn as much from our children (and from what they have to say) as we have to teach them ourselves. Don't be so strict that you miss the beauty of their wisdon, their innocence, and their amazing take on the world. I would suggest redefining what you want as a family, and try including your child in discussions/talk/and so on. And finally, consider that in the long run, a hug works a lot better than a spank.

Mom of three polite children

Wow, this sounds way too strict to me. Do you really want to raise a person who does not speak unless spoken to and never questions authority? As a counter example, I watched as my sister raised her son without saying no to him for the first five years. I feared he would not respect others' boundaries, but I'm now impressed with my 15 year old nephew who is a sensitive, independent and friendly young man capable of verbalizing his feelings.


Perhaps a gauge on strict parenting is a measure of the child's real happiness expressed around his parents and other adults. Do you sense that your son has good freedom to be silly and express his feelings with you? Does he laugh out loud and feel comfortable teasing or playing with adults like a typically kid his age? If not, your son may be more repressed than well- behaved. But if so, his spirit and your discipline are in fine order.

more Dad than Father

We are also strict, not mean, parents. I feel that holding the line has paid off for us in well-behaved and happy children. They receive a lot of compliments. I also believe that we will have fewer problems with them as they grow older. Some of our rules are different from yours; we don't have the same table rules, for example. When my kids were younger, I occasionally felt frustrated when we were with friends who were more permissive, but I don't feel so insecure about it anymore, because time has proven that a little leniency never led to a big backslide. However, if it was something I felt strongly about; for example, running around in a restaurant and yelling or disturbing other patrons, I would not allow it at all. My kids understand that they have rules that are different from other kids' rules, and I think you are going to find that is the case universally, whether you are strict or lenient. Also, my kids don't seem to mind and I think they even take pride in their behavior.

Old Fashioned

It seems to me that parents who are extremely strict with their children should look at WHY they want their children to behave in such a rigid way. Are you overly concerned with how other people perceive YOU (and, as an extention, your child)? I do think that it is nice for children to have good manners (it butters social interactions and children with good manners are often more considerate and concientious), but the most important thing for parents to do (I think) is to help their children become kind, empathic, good, and caring people. Remember that children (and adults) learn by making mistakes and it is impossible to have children live up to extremely rigid behaviors without mistakes.

To expect your child (or anyone!) to not fall below certain standards (after all, people/children get upset, tired, etc.) is putting too much pressure on him! You expect him not to speak unless spoken to at the table??? Has he nothing (as a 6 year old) to add to a conversation? Do you not care about how his day was, what his ideas are, how he feels about things? Understand that children who talk/communicate/share at the dinner table will have closer relationships with their families and feel closer to their parents. Will you expect him to share his feelings/ideas/thoughts freely with you later on in life, as an adolescent or adult, when you do not respect his voice and opinion as a child?

And, you forbid him to complain about rules??? True, I don't necessarily change rules because my children complain about them (we would have none then!), but to forbid them to voice their opinions/feelings seems draconian to me. Understand that I am not one to tolerate disrespectful and rude children, and I agree that parents do sometimes give their children too much power/control. However, if you do not respect him as a person, and his voice/opinion, he will come to resent you. He can be gracious, kind, and a gentleman without being repressed, oppressed and bullied.

Mom who appreciates manners, but....

Wow, my gut reaction is that your email really scared me. I know that you are doing what you feel is best for your son (and obviously you are open to rethinking it, or you wouldn't be posting here)--but my answer to your question, Too Strict? is YES!!! Here are my reactions to what you wrote:

abosolutly NOTHING bellow these standards are acceptible...little kids make mistakes of all kinds. Behaviorally, academically, socially...that's how they learn. It is important for them to know that their parents still love them even when they do something wrong or make a mess of some sort. High standards are great. Being inflexible is not.

We do use spankings...and we insist upon old-fashioned disipline methods...my dad grew up this way and had nervous breakdowns as an adult in part because he was a very sensitive person who was traumatized by being spanked and humiliated by his father as a child. However, this didn't stop him from spanking me, though...and although it made me FEAR him, it didn't make me RESPECT him. Later in life he deeply regretted that he had passed along this type of violence to his children, but it took him YEARS to admit it. He defended the strap for decades until he got truthful with himself and realized he lacked the communication skills to discipline in kinder, more productive ways. (I was really proud of him when he was brave enough to admit this.)

We emphisize respect...again, if I were your child I would not feel respected. Respect can (and in my opinion, should) be mutual between parents and their children.

we forbid him to ever complain about rules of any kind...he may get jealous and think it unfair as he gets older...Do you allow him to discuss rules? Or feelings? If not, yes, he may indeed think your rules are unfair. I work with kids and I have seen a lot of kids raised strictly who seriously rebel when they are older. Because they hide their rebellion from their parents for fear of severe punishment, often the parents do not know there is a problem until really late in the game. Now of course all kinds of kids from all kinds of families get into things they shouldn't, but I think it is worth asking yourself whether or not you want your son to feel comfortable coming to you if he has a problem. It sounds like at the moment perhaps he is being so controlled that he might not feel free to speak up about things you don't want to hear.

I hope you are able to make a decision that is best for you and your child. I am impressed that you were willing to post such a message as I am sure you will receive many strongly felt responses (like mine!). Thanks for reading.

Spare the Rod and Love the Child

I think that different expectations in behavior are okay, up to a point. It's great that you are teaching your kid to have good manners; it's something that will serve him well his whole life. However, please be aware that you will have to adjust expectations as he ages. For one thing, if he's still calling all the adults he knows ma'am and sir when he's a teenagers all the other teenagers will make fun of him, sad to say.

The only thing I really object to is not speaking unless he is spoken to at the table. It's a fine idea to teach children not to interrupt, but they should be able to speak when they have something to say. The older your son gets the more you will value having good, open lines of communication with him. I've always felt that one of the most important things in parenting is listening to your child.

Good luck, D.

I was raised in the South at a time when it was standard practice to insist on the kind of behavior you're talking about. We were not allowed to talk back, we ate what was put before us, we said yes ma'am and no ma'am and we got spankings and switchings on a regular basis from our parents and even our grandparents! I'm a happy, well-adjusted adult (if I do say so myself). But I am not raising my children the way I was raised. I do insist on polite behavior - no rudeness, no name-calling, no wild behaviour indoors, and always please and thank you. My oldest tells me I am stricter than other parents about curfews and such, though I've confirmed this not to be the case. I do expect respectful behaviour, but I do my best to model the behaviour I want from them. No one is allowed to be rude, not even the parents.

But I decided early on that I would not spank, because the message seemed counterproductive (if you are angry, strike them!) And, I decided that I did not want to instill in them the kind of blind obedience to authority that was instilled in me. The reason is that obedience isn't useful for the kind of life I want them to have. Politeness is very useful, and their good Southern manners have paid off over the years in helping them develop long-lasting social relationships with friends and family, making a good impression with their friends' parents (very useful for their girlfriends' parents!), and improving their grown-up encounters as they start to enter the world of working and networking. Politeness is a useful tool, but blind obedience without question is no longer useful for the world we live in now, where creativity and independent thought are more highly valued, and so important for so many kinds of interesting work. I don't want my kids to be in a submissive relationship at work or in their personal lives just because that's what they learned growing up. I don't want them to be afraid to speak up if they think a friend or a teacher a boss or a president is doing something wrong. I still have trouble speaking up because of the way I was raised. It's been hard for me every time I've needed to solve a problem for my kids that involved going in to talk to the teacher or the coach, because I am so ill-equipped to challenge an authority figure. My children are not like I am, and I'm very glad of that. My two oldest have now made it through their teen years, and I know that things went as well as they did in large part because they were raised to think independently. They have never felt they had to go along with the crowd, or engage in destructive behaviours just because somebody told them to. We can't always be there telling our children what to do and how to behave, and unless you expect someone else to be there telling them what to do, like a mean boss or a spouse you won't like, you will need to teach them about mutual respect and give them the ools to think for themselves.


PS: the ma'am thing - nobody does that out here, though it is still done in Alabama, and I do it myself to old ladies when I go back there - they like it. But people here think it's odd, so I wouldn't recommend training your kids to do it.

We need to raise our children to think for themselves, so that they can make good decisions when we are not around. And we are not around them for many hours of the day once they start school. If we constantly threaten our children to do whatever we tell them to do, we are not raising independent thinkers but followers. Developmentally, pre-teens will turn away from their parents to find their own uniqueness and later on turn against the entire ''older'' generation for a while. Instead they will listen to their peers. The kids who were raised to be followers will now obey their peers, replace one authority with another. These thoughts stem from my favorite author Barbara Coloroso, whose works ''the Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander'' and ''How to win at parenting without beating your kids'' I can highly recommend.

I was born in post-war Germany. I was taught at home and school to always speak up if I didn't understand something and have it explained to me (that includes questioning authority when need be). Discussion itself was the objective, this was not about renegotiation nor agreement. In the exchange of ideas and perspectives everybody gaines depth.(Did that cost parents more effort? Well, nobody wanted another generation of followers. Post-war parents were done with the word ''Fuehrer'' (Leader).


Well, you asked, so I'm going to add my opinion. Yes, you are too strict. What you describe doesn't sound like a situation that teaches a child to be respectful and happy, but one that will teach him to be fearful and insecure. Fearful of your anger (you will spank or otherwise punish him) and insecure that you will withdraw your love if he doesn't behave properly. I have been doing a lot of reasearch on child rearing, including seeing a parenting specialist. I have been learning that extreme strictness tends to result in resentment and, frequently, self destructiveness. One of the concepts that I have been learning the value of is the notion that we are here to serve our children, not the other way around. That our children grow up to be loving, respectful people when we show them love and respect - when we support them to express themselves (not require them to be silent untill spoken to), and make sure that they know that they are loved unconditionally (not punished for failing to abide by rigid behavior expectations). Please read ANY book by Alice Miller, a gifted writer and child psychologist: ''The Drama of the Gifted Child'', ''The Truth Will Set You Free'' are just a couple. They are excellent and explain clearly the kind of damage that can be done by certain kinds of strict, ''old fashioned'' dicipline. I know you want what is best for your son, so at least read these to get an alternate point of view.

Learning to Love My Child Unconditionally

Good for you for your willingness to entertain other perspectives, and here's mine. Getting a child's compliance via intimidation and threat (or reality) of punitive measures may drive a behavior inward but does not resolve the behavior. A child who is intimidated into stuffing down feelings or words might just turn on him/herself (cutting, drugs, eating disorder, etc.) or visit her or her angst on someone else. What might serve you and your child is for you to allow free verbal exchange at the dinner table with the proviso of neither interrupting nor dominating the table conversation. This means adults do not get to interrupt or dominate, as well. The nature of appropriate conversation is not only intuitive but learned, which means that your kid has to be able to get into the ballgame, organically, naturally, and that seems a tough thing to achieve if your child is only allowed to speak when spoken to, under threat of punishment, no less.

Any time a parent achieves compliance by anything other than teaching or modelling, such compliance is unreliable and suspect

And, by the way, I am not saying to subvert rules and expectations of courtesy and respect; I think that respect goes both ways--from parent to child and child to parent.

Good luck to you. Gentle but firm parenting style