The 10 Weirdest Discipline Rules that Actually Work for Parents


My husband and I have been married 10 years, and this July we will officially have spent 7 of those years parenting. Naturally, that makes us experts, right?

Sorry. I had to pick myself up off the floor after laughing hysterically for about 10 minutes at the thought that we are parenting experts (I mean, our 4-year-old asked for a lunchable for breakfast this morning at 6:30 and after being on a parents-only vacation for 4 days and not arriving home until late the night before we said yes knowing she was just in it for the Oreos). Let’s be honest here for a moment; there is no one more expert in the job of parenting than actual parents. By default, we are experts. But by nature, we’re also complete failures. I cannot even convey to you how often we begin a sentence with, “If you ever,” and end it with, “You will never again,” knowing full well we are not going to forever ban movies in the car since that’s our one and only piece of sanity when in there with four.

On that note, we do have four kids. While we haven’t had to use the disciplinary action on the twins just yet since they only just turned 1 and so far aren’t prone to misbehavior or rebellious rule-breaking, we do have a 4-year-old that believes that the world begins and ends with her and that she can do what she wants (we like to say that we would be golden with either just her or with our oldest and the twins, but combining her with them is a bit much). Discipline happens in our house, particularly with her. She’s cool; strong-willed, independent and not concerned with how others feel. It’s a great attribute, and we will never worry about her as a teen or adult. But right now we are certain her life goal is to make us absolutely crazy.

In fact, I saw from my timehop app that two years ago the other day, my Facebook status read, “I’m fairly certain my 2-year-old’s to-do list every day reads – Eat everything we own. Make mommy and daddy completely crazy. Tears are a bonus,” and that has not changed. With that in mind, we’ve learned that sometimes we have to think outside the box to discipline our sweet girl since she doesn’t fall in line with traditional discipline, such as a warning and the threat of a consequence (which sets our oldest in line faster than you can blink). Sometimes our quirky, weird discipline techniques work, and sometimes they don’t. But they’re always worth a shot.

Losing Big Things

Our oldest daughter is a dream come true in the behavior department. Okay, so she’s the kind of annoying rule-follower that you remember from your school days and absolutely did not like, and we do worry about that a bit. She’s the first to recite the rules, the first to tell on her sister and the first to purse her lips and turn up her nose at the thought of misbehavior in a very Hermione Granger-like fashion, so if she does do something inappropriate and we threaten to take a favorite toy from her, it works. When we do the same with our younger daughter, however, she basically laughs at us and tells us she doesn’t care. Because she does not care. She is not attached to material things.

She’s attached to experiences. We have to threaten her with consequences that involve saying things like, “Continue with this behavior and you will not get to go on the boat with us for the next two weekends,” or “We will not renew your Disney pass this year and only take the other kids,” and it straightens her right up. And no, we’d never cancel her pass, but she doesn’t know that.

Manipulating Cancelled Plans

It’s wrong; we know it. We have a longstanding Wednesday night dinner plan with our best friends. It started more than 7 years ago before any of us had kids. We’d go to dinner every Wednesday. As the number of kids grew, the location changed. Now we trade weeks and host dinner at our homes on a rotating basis. Every once in a while when someone is sick or traveling, we have to cancel or reschedule dinner for another night, and we will use that as discipline for our kids, telling them that their poor behavior resulted in no dinner with their friends that night. It devastates them not to go, and it usually means we get days or weeks worth of good behavior since the trauma of not going to play and eat hurts.

Rewarding Television Time

There’s a small chance we are really horrible parents. Our twins are exhausted at the end of the day, and they are like clockwork, in bed by 6:30. They’ll actually bring us their pajamas to let us know it’s time to go to bed. The big girls are in bed by 7:30. We are tired with four and we want to relax, too. So we tell them that if they’re good all day long, they can watch a half hour of television in their bedrooms before bed – anything they want (and that usually means Full House) – and they can stay up late for being so good. In reality, they’re just going to bed a half hour early and going to sleep on time. They love it, and the thought of losing their ‘stay up late’ time is usually enough to illicit good behavior.

Sticking to a Schedule

It’s not a discipline rule, per say, but it does work. We have a schedule and we stick to it for the most part. The kids know it and recognize it, and it eliminates disruption and not knowing what the day will bring. They thrive on their schedule and knowing what’s going on, and it helps them really behave.

Encouraging Helpfulness

When our kids are particularly crazed, we tend to encourage helpfulness instead of craziness. For example, we will see them running like banchees across the house and encourage them to help us with whatever we are doing. We might ask them to help us clean their rooms and make it a race, letting the winner of the race choose dessert or a fun activity for the family to do together. It eliminates their desire to act like animals and encourages them to do something productive and helpful for a chance to get to be the winner of a very cool decision.

The Trash Bag Rule

I’m a neat freak and mess freaks me out. So at the end of the day when it’s time to get ready for baths and bed, we have a rule. Anything still on the floor or not put away before bath time is going straight to the trash. We’ve only had to fill the bag one time (we allowed them to earn it back) and it’s worked like a charm ever since. Our kids keep their messes to a minimum to avoid the trash bag rule.

Enforce Police Law

We are masters of good behavior thanks to the police. Our daughter hates brushing her teeth and doesn’t see a point (she points out that they’re going to fall out anyway, so why bother? And she’s only 4). So we have to tell her that the police have made a rule that brushing your teeth twice a day is mandatory or they will take mommies and daddies to jail. She loves us and knows we are the preparers of her beloved meals, so she now brushes without question. Disgust, distaste and utter annoyance are always present at toothbrush time, but question is not.

Mr. Elf Sometimes Visits in July

Sometimes we have to make our Elf on the Shelf appear randomly throughout the year. If the kids have been particularly irritating or not well-behaved, he will show up one morning with a note that says he’s been so upset watching them from the North Pole and that he’s so worried Santa will put them on the naughty list that he just had to come watch them.

In all honesty, this started because someone hid the elf in a drawer in the master bedroom (someone is me) after Christmas was over but before we undecorated the house, and the kids found him looking for something for me. I had to think on my feet, and when it worked like a charm, he’s made a few more reappearances to remind the kids.

We Can’t Hear Whining or Screaming

Our kids sometimes whine, scream and make us nuts. Fortunately for us, we are deaf to sounds over a certain decibel, and we just cannot hear them. It’s not easy to pretend not to hear your name being screamed in a horribly whiny or angry voice 890736 times, but it works. Our kids remember that we cannot hear them in that tone and they quiet down.

Because God Said So

Our oldest daughter once told our 4-year-old that God makes the rules of the world and that we have to listen to him. So when we need to get them outside for some fresh air and away from the iPads and television and other things that aren’t all that good for them, we might remind her that God created trees and grass and the sky so that we would go outside every single day and enjoy those things. It worked – and we don’t feel that it’s as much a lie as we’re sure it is.

Photo by Alexandra Beier/Getty Images


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