Laughing in the Face of Discipline

Dear Dr. Ray,

My daughter (age seven) sings or draws pictures with her fingers when I sit her in the corner. What do you do with a child who seems happy when disciplined?

Not Amused

What do you do? Nothing? Ask her if she takes requests? Threaten to remove her from the corner as punishment?

Just because Melody sings during the discipline doesn’t mean the discipline isn’t working. It means that Melody is making the best of an inharmonious situation, and that’s an admirable characteristic for anybody – child or adult – to cultivate.

I’m pretty sure your daughter doesn’t enjoy the corner. If she did, periodically she’d mosey over there on her own just to sing and draw a few finger pictures. I’m also pretty sure that the only time she visits the corner is at your request or command. If so, she’s telling you something: the corner will be effective eventually. For now, though, she can get along with it if she has to.

Much to their frustration, parents routinely believe that for a consequence to work, kids have to be bothered or upset about it. Not so. By its very nature, discipline needs time – lots of it – to get its message across. Consequences typically have to be repeated dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

In your situation, the cumulative impact of the corner is what will make it work. For now your daughter enjoys herself in the corner. But that is certainly no cause for worry that she’s unusual or that this is just the beginning of life with a child who will sabotage your every attempt to guide her.

A child’s reaction to discipline generally is not a good indicator of whether you’re on the right track. While Spike makes his discipline obvious to anyone within a three-mile radius, Bliss apathetically shrugs you off with a “give me your best shot- I don’t care” style. In fact, apathy is a favorite kid reaction to discipline. Your daughter has just elevated apathy to a happier plane.

The best gauge of whether discipline will be successful is not a child’s short-term attitude toward it, but her behavior in the long term. Let’s say Harmony is singing her way through her tenth corner visit this week for her disrespectful tone of voice. (Try not to take it personally that she gets snotty to you but sings to the wall.) While she may still be amusing herself in the corner, away from it her mouth control is ever slowly improving. And that’s what counts.

A further consideration: Suppose you abandon the corner in search of something that will visibly upset Harmony, or at least stifle her singing. What’s to say she won’t make a good time out of the next consequence you try? Send her to her room, and she dances. Make her do an extra chore, and she plays house. Take away some TV, and she colors a great picture. I mean, the kid is just incorrigible.

If you just have to respond to Harmony, how about something like “You know, you really take your discipline well” or “I think it’s wonderful how you can stay happy even when most people would get upset.” The danger here, of course, is that she’ll make a grand show of how happy discipline makes her just so you’ll fawn all over her. Oh well, parenting often involves trade-offs.

I have one other question. Does Melody sing the same song or vary them? One mom told me her son whistled “It’s a Small World” for weeks after they had visited Disney World. Now that would make me mad.

Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime Pages 241-243
Copyright © 2003, Raymond N. Guarendi, Ph.D.
Servant Publications