The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 14, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Delaying discipline is often wise choice

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I don't know how it happened, but sometime between college and stay-at-home-motherhood, I became averse to spontaneity. I'm a woman with a plan, and if for some terrifying reason I don't have a plan, the world becomes bleak and broken.

Especially with little kids in the house, a plan helps keep me on track and confident. For everything from discipline to snow-day activities, weeknight menus to chore dispersal, I strategize. If the plan falls apart, I don't quite fall over dead, but it's not for lack of trying. Plans are like gold in my pocket, and I hate to see any slip through the cracks.

The worrisome part is that kids don't always allow for the smooth execution of my organized ideas. Whether it's a child's intrusive messiness or dependent neediness (darn those constant needs), there are a hundred ways my plans are thwarted each day.

Worse yet, I might be confronted with something for which I don't have a handy plan waiting in my back pocket. This is usually the case with discipline.

You should know that I hate disciplining my kids. I'm the parent blamed for society's ills, simply because I get so sad when I have to enforce a difficult rule. Sad and, usually, confused.

If a behavior is brand new, it is therefore foreign, and I feel wholly unprepared to dole out consequences or meaningful lectures. This makes it hard to have a quick, memorable sentence ready for every eventual need.

I don't want to be the bumbling, stuttering disciplinarian -- I want a plan, because I need to be both concise and respectable to make a lasting impression on my children.

I've been caught without a ready-made strategy in my disciplinary tackle box often enough that I've developed a bit of a self-protective technique. It's probably what I should have been doing all along, and it probably would have made all of our lives a lot easier.

Instead of reacting immediately to unprecedented misbehavior -- with anger, heartbreak or nonsense -- it's perfectly acceptable to back away for a few minutes.

Instead of doling out an instant consequence, which is an overwhelming thought for the plan-oriented parent, it's OK to tell our kids to wait; to sit right there and cool it until we can gather our thoughts and figure out the best way to handle the issue.

There's no harm in showing our kids that we don't have all the answers immediately and that we're cool-headed enough to think things through. This also allows us to save face as parents. Honestly, how often have you thrown down an unreasonable consequence out of sheer madness, only to regret your temper tantrum later? How often have you had to revoke an impossible consequence, backpedaling into a better solution?

If we can grant ourselves a minute or 20 to breathe deeply, think clearly and plan accordingly, we're more likely to handle the situation with maturity and relevance. Besides coming up with better reactions to our children's actions, taking a moment to think will also lower our blood pressure.

It will help us put things in perspective. It will give us a chance to form a plan where there wasn't one before.

And, as I believe I've already professed a time or two, a plan is a beautiful thing.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot. com.