Some time ago (the statute of limitations has passed), a good friend told me his 5-year-old, in complete disregard of the rules, rode his bicycle off the cul-de-sac on which they live and was found an hour later on the other side of the neighborhood.
"We were terrified," this fellow said, referring to himself and his wife.
"All sorts of things went through our minds while we were looking for him."
"So," I asked, "what did you do about it?"
"Oh," he replied, his voice taking on a you-better-not-mess-with-the-Big-Guy tone, "we took his bike away for a day."
I couldn't help it. It just came out before I could stop it. "Oooooooo!"
I crowed, mockingly.
"What?" my friend said, startled.
"You sure are mean," I replied, with a chuckle.
"Oh, right! What would you have done, Mr. Parenting Expert? Taken his bike away for a month?" he rejoined, sarcastically.
"Oh, absolutely. For two weeks, at least."
My friend looked at me for a moment, then said, "You're serious, aren't you?"
I was dead serious. Here's my prediction: Having been inconvenienced to no significant degree as a result of breaking the rule on riding his bike, my friend's child will break the rule again. He probably already has. After all, what's the big deal of a day without your bike?
On the other hand, if his parents had put the bike up for two weeks to a month, hung it from a hook in the garage for example, then this little boy would have paid a great price (relative to his age) for breaking the rule. In which case, I would predict he would have never broken the "don't ride your bike off the street" rule again. Not ever.
Most of today's parents are like my friend. When their kids do something wrong, they tap them on the backs of their hands with wet noodles. When it comes to corrective discipline, they do not want to upset their children.
Ironically, because they will not upset their children, they themselves end up getting upset.
If you want a child who has broken a rule to not break the rule again (is this not in everyone's best interest?), then when the violation occurs, levy a punishment that does not fit the crime, a punishment that is completely out of proportion to the offense. I'm not talking about spanking, by the way. I'm talking about what parents of old referred to as "nipping it in the bud."
"Outrageous" consequences of this sort do not have to be levied often. A handful, or one every so often, will serve as a great preventative of future disciplinary infractions.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.