Back to articles Holiday Discipline Traps

Categories: Parenting


The “okay, well have it then!” discipline trap. You’ve been the model of parental patience all afternoon long, repeatedly reminding your eight year old that you’re not shopping for toys for him today. You’re hanging out in Toyland so that he can finish shopping for his younger brother. The problem is he’s determined to spend the remaining $20 in his holiday budget on a nice shiny toy truck for himself. You’ve been listening to him whine and cajole for over an hour when finally you snap. “Fine then, buy it for yourself. I just want to get out of this place.” Your son grins from ear to ear—and why shouldn’t he? He just won the battle. And not only have you taught him that “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “no.” You’ve taught him that persistence pays off. He just has to drive you crazy for an hour or more and he’ll get what he wants in the end. Bet you can’t wait for his next request....

 The “I’m going to leave you here at the grocery store” discipline drama trap. You’ve no doubt seen this particular family drama play out. Who knows? Maybe you’ve even had a leading role. After a child throw a total fit in the checkout line, a thoroughly exasperated parent threatens to leave that child behind in the grocery store. The biggest thing wrong with using this particular “discipline” approach it’s that it’s not really a discipline approach at all. Discipline implies teaching and your child isn’t going to learn anything from the experience, other than that you don’t follow through on what you say you’re going to do. (Bye, bye, parenting credibility.) And if your child does believe the threat, you’ve just put your child through a pretty scary experience just to quell a temper tantrum. So don’t let the frustration of being stuck in the express line with an antsy toddler cause you to momentarily take leave of your usual parenting good sense. It ain’t worth it!


Choosing a punishment that punishes other family members, too. Saying that everyone has to miss the premiere of the season’s hottest holiday movie really is cruel and unusual punishment for those siblings who were involved in singing the “swear word” versions of holiday carols. Choose a consequence that’s linked to the offense in question—perhaps going caroling to raise money for charity?—and that doesn’t result in too much sibling collateral damage and the entire family will have a much happier holiday season. I can practically guarantee it.



 Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Parenting Books (Wiley, 2003). Visit her online at