Courtesy of Liza Wyles

Child Discipline On TV Vs. Child Discipline IRL

I’m always hard-pressed to find accurate representations of my parenting experiences in the media. I just want to know I’m not alone, but so many “mom” moments on TV, in movies, and in ads feel grossly different than my parenting life. This is especially true when it comes to media depictions of child discipline. Rarely do I see any representation that gets it “right,” or at least close to what it looks like for most parents (or at least this parent) when they are attempting to rein in some nasty kid behavior. Yes, the key word is “attempting.”

I know that discipline is a touchy subject. When I was a kid, corporal punishment was still pretty common. Even now, there is debate about hitting kids as disciplinary measures, though I strongly feel that everyone needs to keep their hands to themselves. Admittedly, I have been tempted many times to raise a hand to my kid. The only thing stopping me is that I can’t be teaching them to treat others with respect and to not resort to violence if I’m committing a violent act. I’ve come so close to striking them at times, and that is scary. Yes, I have grabbed their arm forcefully when I need them to stand up and cross the street mid-tantrum. Maybe that pushed the limit of “being firm,” but it definitely fell short of slapping them.

I still yell, though. I am trying to keep that in check but it is a huge challenge, especially at the end of a weekday when everyone is tired and cranky. During those particularly trying moments none of us seem to have the resources to “be cool,” but I’m the grown-up so I have to. I can’t fall apart when my kid refuses to brush her teeth, or runs away from me when it’s time to put on pajamas. I fail a lot at this, though. Bedtime without disciplinary action in our house is a work in progress

Discipline is complicated, messy, and can really f*ck with my head. I am using different techniques than my parents used a generation ago on me, because philosophies have changed. I’m more of an authoritative parent, than an authoritarian one. So that means no hitting, but it also means I am not always successful with my tactics (not that those who hit are always successful, in my opinion). We need more mothers making movies, because then maybe there wouldn’t be so many depictions of child discipline in the media that moms (like me) hate.

That Pointed Finger In A Kid’s Face Is Totally Manicured And Free Of Band-Aids

Injuries sustained while mothering include, but are not limited to:

  • Slicing finger while chopping up apples to puree into homemade baby food your child will spit out
  • Breaking nail while rooting around inside a diaper bag to find the change of clothes you forgot to pack
  • Cutting hand while attempting to open a childproofing latch that is enclosed in blister packaging
  • Scratches everywhere due to sharp little infant nails you’re too scared to cut

So when I see that angry mom pointing to a kid, I can’t help but marvel at the smooth, unblemished skin of her finger, and the perfectly shaped nail it presents.

A Yelling Mom In A Pristine Home

What could possibly be setting her off? Her home is spotless despite having children. Whatever her kids have done to set her off couldn’t have been that bad, since it has left her home unmarred. It’s possible the mess she is raging about is out of frame, but she should really focus on the positive in this case. That’s how I cope. I could go off about a million things my kids have messed up around the house, but to stay sane I focus on small corners here and there that remain unscathed from their “art projects.”

Demanding A Child To ‘Go To Your Room’

I never yelled at my kids to go to their room because, until recently, they shared a room. Banishing one of them to that space meant the other was stuck wherever I was and I would need to provide the entertainment. Nope.

Also, along those lines, a kid’s room is probably their favorite space. It has all the things. Demanding my daughter go to her room is essentially like me yelling,“Go to the most comfortable room in the house, where no one will bother you, and enjoy a collection of books, dolls, and art supplies specifically curated to your tastes.” What punishment.

Parents Playing Each Other

My husband and I don’t always agree on parenting tactics, but if either of us tells our kids something we know we have to back each other up. Once the kids know there’s a fracture on the parental front, they’ll keep chipping away at it until one of us gives in. The next thing you know, the focus is off the kid on onto our own differences. We try not to argue in front of our children. We wait until they’re asleep.

Clueless Kids

One of my pet peeves about discipline depicted on TV is that the kids have done something so incredibly dumb to incite their parents’ ire. While you have to give the kids credit for putting on their helmets to sled down the stairs, I don’t believe for a second these characters would have even tried this stunt with a wall that close.

These kinds of scenes insult my intelligence. (They also make me laugh.) My kids attempt stunt moves in the house all the time — jumping off high beds, scaling door frames, bathtub surfing — but never at the risk of causing that great a damage to the walls. (Just to themselves.)

Dramatic Reactions To Kids Cursing

TV kids cursing get huge laughs, but rarely do the TV parents crack up. They are usually horrified. It’s not that I like to hear my 6-year-old trying out some new language he picked up on the school bus, it’s just that it is truly funny and acting shocked will only encourage my kid to do it more. He loves getting a rise out of me. “We don’t say those words. We can think of smarter ways to express ourselves,” I tell him.

And then I accidentally drop the f-bomb later, and get totally called out by my kids for it.

The Non-Discipline Approach

When I was growing up, sitcoms were vehicles for teenage snark. Kids fought freely with each other, playing siblings on a show, and the parents were so accepting. “Kids will be kids,” was the message. Meanwhile, my parents had zero tolerance for fighting between my brother and me, and now I can not stand when my kids start throwing shade to one another. I try to separate them immediately. Not only does it hurt my feelings to hear them being so rude to each other, but I worry about where they might have learned it from (me?).

That The Mom Is The Bad Guy

Discipline is what prevents kids from turning into menaces, I believe. I know my children are constantly testing their limits, to see where their boundaries are. “How many times will I make mom tell me to clean my room before she explodes?” “How long can I procrastinate starting my homework until mom begins to yell?”

I only turn into the bad guy when I’m pushed by uncooperative behavior, whining, and tiny wayward Legos I don’t see before stepping on. I swear "Mean Mom" is not my default persona.

That The Need For Discipline Always Occurs In The Privacy Of Our Own Home

While my kids are typically at their worst behaved at home, that’s not to say I haven’t had to lay down the law when out in public. It’s hard enough to summon the tenacity to execute discipline in a thoughtful, constructive manner, but to have to do so to an audience of strangers in the supermarket or at the playground or another person’s home is just the worst. Yet, it happens.

Choosing Mindfulness In A Zen-Like Meditation Space To Cope With Bratty Behavior

I have a dedicated meditation space in my apartment, don’t you? I mean, doesn’t everyone? It’s decked out in muted gray tones, warmed with the glow of candlelight (always a mainstay of a household containing small children). Whenever I feel the rage creeping in after the third time my child has ignored my request for his presence at the dinner table, I can just slip into this safe space, for as long as I need to breathe deeply and restore balance to my mama chakra. I can abandon my mothering duties, to collect my thoughts, and re-emerge with the wherewithal to exact some beneficial discipline measure in a calm, effective manner.

Yeah right.