How Do I Discipline My Kids Without Feeling Like A Hypocrite?

Dear Sober Dad,

Our eight-year-old smashed a vase in the living room with a baseball bat. He won’t admit it, but we are certain he did it on purpose, because he was mad at us, because we wouldn’t let him stay up as late as his brother.

I’m just starting down the road to recovery. After hiding my own addiction to painkillers for years, I’m just beginning to get a sense of cause and effect, of consequences. He gets an allowance, but it would take him forever to pay for the vase. How do we teach him that something like that isn’t okay? How do I teach and reinforce those ideas to my son when I’m figuring it out myself?

– Erica K., Louisville, Kentucky


Dear Erica,

Sober Dad wants to know why you have such an expensive vase in your living room if you have an eight-year-old, as well as a slightly older brother. What exactly are you thinking? It was just a matter of time, don’t you realize?

Seriously, it’s tough. You want to have nice art pieces in your home, but this may not be the right stage of life for displaying them. Accidents will happen, and so will fits of temper. So if you have another vase, you may want to stow it in the attic for a few years or lend it to your local art museum for display until your sons reach the age of maturity.

I wouldn’t take the cost of replacing an expensive vase out of an eight-year-old’s allowance. As you said, it would be so time-consuming that the consequence would no longer be tied directly to the event, which is something that Sober Dad, and many other brilliant authorities, highly recommend.

The only way to have a child understand that a consequence is a direct function of inappropriate behavior is to have the consequence occur promptly after the infraction. Let’s move the spotlight to you.

What got you to stop using? Did the consequences catch up to you after a particularly rough patch? When they really caught up, did you have a moment of clarity that led you to choose to change your behavior?

Now, back to your son and the vase. First, you have to cool off so that you don’t respond out of anger, which sends the wrong lesson. Anger is the most corrosive element in any home. Cool off first. Get your thoughts together, and then set the consequence.

What’s the difference between a consequence and a punishment?

There is no difference. It’s just a consequence makes you sound like a hip, responsible parent, and punishment makes you sound like an ogre. But it’s really the same thing.

When it comes to children and breaking things, Sober Dad highly recommends his “$5,000 deductible.” That’s right—every child coming into this world receives a $5,000 deductible. Kids break things, both on purpose, and by accident. It’s often very hard to tell which is which. Rather than constantly trying to be judge and jury with your own eight-year-old, the easiest thing is to just keep rough track of how much they break.

The first $5,000 is on you.

Anything they break or destroy above $5,000? Kid, get a job.