Today I feel very badly, so very badly! I am the mother of two children, a daughter who is ten years old and a son who is two and a half. I punished and cruelly hit my daughter, and I don’t want to do it again. It was because she lied to me about her homework.

How can I keep from getting so enraged? I was just going to give her a couple of swats with a belt, but she ran around the house screaming and, just as I was about to do it, she took the belt away from me. Then I went crazy and took the cable off the DVD player. The truth is, I hit her very hard.

Today I found out from my mom that my daughter’s body has marks all over it. I swear to you that I am so sorry because I never wanted to hurt her, and even less like that. I feel so badly! I don’t know what to do.

Dear Friend,

The first thing to do is to ask your daughter to forgive you. Explain that you are very sorry for the way you disciplined her. She did need discipline, but you did not handle it in the right way. Unless you apologize, you will not deserve the respect that you expect your daughter to have for you.

Discipline is never about who is stronger or who can physically dominate the other; yet this is the impression that you gave to your daughter. Instead of motivating her to want to correct her behavior, you motivated her to want to fight back at you. That took the focus off her homework issues and put the focus on your uncontrollable anger. For more details regarding physical discipline, we recommend that you read Case 87 and try to put those principles into practice.

Effective discipline is never general in nature. It is specific to the behavior that needs to be corrected. So when the behavior involves homework, the discipline must involve homework. Many parents don’t want to do the considerable work involved in communicating with teachers themselves on a daily or weekly basis, but your daughter’s behavior is a signal to you that you cannot trust her in this regard. Speak with the teacher immediately to put in place an accountability system though daily or weekly notes, emails, or phone calls. Almost all teachers are willing to work with parents to make their students accountable. Your daughter will consider the constant contact with her teacher as discipline. And she may be embarrassed to have her friends find out, which is a further motivation for her to improve her behavior. In addition to making your daughter accountable, you should write down the consequences that will occur every time she doesn’t complete assignments or lies about them in any way. Loss of television time, loss of time on the computer, and loss of time with friends are all appropriate.

When you find yourself getting angry with your daughter, leave the room. Discipline should never be administered in anger. Wait until you are calm before you deal with any conflict. Never threaten or give consequences unless you are calm and in control of your emotions. And if you can, get help from a professional or an anger management class.

We wish you well,