MS and Parenting: “How Can I Discipline ‘Em If I Can’t Catch ‘Em?”

Moms and dads with multiple sclerosis (MS) who can’t get around as quickly or easily as they used to worry about how they’ll be able to discipline their children. In other words, if they can’t outrun their kids, how can they maintain any kind of control?

Well, the fact is that most kids can outrun their parents eventually anyway — with or without MS. Besides, effective discipline should always be about more than just moving fast enough to catch kids or give them a wallop on the bottom. When it isn’t more than that, any smart kid will quickly realize that staying out of reach is the best strategy.

Discipline needs to be about clear, consistent expectations, firm limits, predictable consequences, and mutual respect — all of which are possible with or without MS. Obviously, the earlier the groundwork is laid, the easier it is. If discipline in your household has always depended on your ability to move faster, restructuring things now will be tougher. So, think about having some family discussions about rules and expectations.

Even young kids can participate in this kind of family meeting. Let them help in setting some of the rules and determining some of the consequences — you’ll be surprised at how much more willing your children are to live by these rules when they’ve had some say in the situation.

Parental teamwork is key to effective discipline. In other words, parents need to agree on the rules and be consistent in enforcing them. Here are a few suggestions to reinforce your teamwork:

  • Agree to support each other’s decisions. The quickest way to sabotage your disciplinary efforts is to let your kids play one of you off against the other. If Johnny gets a “no” about something from mom, and then gets a “yes” from dad, guess who Johnny’s going to ask first the next time around?

    So, if you aren’t sure whether the answer to Johnny should be yea or nay, talk it over with your partner first and then give Johnny the answer. If you aren’t sure whether Johnny has already asked his other parent, find out before giving your answer.

  • Try to avoid the “Just wait until your father (or mother) gets home!” school of discipline. First of all, this method diminishes your own parental role, and second, it sets the other parent up as the tough guy (or gal). If a kid’s behavior demands some consequences, make those consequences clear right then and there.

  • Make sure that the MS doesn’t diminish your parental role in anyone’s eyes — starting with your own and your partner’s. If the consistent message to the kids is that you’re in charge (no, this isn’t a democracy), you’ll find that your ability to set and enforce limits with your kids will be greatly enhanced.

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