Discipline was the first thing to go during isolation - here's how I'm getting it back

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Remember when the COVID-19 lockdown started and we all just agreed to relax and do the best we could while juggling home school and all of the other demands in our lives? 

Didn't that seem like a good idea at the time? 

That time has passed now, it seems. The nation is bouncing back in remarkably good shape, for which we should all be immensely grateful, but now is the time we get to reap what we sowed back when we chose to make our lives as easy as possible in "uncertain" and "unprecedented" times. 

I don't know about you, but what I've been left with is three unruly children who have no interest in following a timetable or ever wearing shoes again. (Although, to be fair, I too have lost my interest in footwear.)

I like to think I generally run a tight ship, but things have gotten…loose over the past couple of months. 

Screen time has usually been closely policed in our house, as has the practice of snacking – but at our home school, affectionately named Our Lord of the Flies College and Boarding School for Chaotic Souls – the children have been largely left to police themselves, while the adults still tried the insane idea of working for a living like nothing else was going on.

It's incredible how wholeheartedly my children embraced the chaos, especially given they have historically thrived in a world of schedules and rules, but when it comes to reining it back in, let's just say they're a little more ambivalent.

Why wouldn't they still be able to wake up and hop straight onto their ipads as they did during isolation, they wonder, if they can still manage to get ready for school in time? (Answer: because they can't actually get ready for school in time if left to run their own show.)

Why can't they include a seemingly endless supply of Easter eggs for their school lunches, when that's what they ate after lunch before, and they totally promise they'll eat their fruit first? (Answer: because we all know they won't eat their fruit first, and Easter eggs are only supposed to last a week or so – this year they seem to be in endless supply.)


Why are shoes even part of the school uniform when they're stupid? (Answer: schools are kind of strict on that one.)

The thing is, I've always been pretty strict with my kids, and while I enjoyed the relaxed state of my home during the COVID-19 lockdown, it's time to acknowledge that the time has now passed. 

That means we need to work to a timetable, and I need things to be done my way without being questioned all the time. It's the only way we'll get anywhere we need to go and get there in time, with nobody standing on a nail, and nobody acquiring a case of scurvy.

But I know the return to school has been jarring for my kids. They're happy to see their friends, but they're also exhausted, and struggling to keep up with everything that needs to be done. 

And I am too.

So I'm taking a staggered approach – something akin to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Remember that triangle from high school social studies class? The one with the hypothesis that as humans we focus on our greatest needs first – our physiological needs for food, water and shelter. Then, once those needs are met, we move onto the next layers: safety,love and belonging, esteem, and then to the pinnacle: self-actualisation. 

That's how I'm approaching the return of discipline in my house. I'm not too worried about self-actualisation at this point, but I'm working on a hierarchy that includes having decent manners, cleaning up after ourselves, getting ready for school without playing Roblox, and – maybe one day – cleaning the house from top to bottom as a lovely surprise for Mum, and delivering her breakfast in bed. 

I know I'd give my kids whiplash if I expected them to toe the line just as they're also returning to school and trying to fit in there as well. 

So far, after a week and a half back at school, we've picked off the easy wins at the base of the pyramid, and we're looking promising with the Roblox step. And I have to admit, the children have seemed almost relieved to have the old order restored.

When we nail the top level, I'll let you know.