Earlier this fall, (cool) progeny introduced you to Taking Charge of Your Child, a parenting philosophy book written by local retired Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Murray Kappelman. I had a chance to catch up with Dr. Kappelman over email to ask him a few questions about the book, the personal experiences that shaped his parenting philosophies, and the topic of grandparents. Here’s what he had to say…

In your book, you refer a great deal to your professional life, but I’m curious how your personal life influenced your ‘taking charge’ strategy. Can you share some of your pivotal parenting moments that shaped your philosophy?

My oldest daughter Lee was three years old and very smart and willful.  She refused to toilet train.  My wife and I were very patient with her and worked hard to teach her how to “go potty.”  But, when the time came to go potty, she would smile at us, and declare in a loud voice,”I am going to make in my pants!”  And then she would do so proudly.  She was in control and testing us.  We tried everything to convince her to use the toilet but to no avail.  Finally, I told her, if you make in your pants again, you are going to be responsible for washing out your diaper YOURSELF.  So, when she bragged about making in her pants again, I put her on a stool at the sink, removed her soiled diaper, and gave her a bar of soap and water and told her she had to wash out her diaper.  She was silent.  And not happy.  She blinked several times, turned away from the disgusting diaper, and decided she would rather use the potty after that.  It was all we could do not to laugh as she stood there at the sink, looking forlorn, but the end result was that she was finally toilet trained.  We had made her deal with the consequences of a soiled diaper, quite literally, and that made all the difference.

One of our readers asked a semantics question that I’m hoping you could share your thoughts about. In what ways does your definition of discipline differ from the idea of constant teaching? Or does it?

Great question. Teaching is the basis for discipline. If you teach something to a child that they should know, and they go against the teaching, you must bring it to their attention. That is not discipline. That is asking them to follow your teaching.

I like to think of it in this way: parents are investing in the bank account of their child’s future by the deposits of behavioral management in the early years. If that investment is the teaching of your child by word and by consistent reaction who really should be and, most importantly, who is in charge during the early formative years, you will have the joy and pride in watching your child become a “team player” and, hopefully, reach his maximum potential in work, friendship, marriage, and life in general. This is a worthy goal and worth the emotional effort to get there!

Without this careful, thoughtful, and sometimes difficult and emotionally painful (for all involved) instruction during the childhood and adolescent years, the grown child lacks the tools needed to navigate adult life. The grown adult who is experiencing failure, rejection, and unhappiness in the adult years can look back and see the failure of the parents to be parents as one of the vital missing elements in his or her formation of self.

One of the messages in your book that really resonated with me personally was the idea of always focusing on the positive — which, as any parent knows, can be difficult in a tantruming situation. How can parents continue to focus on the positive when their child is tantruming? 

Well, the good news about tantrums is that they usually last for a finite amount of time! Most tantrums last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. While that space of time may seem interminable when you’re in the midst of it, persevere and remember that this tantruming “storm” will pass, as the last storm did, and the storm before it, too!

Secondly, remember that tantrums are a child’s way to test boundaries and develop a sense of self. So, be encouraged! Your child is growing into an independent person and that process, while frustrating, is going to be bumpy but is perfectly normal and you are not alone!

And finally, think of a tantrum as an opportunity. Your child is literally using their behavior to ask the question, where are my parents’ boundaries? Keep your cool and calmly enforce the consequences with consistency (“time outs” for younger children, or taking away privileges for older children, for example).

{Check out Dr. Kappelman’s guest article on taming tantrums here.}

If parents were to take one message away from your book, what would it be?

I want parents to understand discipline to be a loving practice intended to help, not hurt, their children.

Also, I want the process of discipline to be fully understood. The child must first understand a parent’s expectations, the consequences for not meeting those expectations, and parents must consistently deliver those reasonable consequences when necessary. And all of this ought to be underpinned by the parents’ determination to focus on the positive whenever possible. This creates a stable, supportive environment in which a child can thrive.

Let’s talk about grandparents for a second. Do you use this philosophy with your own grandchidren? How? How do you suggest grandparents support the parents’ parenting strategies?

As a grandparent, if I find that my parenting strategies are at odds with my grandkids’ parents, then it is time for a candid conversation with the parents. While this may be uncomfortable, it is ultimately in the best interest of the child. It may go like this: “I am going to have difficulty because I don’t agree with the way you discipline. Do you have any suggestions? I don’t want to do something that you don’t approve of.”

This opener lays the groundwork that I understand that the parents are in charge, but expresses my genuine desire to be part of the grandchildren’s lives in a way in which both the parents and I am comfortable.

Grandparents who visit or babysit occasionally need not be bothered to address every broken rule, but should honestly inform you of negative behaviors so you, as the child’s parent, can implement the consequences if you feel it appropriate. But grandparents who live in the home or visit or babysit very often must buy into your rules. This is non-negotiable. You are the child’s parents. You make the rules. You draw up the contracts. And make it very clear as tactfully but definitively as possible, you have the long-term behavior outcomes on your shoulders. Ideally, this does not set up a battle of wills between you and the grandparents, but puts the burden on your shoulders so that the grandparents can simply enjoy their grandkids.

What’s one thing most readers would be surprised to know about you?

I have written several original plays produced in Baltimore and several novels published under my name and a pseudonym.​

read more!

Dr. Kappelman’s book, Taking Charge of Your Child: The ONE and ONLY Discipline Book, is available on Amazon for $8.99 or the Kindle version for $5.99.


Editor’s Note: This content is part of a series sponsored by Dr. Murray Kappelman. Because (cool) progeny is a regional parenting resource, we feel that it’s our responsibility to make other parents aware of different parenting philosophies so they can make informed choices about their parenting styles. As Dr. Kappelman writes in his book, ‘No one is born to be a parent. Parenting is something to be studied, questioned, and learned.’  This post contains Amazon affiliate links.