So I was asked to share…
I was recently asked (thanks Liz!) to share my views on discipline–and so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I realize I may come under fire for this, but I don’t mind. We are all entitled to our own opinions, respectfully, and this is mine. This is coming from a mom who believes that for every child, there is a malleable, shapeable approach needed. For every child, different angles and viewpoints & perspectives to be taken into account. For each family, different things need to be tried out and experimented with–because lets be honest, we all don’t respond to the same things. Someone may be moved to tears by a radio story, while others need to be part of a natural disaster before it hits home to them how serious the devastation is. We all respond differently.
That said, with respect to parents who have let their kid cry it out, parents who have tried spanking, parents who have done sleep training, parents who have bribed endlessly –I understand that desperate times make everyone crazy & make everyone want to try anything just to fix the issue at hand. I’m not here to shame anyone–because honestly, a lot of parents just “do what they know,” and so if they were spanked, they spank. If they were manipulated, they manipulate, etc. I’m not okay with spanking (it’s our very last resort), manipulation, and shaming as our family’s way to cope with behaviors that aren’t acceptable. Shaming children is probably my most hated thing, ever. I was once at a birthday party where a child was made to say thank you to me–and it embarrassed me, and the child, and I felt very uncomfortable. I don’t believe in forcing (like, pushing an issue over and over) a child when they clearly aren’t ready–they need to come to it on their own terms. Saying thank you is hardly a life or death issue (like forcing your child to hold your hand in busy traffic or picking them up against their will–THAT I understand, it’s a life threatening situation!) and beyond a doubt, in my mind, a better example to your child is simply to say thank you to the host yourself, and ask your child if they’d like to say thank you–and not keep going at it and embarrassing many people. Manipulation is not okay in my books. Being sensitive to the feelings of others totally is okay though!
So–I was specifically asked what we do with August. I will try to go through what we’ve done–and how we’ve done it, so that it makes sense. But our approach is an ever evolving, changing, and moldable thing that is influenced by friends, family, church, experience, research, what have you. I am constantly amazed when friends show me (through my own observation of their actions) what they do with their own kiddos. It is wonderful to learn new approaches. And that’s mainly why I share this with you–so that if you are looking for something new, if you need another approach, here it is for you:
Showing respect is the basis of our parenting style. To some people, this may look like “taking it easy,” or “being controlled by” our child. I can see how someone might think that. We give choices (two reasonable choices at a time, for little ones, is age appropriate) so that our little guy is able to decide some things for himself. If he says “NO!” we respect his no, in reasonable and safe circumstances. If he doesn’t want clothes on–a lot of the time, that’s okay. I will tell him, “Okay, August, but if we go to the library I’m going to need to put clothes on you before we leave the house.” I let him have his no and yes heard, so that he doesn’t think he’s got no voice! “Children should be seen, and not heard,” could not be further from our beliefs. If we want our children to grow up to be sentient, thoughtful, contributing members of society–how can we take their voice away as little ones, and expect them to somehow magically develop it along the way? On the flip side, we try not to say “NO” to August when we don’t have to. A lot of the time, “bad” behavior (often a child’s way of figuring out right and wrong, of realizing what boundaries are!) is a way for children to see what mom & dad’s response will be–they are looking for consistency. Many behaviors will simply stop on their own without reinforcement of any kind, from my experience with my son. Sometimes kiddos will keep doing things because they get a response. When August was very little we tried to not overuse NO, and now that he is older we say it a bit more as safety and age-appropriateness are there. He is now two, he understands when mommy says, “No, August, please don’t touch.” Firmness applies with my no–but I respect him. He is allowed to make a choice. He also pushes the limits, which is when boundaries & consequences come in.
Boundaries & Consequences:
I feel this is an important time for me to highlight our definition of “discipline.” For many, I think this word seems archaic, overly strict, authoritarian, etc. It is harsh on the ears, for some. As a reference, you would be correct, as the Merriam-Webster definition is: “train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Let me give you a working definition of the “discipline” idea we are adhering to. In our minds, disciplining our child means that we are “Helping him to understand real-world expectations that he will have to meet, in terms that are age-appropriate and understandable at his current stage.” This means that yes, when our son bites mommy (as he did this morning), that is unacceptable and he will have to take a “time in,” (he sits with me and we talk about what happened, he doesn’t get up until I say he can) because it is unacceptable to hurt others. Boundaries are ways of knowing what’s acceptable to do to others, and to allow to be done to yourself–they are very important; as are consequences. I consider us to be a gentle family, we try to use intelligent means to communicate with our child, and to lovingly reinforce when behavior is not appropriate–but I have heard of parents who are basically unable to say no to their child, unable to enforce any kind of discipline, and do not punish or correct their children. I have to say that while I realize they are probably doing this as a reaction to their own upbringing (whether good or bad), I think this is a disservice to their child. The world WILL have its own standard for our children to follow, will have its own general rights and wrongs that we cannot change, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not, and saying yes to our child all the time, not having any rules, etc. is not going to help them. It is simply going to defer reality to another time, and a harsh awakening will likely ensue.
We reinforce consequences often these days–for example, August might grab a pen or a sharpie & start drawing on something. I will tell him once or twice, “August, please give mommy that pen, I will give you your crayons.” If he is still not listening after a second or third request, I will tell him, “Mommy is now taking the pen, I asked you twice to give it to me. Would you like to color with your own crayons?” This way I am positively re-directing him, and not just focusing on the negative. He knows that I asked him not to use my pen, and I took it from him. BUT–He has his own crayons that are perfectly acceptable to use & he has that option. This leads us to the topic of positive redirection, ever so conveniently. :-)
Positive redirection is defined as such: “to direct (someone or something) to a different place or by a different route, in a positive manner.” So–let me get something straight here: I believe this works more when children are younger. If August was getting into something and I really didn’t want him playing with it, I would try to take him somewhere else & tell him, “Here, these are your things to play with.” Now, it involves more communication–not just directly removing him from the situation and placing him in a positive one. We discuss why he can’t have mommy’s purse or whatever it is, we talk about why he can’t use his stool to reach for the knife on the counter (that happened yesterday) and what he can have if he wants to use something from the counter (his sippy cup, and the knife was placed far, far away!). We try to always be talking to August about things so that he actively feels he is involved in our lives. He is not just a little piece that can be moved about wherever we want it to be.
Some days just SUCK!
Some days, I will yell at August–he will get into a horrible mess & I will be upset. I will lose it! I will completely turn my back on my gentle techniques and tell him how horrible I feel he was being. It happens. I will lose my temper, and I know I can’t prevent it always. When it happens, if I can muster the courage & patience, I tell him that Mommy needs a break to just get her head together. When I have calmed down a bit I always come back to him, tell him I’m sorry, and tell him that I love him. I tell him what I did wrong–because I want him to know that mommy is capable of bad behavior, and that she needs to own up to it as well. Parents should apologize to their kids, too, I think. While we may try, and fail, with our attempts at intelligent discipline, it is always worth it to us. I see how my son’s behavior is very different than most of his peers–I don’t accredit it all to our choice to parent in this way, but I do take some of the credit! I am very happy with the results we have seen thus far: August is very sensitive to the needs & feelings of others. He seems mature beyond his two years, and I believe part of this is God-given, part of it is learned.
Long Term Goals:
We want a child who can think for himself, who challenges the status quo–who doesn’t just take an answer at face value when its given to him. This requires bringing him up in an environment where he feels respected & safe. Where he feels he can openly express himself without fear of judgement. We try to live biblically, but we also don’t pull the “honor thy father & mother” when it isn’t age appropriate. A two-year-old can start to learn to respect parents, but seriously? That’s not age appropriate knowledge. And I don’t buy the whole respecting your elders thing. I think some adults are completely bogus and say bogus things–they should be told so. And if my child calls them out on it, so be it–I want him to be a truth teller, not a following sheep. Yep–I said that. Our greatest hope is that in following Christ, we will show our child with an example in our actions of how to love people, love God. We try to read the bible (we usually fail at that, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as we’d like) we try to be engaged in our community. We try to love people and care for them in real ways. We realize that we will fall short, I will fail August and so will Troy. But in everything–we hope to point him towards Christ’s redeeming love. I hope you enjoyed reading about what our family does for discipline, in this stage of life.
These are two books that I believe to be instrumental and essential for gentle parenting! The Whole Brain Child helps you to understand the basic makeup of your little ones brain. Their brain is still developing every day–some parts of it are not capable of adult functions, and we need to recognize that as we try to move forward as parents. Boundaries is an excellent book my dad, who is a counselor, recommended to me. It changed my life. It’s not specifically for kids (though there is a Boundaries, for Kids) but if you read it and understand more about yourself, I am certain you can help your child with the tools you learn.
All my love,