04 Oct Some Tips on Discipline
There’s a ton of stuff I could say on this topic — it never seems exhausted. I’ll try to pass on a few key ideas that I’ve learned over the years. What’s most important is that you really understand the why of discipline in order to figure out how to discipline. The root word is disciple which means follower. Discipline means you want your kids to follow. Follow what? Who? Why? You —your values, your beliefs, your understanding of what’s really important and really true. Why? Because you love them and you care enough to correct them. No one else cares enough, will take the time or go to such great lengths to handle them in the loving way you could. You are a constant in the lives of your children because you will weather the years, others will not. As a result, you have the responsibility, the duty and the challenge to guide your kids to maturity. Even better, lead your children to greatness – to be their best selves, at the service of the highest ideals you can offer them. A worthy goal for conscientious parents.
What is the key to your success? Your love and determination to build good habits, to be consistent, to not give up in this awesome responsibility. I highly recommend three resources to help you along the way: James Stenson’s book Compass, Art and Laraine Bennett’s book, The Temperament God Gave You and Gary Chapman’s book, Five Love Languages of Children. Each focus on a different “angle” of discipline. All are practical, insightful and different. There are others too, but this is a good start for understanding some key fundamentals.
1. First, realize that you are a good mother and you can do better. Yes you will make lots of mistakes (yell too often, blow our top off and over-react), especially in your early years of parenting. Your kids constantly teach you that you don’t have your act together, that you lack patience and that you are not consistent. Parenting involves a lot of personal growth for parents. It is a constant beginning and beginning again to figure out how to handle situations better and more effectively. We all have made mistakes. But, bottom line, we love our kids, and really want the best for them. We are good moms because we care and we can be better. You are not perfect, nor are you supermom (even if you own a superhero outfit in your closet). Parenting is an ongoing challenge. Just when we feel on top of things, the stage changes. As long as we are parents, we are forced to grow and find new ways of acting effectively, lovingly and patiently. Accept that we make tons of mistakes along the way. Don’t seek to escape your responsibilities or pass them off to someone else. Rather keep learning how to overcome obstacles and be the best parent you can be. It’s part of learning. It’s a road to growth. No child enters the world with it’s own operating manual. No child is perfect. Neither are we. We are all a combo deal – part virtue, part defect. Which part wins depends on our struggle. It’s worthwhile to bring out the best in yourself and nurture the virtue in your child. We do get tired, we do over-react. Life is stressful. Apologize when you blow it. Be short and sweet. Then move on. Believe it or not, it’s good for your kids to see that you are imperfect. They should not be treated as glass. They will have to eventually deal with a world that is not so delicate with them. Work at being a better mom. Pray for strength and patience, but do discipline when you see the need. You have the right and duty, even if at times you don’t handle it as well as you’d hope.
2. Expect a big learning curve. Most of us come into family life with little or no experience or knowledge on the discipline issue. We learn as we go. Our children challenge us at each step to figure out the ropes. We often learn by trial and error. One key is to take the time to really get to know your children. In order to discipline effectively you must know your kids, how they react to things, how they tick etc. and have a healthy, warm, loving, strong relationship with them. The interaction of your temperament with theirs is a dynamic you need to understand and work with. Read The Temperament God Gave You to get a better handle on this topic. Love your children concretely when you are with them, especially if you are a working mom and time is sparse. Chapman’s book, Five Love Languages for Children, has great insights in this area. When kids really sense that you love them, believe in them, desire their best, they will respond better to your demands. You are not just a disciplinarian, you are a parent who loves. Your children need to see this in you. This takes time, oodles of time. Let your kids see you enjoy spending time with them. Read to them, play with them, go exploring, plan fun, have fun. Their childhood is too short for you to get hung up solely on behavior management. Really enjoy the uniqueness of each child whenever, however and for as long as you can — even if it’s only 5 minutes before you tuck them into bed. Share your life, your love, your criteria, your memories – all that you are. Help your children to see how and why you tick, what’s important to you and what isn’t. They will then see your discipline as integral to growth and maturity.
3. Our goal is to foster good habits. As parents we want our children to pick up good habits, right ways of dealing with people, things and events. I think it is important to realize that we are all prone to misbehave at all ages, regardless of whether we know right from wrong. It’s part of the human condition. Nevertheless we want our children to grow up to be mature, responsible persons who will by-pass a lot of heartbreak and difficulty along the way. We have the duty and obligation to steer our children in the direction of truth and goodness. If we don’t who will — the judge, police officer, boss, court system etc.??? Kids need to channel their energy well; parents need to respond consistently, confidently and firmly to misbehavior. Each child is different. What works for one does not necessarily for the other. Parents have to have their radar constantly up to see what needs tweaking and when to sound the alarm. Someone once told me: Ignore whatever undesirable behavior you can ignore. (you can do this by distracting the child and getting them to change their behavior); When behavior cannot be ignored, follow through with the logical consequences of that behavior. Finally, catch the child in the act of good behavior and reward it openly (ie. with affection, praise, smile etc.). There are lots of good parenting books out on the market. Grab some from the library and start reading. No matter how many kids you have or how long you have been parenting, you will always need to improve your skills. Guarendi gives some great ideas in his book Discipline that Lasts a Lifetime. Here are just a few:
- YOU HIT, YOU SIT – No physical contact allowed without the other’s permission. For mutual squabbling, both sit at table with heads down. No talking allowed. Neither gets up until each gives the other permission to get up.
- YOU FIGHT, YOU WRITE – Older siblings write 150 word apologies to each other. (small children can copy a letter you’ve written).
- YOU TALK BACK, YOU WALK BACK – YOU GET MEAN, YOU LEAVE THE SCENE
Immediate half hour in the room. For older kids add 200 word report on a topic from encyclopedia.
- PICK UP OR PAY UP – Every item mom or dad have to pick up goes in their box for one week. One dime fee for return.
- YOU SHIRK, YOU WORK – If you neglect your chore on time, privileges are unavailable until that chore and an additional one are complete.Of course these consequences do not apply to toddlers, but parents have to be firm in dealing with bad behavior and praise good behavior. Keep the consequences simple. One mom I know divides and conquers. Kids fight, she sends one upstairs, the other downstairs, instructing them that they can be in the same room when they are ready to play happily together. Another mom makes her kids run around the exterior of the house as many laps as they are old. Find your own easy to implement style and apply consistently. Your discipline sends a message. I love you enough to correct you. You cannot continue acting this way. You are a good kid. I believe you can do better. Another good read from a different perspective is Secrets of Discipline by Ron Moorish. Worth looking at.
4. It is important that parents as much as possible, stay calm, confident and firm. That’s a hard one. Kids are super smart and have learned from very young how and what buttons to push to drive us nuts. Looking back on my twenty odd years of parenting, I see that most times I am neither calm, nor confident. Hormones, stress, worries and personalities all add up to be dynamite moments. Nevertheless in the midst of it all, you have to find coping mechanisms or else you’ll end up in a straight jacket at the local psyche ward. When my kids were young and super noisy, I had classical music playing in the background so I could focus on something better to keep my wits. Another mom I knew would vent her frustration behind the closed bathroom door; another privately punches her bedroom pillow to get her anger out when her blood pressure is going through the roof because her kids are being obnoxious. Then both are ready to deal with the kids and be more calm. Some parents count to 10, others send the child to their room and take 5 minutes before going in to talk to them. Explore possibilities. Oftentimes, just getting everyone out of the house works wonders. Talk to other moms. They are all going through the same chaos as you. Some have found ways that work. Others are searching. You are normal. Whatever tactic you decide, be in control of yourself before you deal with situations. Emotional anger never solves problems. Realize too that maybe you need more sleep, a friend to talk to, or just a break from parenting to be in a better frame of mind. Most importantly, set a game plan for you and your spouse. Read a book together, take a parenting course, watch a parenting video or speak to a mutual friend to figure out what rules you can implement, and what consequences are appropriate for the age and stage of your kids. Then type it up, post it in your kitchen and refer to it when all @%#@ is breaking out. You will find it will hep you keep your head on, be more consistent and deal effectively with situations because you are appealing to reason and not passion.
5. Our aim is not to micromanage our kids. Too many parents today are over-directing and over-controlling. Children are not meant to be mini-adults. They come into the world infantile, then grow to be childish, then hormonal and eventually mature. You are there to build them towards maturity, but in the process give them the freedom to be kids and have a childhood. Also, the quality of our parenting is not directly proportional to the number of activities we sign our kids up for. Don’t get sucked into the current trend of activism. Realize a lot of what they need is right there in your home — affection, love, relationships and activities. We need to raise our kids from the inside out — laying down strong moral foundations. We need to zoom in on the essentials and back off on the rest. Kids need room to be kids. Outside of school time, work on increasing family time. There is so little of it otherwise. (A good read on the topic is Home Court Advantage by Kevin Leman.) On home turf, help kids learn initiative, take joy in exploring, playing, and occupying themselves constructively. Beware of too much programming, or the opposite – too much TV, computer or internet. Good reading, family traditions, mealtimes, chores, hobbies, conversations, volunteer work and playing with siblings are better alternatives. We should not be solving all their problems, making their lives always headache free. This applies to all ages (toddlers to adult children). Yes we love our children, but they need to slowly grow in freedom and responsibility. They need to grow in sound judgement, self-control, fortitude and fairness. Results take time, maybe months, often years. Be very patient. Focus on developing their insides so they understand what is true, good and beautiful and seek it out in their lives, for the betterment of themselves and the common good of society. Accept that they are a mix of virtue and vice and your aim is not a flawless trophy. Your kids will be mature not when they can take care of themselves, but when they know how to genuinely take care of others and want to.
6. Keep tabs on the role models you are placing in front of your kids. Your kids will copy what is in front of them. Monitor and control what your kids are being exposed to: TV, advertising, computers, books, magazines, internet, smart phones, IPads etc. Search out quality so that it underlines what you are trying to lead your children towards.Don’t buy them the technology and make sure your supervise and control it when it is in your house. Be sure to set a great example of restraint yourself. If you don’t exercise supervision in this area, you run the risk of having all that you are working towards greatly undermined. I know a young mom who put the TV in the closet for her defiant 3 year old. In two days, she saw an immediate turn around in behavior. The child was more talkative, co-operative, willing to engage in different activities, responsive etc. She couldn’t believe the results. In another family, a seven year old told his mom, “People don’t drink beer in the winter Mom.” When asked why, he responded, “Because there are always girls in bikinis when the beer is being served.” The mom was mortified by the impact of commercials. In another situation a young boy told his mom how his favorite commercial involved a man sprinting over mailboxes. He then announced, “Viagra must be the best thing around.” What a head turner that was for that family! They have opted to be more screen-free, offer alternative activities and promote select DVDs instead.
7. Work to be united to your husband. Realize that when you discipline or lead your children towards what you consider best, you are forming their consciences. Your actions and reactions to events, your explanations, example and demands all work to fine tune your child’s perceptions of what is right, wrong, bad, worse, terrible, desirable, acceptable, etc. You are setting foundations for moral integrity, or lack of it by what is happening in your home. Seek unity with your spouse as much as possible. Be willing to listen to his side and bend on things that are not important. When you are divided on ways to handle things, go to a third party to make the discussions more objective rather than heated. An agreed upon friend, older parent, recommended author etc. can pave a path of unity. Use the information to fuel good discussion and clear resolutions. Realize it will take work. Talk often with your husband about the kids, possible goals and avenues for solutions. Don’t berate his efforts. In marriage, many occasions arise where you and your husband react totally different to the behavior of your kids. This is normal. You are two totally different people and the way a man and a woman are wired is very different. As a result, don’t question your spouse’s style of approach in front of the children, especially when discipline is occurring. That is very disrespectful to your spouse and also detrimental to the respect your kids need to show both of you. Rather wait till later, cool down, think about it, find the right moment and address it privately. Kids need to see your unity, otherwise they will play you one against the other, weaken your authority and take charge themselves. This begins already in the toddler years. You must be in charge of the family, not your children. Otherwise you will have serious issues when they are teenagers.
8. Finally, regularly take time outs. We moms are constantly on the battlefield, putting out numerous “fires” in our family. We get worn out, fed up and lost in what we are doing, especially if we are home full-time. We can feel we are going no where in a hurry. All seems lost. I’ve had many days like that in my lifetime. When we feel like that, we got to change something to clear up the fog and get our bearings. Maybe we need to get to bed earlier each night. Maybe we’ve got to get more often out of the house to get fresh air or up our exercise to get rid of tension. Take a look at your eating habits. Maybe you need to snack on some fruit to keep your blood sugar levels constant. Having protein at each meal also increases energy. Diet, exercise and sleep are very important to keep our gas tank full. Get down to the bottom of what’s happening. At night, think what worked well today, what didn’t? Who’s pushing my buttons? Why? Is it to get my attention because I’m not giving enough? Or is there something else? Am I adding fuel to the fire or making headway? What’s happening in that kid’s life right now? What’s going on? Maybe there are tests at school, family problems, peer pressure, overtired, too hungry, too idle, too stressed etc. What can I do to improve the situation? Get out your full arsenal on problem solving. Talk to another mom for ideas. Maybe that’s not the issue at all and you just need a break. Go out and have a good laugh with some friends. Give yourself permission to pursue a hobby, play a sport, attend a women’s group. Figure out what re-charges you when you feel spent. Most importantly talk to God about what’s happening. He made you. He sees what’s happening. He’s allowed these circumstances. Ask him what you should do. Listen. Ask for help. Be patient. Maybe let go and let God. You will be amazed at the results. Being a parent is tough work. We fall a million times. What’s important is that we get up and start again. We are good moms and we can be better. We have to give it another crack.