Discipline can be a downright dirty word that stains the canvases of our parenting masterpieces. A scream, a scribble or a sleepy time battle, may create splatters of red rage or depressing blues.
Every move you make as a parent is an opportunity to add perspective to the bigger picture, so take a moment and think about what the word discipline means to you.
Does it result in a cascade of thoughts imbued with visions of time out, favorite toys being taken away, or restricted time on the Nintendo DS?
Is discipline something that you do TO your children or something you do WITH your children?
Quite often disciplining children turns into a dynamic of throwing our weight around as parents and disciplining children because their behavior is inconvenient or annoying, not because it is morally wrong. With bold strokes we punish children because of what they are doing wrong instead of teaching them good ways to act.
Dr. Justin Coulson writes in his book What Your Child Needs From You, that true discipline helps a child discover his or her own reason for making good choices, rather than forcing them to behave out of fear or promise of a reward.
True discipline takes the management of our children’s behavior out of our hands and puts it into theirs. Children then internalize correct ways of behaving and see how problems can be dealt with in a mature way, feeling a sense of competence because they are the ones doing the thinking and talking.
Does this mean you should adopt a parenting style remiss of consequences? No.
The research urges parents to consider prioritizing relationship above behavior. Become the coach, not the parenting police. By teaching your child good ways to act, the instances of needing to manage behavior will decrease.
Here are some ways to get started:
1. Induction. How will children know how to act correctly if they don’t know what is expected of them? Set some ground rules with your children and discuss them frequently. Choose three to four rules for the family based on your values and do this collaboratively when your children are old enough to contribute. If respect is an important value, you may brainstorm ways in which you will show respect.
Here is an example of a ground rule:
In our family, we show respect to one another in our words and in our actions.
- We speak in a kind tone and keep our voices calm.
- We wait our turn to speak if someone else is talking.
- We solve our problems with words.
2. Perspective Taking. Find opportunities for your children to take the perspective of someone else. When a conflict arises , encourage them to play the part of the other person and then ask open-ended questions like,
“What was it like when ____happened?”
“How did it make you feel?”
“How could (insert other person) help you feel better?”
3. Understand your child’s development. You will know what your child is capable of handling by understanding where they are developmentally.
Did you know that a two-year-old is not capable of fully understanding the consequences of his/her behavior and a child isn’t capable of following multiple commands until the age of six?
4. Gentle Reminders. If your child has forgotten a rule, do the following:
- Get within arm’s reach of your child and call her by name.
- Look at her and quietly remind her of the issue with as few words as possible. Brief and calm. “Your backpack” or “Brush teeth”. Sometimes nonverbal cues, like pointing to the dish at the table, works as well.
- Say please and smile kindly.
Discipline, when shared WITH your children, can be a vibrant yellow that adds incredible dimension to the big-picture of parenting.
What will you add to your parenting palette today?