Thursday, November 15, 2012
Discipline is a sensitive topic. I've heard people from my parents' and my own generation take pride in the fact that they yell at, constantly put in time out, and even spank their kids.
I don't have the answers for everyone, but I do know that when I yell or react in anger, I don't feel good. Forget about whether or not it's effective, I feel like crap. I also know that Christ and church leaders that I admire would not advocate anything but gentleness, kindness, and love to our children. This doesn't mean no discipline.
I was talking with my sister last week (who is a model for patience and kindness in her parenting to me). After a long discussion, I had an epiphany. I talked about how my daughter completely shuts down when she hears loud noises. We were trying to get in the car while the neighbor was running a chain saw and she covered her ears and froze and couldn't follow simple directions to get in the car without help. So why do I think that yelling at her is going to be effective discipline? All I do is scare her and cause her to shut down.
Another common discipline method is the time out. We have used time out a lot. But I don't think it's been effective most of the time. My daughter is terrified of being left alone and abandoned. So why exactly are we leaving her alone in a corner for every little infraction? Even if she starts obeying, it's out of fear, not because she understands why she should or shouldn't do whatever she was sent in time out for. I am a fan of natural consequences. It takes more time and thought, but in the long run, I feel it is a lot more effective. And when she has to navigate this world as an adult, no one is going to send her to time out, but there will be plenty of natural consequences for her actions.
It will change with age and time, and may even be completely different for my second daughter, but right now this is what I'm trying to do with my firstborn.
- Instead of yelling, I get down to be level with her, hold onto the sides of her face, and calmly talk to her about her behavior. This always includes a why for the expected behavior, a consequence if the poor behavior continues, and an "I Love You" and a kiss on the head at the end. I noticed an immediate improvement when I started this.
- Yelling happens. But the only times that I feel it's okay is when she is doing something dangerous to her or others. There are times when I need to get her attention fast. But a calm explanation follows. (And since I've just started this, yelling happens at plenty of other times too, but I'm working on it.)
- Natural consequences are the most commonly used form of discipline. If she won't help clean up her toys, she won't get to play with those toys the next day. It's honestly hard to think of other examples off the top of my head because my daughter is usually a good girl. Another thing I need to remember.
- Time outs still happen. But usually only for blatant things like hitting. A time out can also be different for different kids. My mom used to send us to our room until she realized that we liked it. Then she started assigning extra chores instead. For kids who need to calm down more than anything, I've seen a time out held in a parent's lap. This wouldn't work for my daughter because as soon as she's in trouble, she wants to sit with me. A hug eventually comes, but a hug shouldn't be the first thing she gets after hitting her sister. That comes after a period of time spent sitting and then an apology to her sister. I also don't send her to her room or to a corner for time out. As I said before, I don't want to scare her. She sits on the cedar chest in the living room and waits for the timer to go off (3 minutes because she's 3) and then she can come talk about what she did.
- Another important thing for my daughter's personality is to not be disciplined in public. Public shaming is popular right now, and for some personalities might be appropriate. My daughter is a very private person like I am, so I understand her needs in this respect. She usually behaves very well in public, so that's not a huge issue. The issue comes when we are visiting or being visited by relatives. The solution to this is simple, we remove her from the main living space and take her into a bedroom to talk to her.
Here and here are two of many articles that have made me rethink my disciplining techniques and offer ideas for gentler discipline.
Any thoughts on disciplining children? What have you found that works? Does one size fit all in your family, or do you tailor it to the child?