"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Gentle Discipline: So what DO you do?

I have been thinking about discipline a lot the past several days (as have, apparently, many of you) I realized that what was bothering me the most about the negative comments I was receiving about the spilled milk post - aside from the people who felt led to name call - was the pervasive assumption that not punishing equaled not disciplining. That because I do not take a punitive approach, that I do not PARENT.

The opposite is true.

I got comment after comment after comment that said, "If you just let your kids do whatever they want..." which usually led into a diatribe about them never learning right from wrong, never having any respect for themselves or others, and ultimately turning into loud, dirty, trouble-making teenagers.

Parents who ignore their children's behavior, parents who are not involved, parents who really do let their kids "run wild" (for lack of a better phrase) are being neglectful. Those who parent mindfully and who discipline gently are consciously present with their children. They are VERY much involved in showing, leading, modeling, and guiding their children.

It's easy and immediate to offer up a "Go to your room!" or a "Look what you did!" It's dis serving and neglectful to turn your back.  It's deliberate and thoughtful to respond in a calm, and caring way. 

If you get nothing else from this post, please hear this:  Ignoring what your children are doing, and interacting with them respectfully are two completely and diametrically opposed things. 

One common thread I saw emerging in my comments, even when it was not expressly said, was "Well if you don't punish, what DO you do?  How do you teach them right from wrong?  How will they learn?"  I'm going to take that for the honest question that it is.  Some people, for any number of reasons, do not know about alternatives.  They don't know that there's another way.  Some people want to do things differently, and want to break their cycle, but they honestly do not know where to start.  It's for those people that I started to think about the following... a (partial) list of what I do do with my children in terms of discipline.

1. Listen

My friend Vickie, of Demand Euphoria (which is a blog you should immediately head on over to check out when you're finished here) recently said it best when she said, "If you have a question about parenting your child, try asking your child first!"  We all act the way we act for a reason.   When I'm unclear about what's going on with one of my children, I first try to stop and just listen.   I let them tell me why they're thinking/acting/feeling a certain way.  Even young, non-verbal children can communicate what the problem is as long as we're paying attention.  Are they tired?  Hungry?  Frustrated?  Sad?  Angry? Regardless of the situation, we can't even begin to effectively deal with it unless we understand why it's happening.  And we can only do that if we're really in tune with our children.  We can only do that if we're really listening.

2. Talk
While I think the listening has to come before the talking, we of course have to have an ongoing, respectful communication as we help our kids navigate the world.  I think that sometimes as parents we have a tendency to talk way too much (which is why I place listening first)  When Tegan threw the shoes in the water, a very brief and simple, "We don't want those to get ruined," was much more appropriate for the situation  - and her age - than a long-winded narrative about responsibility, respect, and ownership.  With the boys, who are older, I might use more words... but my experience tells me that less is still more, and that the listening has to come first.

3. Empathize

This to me is at times one of the hardest - but most necessary - facets of peaceful parenting.  Sometimes it's hard to remember what it's like to be three (or 7 or 10 or 14)  Sometimes it's hard to see past the frustration of a moment and truly put ourselves in someone else's shoes.   But I can think of few other acts that diffuse a situation as quickly as when I really take a deep breath and let myself feel what my child feels.   I can listen more effectively, talk more authentically, and respond more compassionately when I've let go of me, and allow it to be about them.  This isn't just about kids either, but is an important aspect of dealing with anyone, in any situation. 

4. Model

One thing that I think a lot of people are confused about is how children can learn things like manners, respect, and the like without it being somehow drilled into them.  My answer is this:  I model the behavior that's important to me.   I say please and thank you.  I say excuse me.  I'm polite to waiters and bank tellers and cashiers.  I'm true to myself.  I respect other people's things.  I respect other people's feelings.  I don't lash out at strangers on the internet because they do things differently than me.  I say I'm sorry when I make a mistake.  I treat my kids - and other people - the way I'd like to be treated.  My children have learned it because they have lived it.

5. Provide alternatives 

This point is much more applicable to small children than older children.  One thing I hear a LOT is moms of toddlers who say things like, "But how do I stop the hitting?  The pinching?  The biting?  The throwing?"  If it helps for commiseration sake, Paxton (10) was a huge thrower as a toddler, and these days the only thing he throws is a baseball.... without ever having been punished for it. :)  All those things I mentioned are normal for growing, learning toddlers.  At three, Tegan is on her way out of most such behaviors, but when something arises, I 1) Protect the person who's taking the brunt of it, in whatever way I need to do it... whether that means moving to another room, going outside (or in), or
gently holding her hands in mine.  2) Move on to step one - listening.  Is she tired?  Needing attention?  Just trying something fun?  3) Talking: I'm sorry, I can't let you throw that remote at his head because he might get hurt, and 4) Provide alternatives.  Does she want to throw?  There are lots of safe, fun things she can throw.  Does she want to hit something?  How about high-fives, or punching an exercise ball, or boxing on the Wii?  Does she want to experiment with water?  Lots of safe, fun ways to experiment with water.   Does she just need more personal attention from me?   I'll suggest a game, or a puzzle, or a coloring book, and sit down and do it with her.   Sometimes it takes a healthy dose of creativity, but there's always an alternative. 
6. Take a time out

No, not in the more well-known, punishment kind of way, but a time out together.  A time away from the situation.  A chance to re-connect and re-group.  A chance to calm down.  Sometimes listening, talking, empathizing, and providing alternatives just doesn't do it.  Sometimes you need to call a time out... whether it means a change in scenery, a good book, time alone, a bowl of ice cream, or a good old fashioned round of "what kind of shapes and animals can we find in the clouds."

7.  Be gentle.  Be forgiving.

Just I was finishing up this post, I received another comment.  It said in part that I came across as if I think I'm perfect.  It makes me sad because that is just about the complete opposite of my intent, and it is just about the complete opposite of the truth.  I will take it to heart, and measure the tone of future posts, but can I just hereby officially state for the record that

I am 100% categorically IMPERFECT in oh so many ways!!  

SO many ways.  If you're not convinced, I have friends and family members who would gladly give you a list of my flaws if you would like it.

I'm not perfect.  My kids aren't perfect.  They screw up.  I screw up.  We're human.  The best we can do is try to do better, be gentle with ourselves and others, and apologize honestly and forgive freely. 

I'm not a perfect parent, and I don't have all the answers.  I do know though that my kids are HAPPY.  My kids are confident.  My kids are thriving.   And I can't ask for much more than that.

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

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