One of my resolutions this year is to more effectively & consistently use peaceful, positive discipline with my children. I strive to connect with them, and teach (the right message) with every interaction; even if that interaction is one of a corrective/disciplinary nature. Teaching children a certain behavior is undesirable doesn’t have to include anger, punishment, shame, or isolation. And it should include empathy, kindness, and natural consequences. I don’t achieve perfection every time, and do make mistakes. But I strive to learn from my parenting mistakes, to forgive myself for those I make, and move on with better tools in my toolbox (and leave the ones that don’t work in the garbage).
Positive discipline is so important to fostering not just good behavior in children, but more importantly, in developing a fully functional internal guidance system. What distresses me, is that for the overwhelming attitude of adults, “well behaved” is the penultimate goal for children. And because of this belief, any and every method should be used to achieve this in your children. Punitive or not. Logical or not. I believe it’s a misguided objective, and leads ultimately to frustration. Unfortunately, it begins in babyhood with most - with the unreasonable expectation of producing a “good” baby: one who doesn’t fuss, and who sleeps through the night – and continues on through childhood with the “good” child who doesn’t talk back or tantrum or rebel. It’s as though people have forgotten that when babies cry, and children test limits, they do so from a natural, normal place of need: needing to be held, needing attention, needing to be gently guided. They are asking to be taught, not punished. They don’t come into this world knowing anything. And so, every interaction we have with them teaches them something. Don’t we want to make sure that what we’re teaching is what we actually want them to learn?
I fear that in an effort to make children more convenient, parents are resorting punishments and techniques aimed at quieting instead of actually parenting, and teaching: getting to the root of what the baby is trying to say or what the child is trying to learn or express. Take “cry it out” for example, used rampantly by parents as a means of “teaching” babies to sleep. While it may work in the short term – and achieve (at least temporarily) the goal of the quiet sleeping baby, it hasn’t actually taught the baby the intended lesson. Baby didn’t learn that sleep is a peaceful state, or to willingly go to bed. Instead, baby has learned that no one comes when they cry, so stop crying. That nighttime is a time of loneliness and discomfort. What this translates to in the long term is a sense of defeatism, lowered self worth, and detachment from parents. It may achieve a quiet “good” baby, but at what cost?
The same goes for the typical punishments of childhood: spanking, parent-determined consequences, and coerced/enforced/isolation timeouts. Don’t hit, or I’ll spank you. Don’t talk back or I’ll put you in a time out & I’ll tell you when to get out. Certainly, the hypocrisy of hitting as a punishment for hitting is obvious. But what about the less obvious parent-determined punishments like timeouts? I say that punitive discipline (as opposed to natural/logical consequences) only serve to teach children this: Don’t do what parents don’t want you to do; with one big caveat: while they’re watching. You see, unless you teach children WHY hitting isn’t an acceptable form of expressing frustration – and unless you give them alternative methods of expression, they WILL continue to hit, they’ll just do it when mom isn’t looking. Kids may appear to behave, but unless they have an understanding of why, and how, the “good behavior” is in appearance only. Wouldn’t you rather a child have the ability to self-control, instead of behaving only due to external control? A kid who can understand that we don’t hit because it hurts another person, and hurting another person feels awful to me, and to them, and instead I should walk away before I hit, or use my words to express my frustration, is SO MUCH better prepared for life than the child who doesn’t hit because Mom is in the room & doesn’t want to get in trouble.
To this effort, I strive for more thoughtfulness, and less reactivity in my responses to my childrens’ unwanted behaviors. I keep a keen eye on my own actions and responses, as children learn most from what they see & do than from what they hear. I DO tolerate more that perhaps is typically expected, because I don’t think just “being good” is good enough for my kids, or for me as a parent. I expect my children to learn from their behavior as I learn from mine. In my previous post, I mentioned the Positive Discipline parenting cards. The one I chose for this week seems appropriate to this post:
If you're interested in positive discipline, and getting away from punishment, you may find these articles & sites helpful:
Positive Discipline Methods
What is Discipline?
How Children Really React to Control
The Case Against Time-Out