Most of us have days when discipline "works" - when we show up as the adult that we want to be while still setting appropriate limits. There are other days though (when we are stressed), when we can hear our own parents' or teachers' voices (when they were stressed) coming out of our mouths. That is when we wonder, "What is it with this child?" or hear those internal voices criticizing our own ability to parent, teach or even be a reasonable human being. Those are not the "grown-up moments" that we look forward to. And we all have them.
We also have a pretty good idea about what gets us in these situations. It is that feeling of being "trapped" or having our "buttons" pushed; of not having any good options. It is as if, in the stress of the moment, we open our discipline "toolbox" and the only tools in there are the ones someone else used when they were desperate: the ones we never liked as kids and swore we would never use.
Before "re-stocking" the toolbox, it is helpful to think about what children need to thrive. Children need a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (meaning) in their world. They need an opportunity to explore, take risks and mess things up (freedom) as well as clear limits (order).
The good news is that there are lots of simple, respectful (to both the child and adult) tools that are effective in the long term. By using kindness and firmness at the same time we can discipline (teach) young people the life skills they need without being either permissive or punitive. We build long term relationships. By filling the "toolbox" with more resources you will find that those "old" tools gradually rust at the bottom of the box. Here are some tools that come from discipline principles that work:
Children need a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (meaning). Creating opportunities to connect and contribute will limit misbehavior.
Maintain dignity and respect for yourself and for the situation and child.
Children learn by watching.
Life has ups and downs. Children learn resilience by practicing.
Mistakes are opportunities to learn. Yours and theirs.
Enjoy the child!
A word of caution. Refill your toolbox slowly. It might be that you choose to make a special effort to connect with or listen to this child today. Or perhaps for one week you'll practice staying calm. Gradually, with practice you won't be reaching for those "old" discipline tools nearly as often. You'll understand that it is possible to discipline (teach) our children with kindness and firmness without being either permissive or punitive: from the heart instead of the hip.
Posted on June 2, 2012 by Jody McVittie, MD
Jody McVittie has been working with families since she got frustrated with her own family at the ripe age of 3. Needless to say her skills have improved a little since then. She is now a much in demand speaker to help families and schools deal with the kind of know-it-all demanding 3 (and 13) year-olds she once was. She is the executive director of Sound Discipline, a 501 c 3 non-profit dedicated breaking the cycle of family violence by teaching people to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.
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