Photo by tourist_on_earth
Discipline...if I had known its complexities and challenges beforehand, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to become a mom in the first place.
It's an emotionally-charged word, fueled with the histories and experiences of two camps: those who are adamant spankers on one side, those who never believe in any type of discipline on the other.
I flunked out of both.
I've written before (in a controversial post) about how I passionately came to believe that it was not right for me to spank my children. At that time some readers were disappointed that I didn't give specific discipline advice. I really wasn't in a place to do so.
But now that my kids are a tad older (currently 7.5, 6.5, and almost 6), I feel that I have (in general) found my discipline groove. Steve and I still look at each other with that "what do we do now" face, but not quite as often as we used to.
In theory, I like to practice what I call gentle discipline. I see this as treating my kids with the dignity and respect that is inherent by being a person made in God's image. I want to remember that my children are people, little people who lack maturity--yes, but still individuals with valid thoughts and opinions.
If that resonates with you, here are five ideas that may help as you seek to be positive and gentle with your young children.
1. Let's try that again.
If you were a fly on my wall, you'd hear this phrase in our home multiple times each day--when someone forgets to use please, hits someone else (uh, it happens), or talks back to Mommy.
Giving the chance to try again, before enforcing a consequence, is a gentle form of training and reminding. We all need second chances, don't we?
2. Set them up for success--go to them when you ask.
Don't shout commands to a young child from another room. If you need to make a request, go to them, get down on their level (especially with toddlers/preschoolers), and make sure they hear you.
Young kids are not great multi-taskers; it's simply not fair to expect them to have the reasoning capability of grown adults (who often aren't great multi-taskers, either!).
3. Do it together.
Young children love to be with you; they are relational and dependent by nature. So you help them be more compliant when you participate too.
"Let's clean up these toys." "Let's go get our coats." "I'll race you to line up."
Be playful; it isn't you against them. You're on the same team - help each other win!
Photo by eyeliam
4. Distract with something else.
Little ones are curious; they were made to explore and learn. And this very quality, which will help them achieve and succeed in the future, we often discourage because it inconveniences us.
So don't leave your valuables out on the coffee table and use the opportunity to "train" your 18-month-old. When your child is after something they really should not have or play with, try to playfully distract them with another toy or activity if possible.
5. Take into account your child's age and developmental stage.
Toddlers throw tantrums. Preschoolers don't sit still. Seven-year-olds talk back.
These stages are not easy, often because we have a tendency to view ourselves through the lens of our child's behavior.
"What does this say about me, about my mothering?" we question. And we wonder if we're failing.
But when we're able to more like a kind, detached policeman, we won't take behaviors so personally. We can step back and recognize that, while unpleasant, stages don't last forever.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt
So what do you do when you've tried all of the above and nothing works?
Life is messy and doesn't fit into formulas. You may lose sleep for several nights, meaning you're tired and not on top of your game. Or maybe you were really patient with one child earlier, but by the fourth encounter with a different child, you find yourself losing your cool.
In our home we use some traditional discipline strategies as well--like time-outs or taking away toys temporarily. I try to think of these as a last resort after applying the thoughts above.
If you're still developing your own discipline philosophy, I've previous written about my favorite parenting books--ones that have inspired me when I needed it.
Discipline, like most aspects of parenting, is an art not a science.
Your intuition, what feels right or not right, is just as important and valid as any other strategy. No one else knows your kids or your home. Don't depend solely on the experts; be your own expert.
**Do you feel you've found your groove when it comes to discipline or are you still developing it?**