One of the biggest wake-up calls I’ve had to answer as a parent is the call to discipline my kids. Being the disciplinarian is not in my nature, but I have had to develop this virtue because being a loving parent is in my nature. I would argue that, even in tw0-parent homes, both parents should take on this role fairly equally, because leaving the discipline up to one parent is not healthy, effective, or fair. So, it has been with great reluctance and trepidation that I have finely honed my discipline skills over the years. Up to this point, I have raised independent, respectful, well-behaved, and just all-around awesome kids. (Granted, my first one is just now hitting the teen years, during which even angel kids have been known to experience a period of Exorcist-type behavior before reverting back to their childhood values…)
I would like to think that at least a small portion of how my kids behave has something to do with my discipline strategy; a strategy that has taken shape partly due to reading mountains of books (Parenting with Love and Logic is a great one!) and pages of parenting blogs, as well as talking to veteran parents of great kids. However, the biggest factor in my parental discipline development has come from my own personal reflections about why I have decided I need to discipline a particular child for a particular action, and why I have chosen any particular form of discipline.
Why am I even disciplining for this behavior or action?
It is no secret that kids are going to do things and behave in ways that will require parental correction. Duh. When my five-year-old tells me “No” after I’ve asked him to clean his room, I need to address that. When my older son interrupts his grandfather’s explanation of how to best plant a tree, I can’t let that go. When my daughter sneaks into my bathroom before school to use makeup she is not allowed to wear, I can’t ignore it. But I believe that we, as parents, fall into the trap of disciplining for behaviors that are a natural part of kids growing up and are not, necessarily, acts of rebellion or defiance. Sometimes kids just make mistakes and are not trying to push back against authority; they are just testing their wings of independence and developing their personalities. We may get many outside voices telling us that we need to stop our kiddos from wearing mismatched socks, or using up all of our moving boxes to build robots, or not wanting to go on family walks with everyone else on Saturday afternoons. But, do we, really? If discipline, at its core, is teaching, then we need to be very careful that we are using it as such, rather than as a way to force our kids to fit a mold of something they are not.
Why am I using this form of discipline?
For those of us who grew up in a “spare the rod, spoil the child” household, becoming reflective about how we discipline is so important! I know that with two of my three children, just a long discussion about behavior and how what they have done is disappointing is very, very effective. They are emotional children, so getting them to understand that they have behaved in ways that may have hurt someone else is all the discipline I usually need to teach them what I want them to learn. It works. I have one child that values tangible things, so taking those items away in order to teach respect and responsibility works amazingly well. Again, discipline is intended to teach, not to necessarily be easy for us parents to figure out or make us feel better in the moment; so it works best when we are creative and have invested enough time in each of our kids that we know how we can best guide them to make better decisions.