I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments after this guest post, and I’ve been inspired to put in my two cents on discipline. As a caveat, I’m no expert. I have a degree in journalism for goodness’ sake, and I’ve only had a little more than four years of on-the-job-training. Still, I have my own ideas on what discipline is and what it isn’t.
The original post included one expert’s thoughts on coping with tantrums. (It goes without saying that dealing with a young child’s emotional outbursts is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discipline, but I went ahead and said it anyway.)
The author doled out streamlined tips, and the post did not go into great depth about tantrums in general – what causes them, etc.
I agree 100 percent with what Kris wrote in her comment when she mentioned that there are different types of tantrums. In her words:
“[There are the] totally out of control ones and the ones your kids can control that they are using to try and get something from you.”
When Madeline (who recently turned 4) throws a fit, it’s usually because she wants something or because she’s really sad or disappointed (or just plain exhausted). I make every effort, although there are days when I’m more tired and maybe even more frustrated than she is and this takes Herculean strength, to always begin with empathy when dealing with these tantrums. “I know you’re sad.” Blah, blah, blah.
Then I briefly explain that her behavior is still not acceptable and ask her to go “cool her oven off” (usually in her bedroom). I’ve found that giving her some power (and the confidence that she is in control of her own emotions) and not mandating time outs for specific time periods is very helpful.
Rachel Marie, on the other hand, is only 19 months. When she fusses (she hasn’t had a full-blow tantrum yet – knock on a big, old piece of wood now, please), I don’t send her off to a corner even though many experts do recommend starting time outs at this age.
Usually, a hug or simply trying decode her gestures and tears is much more effective in calming her down. I also try to not say “no” all day long. I reserve a firm, “No!” for the big things – reaching for the hot stove or hitting, not for pulling out every piece of Tupperware I own for the fourteenth time while I attempt to make dinner (even though this can really grate on my Type A nerves sometimes).
Now I don’t like to label people or parenting styles, but if I had to subscribe to one school of thought I’d call myself an attachment parent. I’m typically cautious about “confessing” this because I’ve discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions about this parenting style. I’ve had people think that this means I don’t ever want my child to leave me and that I’m turning my kids into leeches.
Similarly, it’s often assumed that because attachment parents often stress the importance of loving discipline, that we’re a bunch of Kum By Ya softies who let our kids run all over us.
Now I realize that some AP parents out there (as well as parents who embrace other parenting styles) do allow their kids to be the boss of them. They give in too readily. They ignore children’s tantrums even when they’re sitting in a public place and are disturbing others instead of removing the screaming child from the scene.
But most AP parents don’t think discipline is bad. On the contrary. We see it as absolutely necessary. However, the way we approach discipline (always thinking about teaching empathy, for example) may be a little different. (Then again, maybe not. I think most moms want to be gentle parents; it’s just tough to do that sometimes when your toddler goes from docile to manic in a matter of seconds.)
To me, what good discipline is really about is character formation. How you go about doing this (forming character through discipline techniques) may vary somewhat even in your own home since children’s innate personalities and emotional needs do not exist in a vacuum.
As I’ve alluded to before, a big part of my job description is to arm my children with the tools they need to overcome defeat, frustration, disappointments and sadness like tenacity, adaptability, optimism, and a faith and trust in God and his plan for them. One way to do this is to discipline the right way (or at least to always try to do that).
Do I sometimes snap at my kids when I should instead discipline them with gentle firmness? Of course. Have I always been a model mom who disciplines with love and patience? No way, Jose. I aim to live up to certain parenting ideals, but I fall short All. Of. The. Time. That’s where God’s forgiveness and grace comes in.
As for the “big picture” when it comes to discipline, I try to turn difficult situations and disruptive, unacceptable behavior into teaching moments. I make an effort to compliment more than criticize. When it’s necessary that I give my preschooler a bigger consequence for her actions, I try to be firm, gentle, but also matter-of-fact. There’s no need to always explain myself or offer a dissertation on why I expect certain things. I have no problem with sometimes saying to my kids, “Because I said so, and I’m your mom.”
“We are so inundated by pop-psychology from the media that we over analyze our basic instincts. The more parenting ‘advice’ we get from secular psychology, the more our expectations for our children’s behavior degenerate.”
This is one of the big reasons I’m reluctant to label myself (or anyone else) as a certain type of parent. Common sense is often our best guide when it comes to discipline and every other area parenting. So, don’t forget to trust your mom (or dad) gut. You are the best expert on your child and what she needs.
To sum up, I’ll leave you with a quote from Elizabeth Foss, a mom and writer I greatly admire, from her book Real Learning: Education in the Heart of My Home:
“We are in authority over our children. God put us there. That does not mean that we must be tyrants. That does not give us license to berate, belittle, or scream at them. That does not allow us to excuse our own weakness and impatience. Remember: Charity, above all. Be a friend to your child. Listen with interest. Speak with courtesy. Think of him as a friend. When he behaves in a way that would not be in your desired best friend, speak the truth in love. Must you correct or admonish? Of course you must. For this is a child. And while he is our friend, he is still growing. You must shape him so that he is a good friend.
Yes, we need to form our children. We want them to be worthy and loving friends. We absolutely need to guide them with loving firmness. I am not advocating that you relinquish authority. To do so would be to plunge your child into a sea of confusion and bewilderment. I am simply advocating that you treat children with the respect and gentleness of an excellent mentor, an older and wiser friend, whose strength inspires the heart of her student.”
Now, that was definitely more than two cents’ worth.