Before having children, if I saw a parent allowing their child to do something I didn’t think they should be doing (like being disruptive in a waiting room or talking back), I’d immediately judge the parent in my head. “They shouldn’t let their kid do that”, I’d think. Or, the rather self-righteous, “I’d never let my kids do that”.
Of course, once I became a parent myself, I realised that it is not actually possible to get our children to behave as we think they should all of the time. Short of manhandling them, sometimes there is nothing we can do that will stop them from doing something they shouldn’t or make them do something they should. And, unless safety is at stake, such as they’re about to run out onto the road, I won’t physically restrain children.
It has only just dawned on me fairly recently, though, that I can choose to let my kids “misbehave”. Sometimes, I can decide not to even try to change their behaviour when they’re doing something I think they shouldn’t.
WHY DID I THINK I HAD TO CORRECT MY KIDS EVERY TIME?
Letting go of the need to respond in some way to every behaviour I deem inappropriate has been a slow process for me.
Part of it is because I’m conscientious. I thought it was upto me to teach my boys everything and that I had to be consistent in doing so. I forgot that, by nature, children are essentially good and I can trust that their good will come through without my constant management.
The other reason is that I thought everyone was watching me, judging me like I used to judge other parents. And, actually, some people are. But the difference now is that it has come to my consciousness that my relationship with my boys is more important to me than what others think of me.
The big realisation is that my kids are not a reflection of me. The way I treat them is.
WHY WOULD I CHOOSE TO LET MY KIDS MISBEHAVE?
If I called them up on everything they did that I didn’t think they should, my boys would quickly feel that I was picking on them. We parents use a lot of sound reasoning to justify insisting on something – “it’s for their own good” or “they can’t get away with that” or “they need to learn that…” – but I don’t want my boys to feel that they are under the microscope all the time.
Although I use respectful strategies to manage my boys’ behaviour and to teach them, when I use the strategies, they know that they are being corrected in some way. If they are to know that I love them unconditionally, they can’t be feeling that I’m correcting them more than I am accepting them. I need to allow them space to manage situations in their own way as often as I can. And, as I’ve said, I believe that kids are essentially “good” – until we tell them otherwise. My boys are great but some days I have wondered if I’ve undermined their sense of worth a little by trying to teach them too many things in one day.
So, particularly when there are other factors involved, such as the child is tired or emotions are high, we can choose to just let it go. At these times, insisting on certain behaviour is fruitless – our children resist our boundaries and we resist their resistance! It only serves to separate us from our children rather than teach them (as good discipline is intended to do). Perhaps in each circumstance we can ask ourselves – in this moment, will correcting them actually help our child or push them away from us? If we get present, the answer will come easily.
Parents feel better, too, when we don’t try to uphold every expectation we have. It’s stressful feeling that we have to teach our children everything and we have to teach them now. But, as you will see below, we don’t have to do that. Now that I’ve decided that turning a blind eye is a perfectly acceptable parenting strategy to use sometimes, I can relax and enjoy my boys that much more.
HOW KIDS STILL LEARN WHEN THEY MISBEHAVE
The marvellous thing I’ve realised is that, even when we choose not to do anything in the moment, our children can still learn what they need to learn in the following 3 ways –
Follow-up after the event – when they’ve settled down, we can discuss with them why what they did wasn’t respectful or a good idea etc. We don’t have to be judgemental about it, we can simply point it out to them and have a conversation about it. Or we can choose to say nothing.
The unfolding of natural consequences. Often, life teaches our children without us having to do a thing. eg. an irritated member of the public asks our child to stop running in the shop (although I don’t condone strangers giving children a telling off, their polite request to “stop doing that please” is often much more effective than mine.) Natural consequences can unfold in a myriad of ways.
And if numbers 1 & 2 don’t happen, we can choose to do absolutely nothing other than being a good example to our kids – they don’t see me playing tag in the supermarket queue.
This more relaxed approach to our children’s behaviour is for negotiable boundaries – those ones that aren’t important enough to be insisted upon every time and around which there is room for compromise. Non-negotiable boundaries I insist on consistently, using my 6-step method (available here).
Ignoring bad behaviour is not my main parenting method. But I’m giving myself and my kids a break. We don’t have be constantly tinkering with our children like old cars, trying to fix them and their behaviour.
On Wednesday, I went to the supermarket with both of my boys – something I usually try to avoid. Thomas was boisterous, hollering from his place in the child’s seat of the trolley and throwing his gumboots around. Jake, who insisted on pushing the trolley, had rather questionable steering skills and was egging Thomas on in his unruliness. The noise and disruption was driving me nuts so presumably it was also irritating the other customers in the shop. But I could see that Jake and Thomas were both tired and not in a frame of mind take on board my requests to settle down. I got plenty of stares from the other shoppers and wanted to be respectful of them, but Jake and Thomas weren’t being naughty, just annoying. And that’s the thing – so many of the times I would’ve corrected them in the past they were actually just enjoying themselves. So I tolerated the disapproval of the other shoppers, my boys had a ball and we got through the shopping far more easily than if I’d tried to insist they settle down.
When a parent, sits back as their kids do something socially unacceptable, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t care, it could be because they do care.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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When it comes to discipline, natural consequences are held up as the ideal in many parenting circles. Natural consequences occur without the parent creating them – Life is allowed to step in and becomes the teacher eg. If you’re late to bed, you’ll feel tired tomorrow or If you don’t share the toys with your friend, they might not want to play with you anymore. I still think of natural consequences as the preferred choice to offer a child when needed but, sometimes, pointing out the natural consequence doesn’t really help.
WHEN NATURAL CONSQUENCES AREN’T SUITABLE
I give my boys a choice of consequences when setting non-negotiable boundaries (usually using the process outlined in my free Respectful Discipline Printable). Non-negotiable boundaries are ones that I fully believe need to be insisted on, there is no room for compromise. Whether a particular boundary should be negotiable or not is a whole other blog post but, for me, non-negotiable boundaries are usually related to health, safety and respect. But there are 2 scenarios I sometimes find myself in when natural consequences aren’t suitable –
1) I have a non-negotiable boundary and the natural consequence is not enough to motivate my child into doing what I need to insist on.
For example, bedtime is non-negotiable, especially if my child has to go to school or kindy the next day. A natural consequence of them not going to bed is that they’ll feel tired the following day. But, in my experience, telling a preschooler that they’ll feel tired tomorrow if they don’t go to bed now is not going to work – tomorrow is too far away for them to care and they can’t quite imagine all the implications of feeling exhausted.
Take this scenario which my husband and I have been suffering through recently – Thomas (aged 3) is messing about as he’s getting ready for bed, drawing the bedtime routine out with various antics. He has kindy tomorrow and it’s already past his bedtime. He’s ignoring all of my positive prompts to stop being silly and just clean his teeth (for goodness’ sake!). He doesn’t listen when I tell him he’ll be too tired to enjoy his day tomorrow if he doesn’t get to bed. My words have no effect, it’s as if I’m not even there.
2) I have a non-negotiable boundary and I can’t think of a natural consequence.
What’s the natural consequence for poor language? – the words have already been said.
What’s the natural consequence for throwing food on the floor? – the food is just going to sit there.
I’ve had times when I’ve been kind of stumped, unable to think of a natural consequence.
WHEN WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO NATURAL CONSEQUENCES
When a natural consequence isn’t appropriate for one of these reasons, I turn to the next best thing – logical consequences. In contrast to natural consequences, logical consequences are imposed by someone (us). The important factor is that they are directly related to the behaviour.
If poor language is used, a logical consequence is for the child to leave the room so that others don’t have to hear them speak that way. “Please leave the room until you’ve finished using those words, we don’t want to hear it”. (If they won’t leave, I leave the room, saying I’m not listening to disrespectful language).
If food is thrown on the floor, a logical consequence is for the child to help tidy it up. “If you choose to keep throwing the food, you’ll have more of it to clean up”.
And, if Thomas is procrastinating as he gets ready for bed, it’s already past bedtime and my encouragement to hurry along isn’t working, I tell him, “Thomas, if you’re being silly & you take too long to get ready for bed, we will run out of time for a story. Are you going to choose to mess around or to clean your teeth now and have a story?”
WHEN LOGICAL CONSQUENCES DON’T WORK EITHER!
I view consequences on a sliding scale. Natural consequences are the first and ideal choice. Logical consequences are the next-best fair and reasonable choice. Most times, they work well…but occasionally they don’t. What do we do then?!
Not everyone may agree with me here but, if it really is a non-negotiable boundary, I’m prepared to get creative to teach my child what he needs to learn. I will use illogical consequences in as fair a way as possible after trying natural or logical consequences first. Take this current scenario that I’m working through with one of my sons –
He has been using unkind name-calling and toilet talk recently. I have non-negotiable boundaries around treating others with respect but a month of natural & logical consequences did little to improve his language. So, he now gets fined $1 of his pocket money each time he speaks disrespectfully (I give him one warning/reminder first). Before implementing this system, I talked to my son (again) about his behaviour and why it’s unacceptable. I invited him to solve the problem and asked him, “what do you think we should do about this?” He didn’t have any suggestions so I offered this idea of fining him. It kind-of appealed to him because it felt a bit like playing police. I explained to him that , he would need to improve his language over the next couple of days or I would start charging him $1 of his pocket money each time he used toilet talk or name-calling. His language didn’t improve so, effectively, he chose this system of consequences himself. When I do have to fine him, he accepts that he has to pay because the process is transparent and he got himself into this situation. I have been as fair and respectful as I can in setting this boundary around resepctful language. Fining him will not be a long-term strategy but the message is getting through.
IN SUMMARY – IT’S OK TO SET BOUNDARIES
I saw a YouTube video recently that opened with two parents saying they give their children no boundaries because they want their children to be free spirits. I’m still not sure if the video was tongue-in-cheek or real because I turned it off after the first 3 sentences but my first response to it was that children are given parents for a reason. Part of our role is to teach them skills and attitudes they can take into life, which is ultimately to empower them. And, while I’m trying to give my boys more space as I parent & I do think we sometimes impose boundaries on our children that we don’t actually need to, there are absolutely some things we must insist on. I don’t think, we need to be scared of setting boundaries if we know that they are fair and necessary.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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The quality of our relationship with our children determines how we go about our many tasks of parenting – disciplining, instructing, making decisions… If you’ve been reading over the past few weeks, you’ll know that discipline is a hot topic for me right now and this post is about how nurturing our relationship with our children makes it easier for us to discipline them. I don’t mean that it allows us to control them and punish them but to teach them, get more co-operation and reduce the need for discipline in the first place.
HOW QUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP IMPACTS OUR CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOUR & DISCIPLINE
Our ego wants a relationship with our children in which we are in charge, things go smoothly and they go our way. An ego-led relationship becomes a power struggle, an all-too-familiar battle of wills.
On a spiritual level, though, both our children and ourselves know that we are equals and there is no question that our love and respect for one another is mutual and unconditional. We want to see that expressed in our relationship. We both long for connection.
Making that connection with our children has incredibly positive impacts on how they feel about themselves, how they feel about us and on how they behave –
Giving our children our attention affirms them. It shows them that we like them and we think they’re worth spending time with. This affirmation is something all humans crave. Giving our attention to our children in positive ways means they don’t have to try to get it, perhaps through inappropriate behaviour.
Being approachable and responsive to their needs gives our children a sense of security & support. It reduces the likelihood that their needs will be expressed as difficult behaviour.
Seeking our children’s points-of-view and involving them in decision-making (as appropriate) shares the power in the relationship and builds our children’s trust that we are fair. They then know that, when we have to set boundaries, it’s not just on a whim, we have considered their perspective and they are, therefore, more likely to be co-operative.
Showing that our love and caring for them doesn’t change no matter how they behave is essential to a child’s sense of self-worth. When it comes to their behaviour, they can’t feel bad about themselves and do the right thing. So, in loving them unconditionally, we also support their positive behaviour.
Every interaction with our child either is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with them or to chip away at it. That includes when we discipline. The focus of my respectful discipline resource is on using discipline to teach, connect, learn what’s really going on for our child and give them choice (whether to experience the natural consequences of their behaviour or to change it). There is no judgement of them, threatening, manipulation or over-powering – all of which can appear to “work” in the short-term but ultimately undermine our relationship with our child.
WAYS TO BUILD OR REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR CHILD
Struggling again & again with our children deteriorates our relationship with them and we find the tone of our days spiralling downwards into resentment and shouting. As I wrote about recently in my post My 6-Year Old Put Me In Time Out, I found myself on that slippery slope. I now have a bit of repair work to do both by disciplining my son differently and putting some intention into deepening our connection.
“Children who disrespect us are showing that they don’t feel enough connection, warmth and respect from us” – Dr Laura Markham.
When our connection with our child is needing repair, we can look at the list above to see what’s been missing. For my son and I, I think the missing component has been my attention – both in terms of time and presence. It’s not that I ignore him but, particularly on school days, organising our family’s life keeps me occupied and I don’t make enough time to just be with them. So, I’m getting deliberate about being more generous with my attention.
I’m sharing my intentions with you here in case it’s helpful because I think finding the time for the mental & physical work of parenting as well as enjoying our children is a challenge many parents are familiar with. Here is what I will be doing –
Getting down on the floor and playing their games with them is the ultimate quality time for both of my sons. In my post Mummy, Will You Play With Me? I shared ways to fit playtime into a busy day.
My son loves “talking time” when I tuck him into bed so I will allow more time to chat together at the end of the day. Communication seems to be at it’s best at this time of day.
Stopping what I’m doing, making eye contact and giving my son my full attention when he’s telling me something that’s important to him. (My eyes glaze over at the first mention of Star Wars so I am working on actually listening to the intricacies of the battles so I can then give a meaningful response.)
Giving attention to the good stuff. We’ve all heard that where our attention goes, energy flows. When things are difficult between my son and I, it’s easy to only see everything that feels “wrong” and I find myself kind of picking at him. I want to make the effort to acknowledge all the great stuff about him (of which there is PLENTY).
Giving him affection. “Just because” squeezes and putting my arm around him as we walk make him glow.
IN SUMMARY – RELATIONSHP AS THE FOUNDATION
While our relationship with our children is one between equals, it is upto us as the adults to set the tone of the relationship. Ultimately, our children will follow our lead. So it is our choice whether we intentionally create respect, communication & connection or fear, defensiveness & conflict.
Of course, a good relationship with our child is not purely in order to make disciplining easier! It is primarily to enjoy the relationship itself and is the foundation of the life we share together with our children.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – In which ways do you and your children like to connect? Comment below.
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I had sent Jake to sit on “the step” – essentially our version of a time out. I’d warned him that his disrespectful behaviour would land him on the step if it continued. It had continued so he’d spent 5 minutes sitting by himself on the step by our laundry, to “think about his behaviour” and give us all a break.
When Jake got off the step, he asked me tearfully, “How come you don’t have to sit on the step?”
“Well, no one has ever given me a warning”, I replied.
“I’m giving you a warning now,” he said with a scowl (probably the same scowl I use to give him warnings).
“What for?” I asked, thinking through my various parenting misdemeanours of the afternoon – there were a lot of them.
“Shouting”, Jake grumped at me.
It was then that I realised I’d lost my way when it came to disciplining my boys. I guess I’d sensed for a month or two that I was on a downward spiral, my discipline methods slowly slipping further away from my values, but I hadn’t stopped to rethink things. Sending my boys to “the step” was not a strategy I wanted to be using but it had turned into a habit and become my default approach to correcting my boys’ behaviour.
And that’s where the first problem was. The step didn’t actually correct their behaviour at all. The evidence lay in the fact that they were sitting on it more and more often.
The second problem with the step was that it didn’t reflect my parenting values, especially the way I was using it. That we are all spiritual equals requires me to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age or behaviour. There are times when we parents have to position ourselves as an authority to guide our children but there is no power struggle in a relationship between equals. The step had become a weapon in our power play, me using it to threaten, manipulate and, ultimately, control Jake and Thomas.
How had it got to this?!
LOSING MY WAY
I think the main factor that saw me resorting to the step was that my boys were, inevitably, throwing new challenges my way. I was unprepared to deal with the backchat, defiance and attitude that was increasingly featuring in Jake’s interactions with me and I hadn’t taken the time to figure out how best to respond.
Additionally, the personal truth is that I saw red each time Jake used his new attitude with me, my insecurities about being disrespected instantly triggered. I hadn’t consciously realised that he’d struck a nerve and I had immediately started trying to control Jake rather than taking my time to see what was really going on (for both him and I). I was trying to control him because my I felt out of control.
Being both challenged and triggered, I had slipped away from my own parenting values and my relationship with Jake was suffering. I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. What was I going to do about it?
GOING INTO TIME OUT
I put myself in a self-imposed time out of sorts to reflect on what was going on and to find a new way of doing things.
“Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion. It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.”
Taking the time to consider what was going on within me when met with Jake’s emerging ‘tude helped me to understand and empathise with myself. I realised that, when I’m tired, triggered and uncertain what to do, it is natural that I’m going to struggle and this made it easier for me to forgive myself.
Then, I put all my to-dos aside for one morning to figure out how I wanted to go forward. I was prompted to read back over some earlier blog posts I had written about discipline and found that they were actually pretty helpful! I also flicked through some of the parenting books I keep on my desk and thought about what my boys are needing from me at the moment. I devised respectful strategies for dealing with my current parenting challenges.
IN SUMMARY – FLOUNDERING, FORGIVENESS & MOVING FORWARD
As parents, we constantly need to re-evaluate what we are doing, whether it be around discipline or another area of life. As our children grow older, they will bring new challenges our way which will require us to adjust our way of doing things. Don’t we all bemoan the fact that, just as we feel we’re getting the hang of this parenting thing, something new comes our way? It certainly keeps us on our toes -parenthood is about our own evolution as much as it is about our children’s.
We can’t expect ourselves to adjust seamlessly to every change in our children’s development. The changes can surprise us, we’re not necessarily anticipating them. It’s understandable that we will flounder around for a bit each time until we find our way. I’m hoping that, having gone through this, I will recognise more quickly what’s going on when there is another significant change in my boys. Instead of being overwhelmed and punishing myself for my imperfect parenting, I will take a time out to forgive myself and to strategise with Love. Having compassion for ourselves and moving forward deliberately are the only ways to keep up – more or less – with our children.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – Where do you feel you have lost your way in your parenting? What can you forgive yourself for? Comment below.
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It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times. Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation. Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning. “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.
When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor. My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment? Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.
REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN
Here are some of the main reasons I shout. What makes you shouty?
I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets. Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me. I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without. (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one. He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake. Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.) I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it. Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I. Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.
HIT THE RESET BUTTON
The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting. When time is short, I simply take a breath. With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining. I return to the situation with her instead. Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.) When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle for me and the tv for my boys, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation. My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.
Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination. Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout. Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight. So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out. I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over. It was a quiet drive home.
RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES
When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise. When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully. Same goes for me. Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times. I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere. (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be. So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment. Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents. It just means there’s something going on for us. It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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With Christmas around the corner, perhaps you are bracing yourself for your children’s “holiday behaviour”. We know they will be excited and more tired than usual. They’ll likely test the boundaries to see if there’s any “holiday flex” in them too. Or it may be that, heading into the new year, you’re wanting to change the dynamic between yourself and your child so that it is more respectful and peaceful. This time of year can be particularly joyful and particularly testing for parents so it seems a good time to offer a few thoughts on discipline from a spiritual point-of-view. I try to appeal to the love in my children to encourage the best from them first but, there are times when discipline is needed.
DISCIPLINE: LOVE & FEAR
From teachers of A Course in Miracles, I have learned that, in life, we are constantly choosing between Love and fear. In a spiritually-led life, we aim to choose Love every time, though, of course, we don’t always manage to do so. We can bring our intention to Love to those moments when we need to discipline our children. To highlight the features of a love-based approach, let’s compare the two –
Fear-based Discipline: With a fear-based approach, we use discipline to control our children so that they behave in a way that we judge as acceptable. We don’t see our child in this approach, blinded by our own egoic fear – fear of being judged for our children’s behaviour, fear of losing control of our children, fear that our children won’t respect us… We go on to create fear in our children in an attempt to avoid the things we’re fearful of,making threats and dishing out punishments of various kinds. The punishments may be practical, such as removing screen time, or they may be emotional, such as humiliating our child or expressing our disapproval of them. Ultimately, we undermine their self worth when we discipline from fear. Sometimes their behaviour improves quickly, it may appear to “work”, but at the cost of our child’s belief in their own inherent value. We set our children up for a long-term struggle with fear and unworthiness.
Love-based Discipline: With a love-based approach, we use discipline is to teach our children. And what we are teaching them is to stay aligned with their own true nature. When disciplining from Love, we remember that our children are our spiritual equals, each a representation of God, just as we are. We know that they are essentially “good” and it is only their behaviour that needs correcting, not themselves. When disciplining them, we have unconditional Love for them in the form of non-judgement and respect, even when we feel differently about their behaviour. The discipline techniques we use when we are coming from Love can sometimes be slower to see effect but leave our child’s self-worth intact and empower them to be the marvellous person that they are.
PRINCIPLES OF LOVE-BASED PARENTING
S0, here are a few ideas to guide us in disciplining our children with Love.
Be Respectful We need to be asking ourselves when disciplining whether we are being respectful of our child or not. We can measure how respectful we are towards our children by the respect they have for us (this can be sobering at times). Our respect for our child can be shown in many different ways when disciplining them. For example, when possible, we should give our child a (one) reminder of the expectation and the consequences if they continue their inappropriate behaviour before we follow through. Suddenly springing a “punishment” on them when they’ve gotten carried away and forgotten to manage themselves is disrespectful and doesn’t give them the opportunity to self-correct (which is preferable for everyone). Another way that we unwittingly disrespect our children is to send them to their bedrooms as a punishment. I think we need to respect their bedrooms as their sanctuaries (see my post Home Sweet Home – A Place for Our Souls), a place they can retreat to when needed. Let’s not make it their jail.
Be Consistent By managing behaviour using a familiar set of expectations & consequences and applying them consistently, our children know exactly where the boundaries are and what will happen if they don’t stay within them. They can then deliberately choose for themselves how to behave (and sometimes they may decide the consequences for stepping outside of the boundaries are worth the excursion!). Consistency allows us to carry out any necessary consequences in an objective way – we can calmly follow our family’s process and detach our emotions from the situation to an extent.
Always Make Emotional Support Available To Love our children unconditionally is to do so regardless of their behaviour. When they are struggling with the emotions of a situation, we cannot withdraw our support without giving them the message that they are unworthy of our love in that moment. Sometimes, I offer a cuddle in the middle of a disciplining situation because I can see my son needs reassurance and help to manage his big emotions. A child’s emotions need to be allowed to settle before they are in a position to learn anything from the situation (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions).
Allow Life to be the Teacher Many situations are “self-disciplining”. By this, I mean that the natural consequences of a child’s actions are enough to teach them what they have to learn. In these situations, we need to step back a little and give our child the space to experience life’s lessons. I’ll explain this further in the section below.
I can think of three types of self-disciplining situation where the lesson naturally unfolds and we just need to allow it to.
A natural emotional response There have been times when Jake has done something he shouldn’t have and I have immediately seen the regret on his face. The point doesn’t need driving home any further. He has learned.
A natural consequence A simple example of this is when our child treats a playmate unkindly and the other child refuses to play with them anymore. Fair enough!
A natural opportunity to put things right For example, Thomas, like many two-year-olds, sometimes spits his food out if he doesn’t like it. I don’t mind (too much) if he spits in back onto his plate but sometimes he spits it on the floor. When he does, I simply get him to pick up the food and put it on his plate and remind him briefly of our rule. No fuss needed.
In any of these types of situation, there is no need to use an arbitrary punishment to make our point. ( What does his television-watching have to do with spitting food, for example?) There’s also no need to add heat to these situations with a telling-off or lecture. If we do need to explain things a little further to help our children grasp their lesson, we can do so in a calm, informative way. Fear-based parenting can see our egos wanting to have a bit of an authoritative rant at this stage, but it’s unnecessary and only serves to undermine our child and, in turn, our relationship with them.
IN SUMMARY: MANAGING OURSELVES
When disciplining our children, we are really managing ourselves! We are putting aside our fear and allowing Love to be the teacher. This can be hard to do when our buttons have been pushed and we are feeling tired & frazzled. If you see yourself in my description of fear-based discipline, as I do regularly, please forgive yourself. So much of our fear is unconscious and most of us are doing the very best that we can.
What we are wanting is for our children to come through the disciplinary experience a little wiser and with their self-worth intact. I’m sure I will come back to the topic of discipline many times, it’s complex and often highly emotional. I hope I’ve provided a good starting point today. Look out for my first post of 2017, “My Best Discipline Technique”.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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