I’ve stumbled upon a discipline strategy that’s effective in any situation, with children of any age. (Actually, it’s helpful when dealing with adults too.) I first discovered it as a teacher and now it’s my go-to technique when I need to discipline my own children. It helps me to respond both compassionately and effectively every time.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a busy parent,so I’m not going to beat around the bush. Here it is, my best discipline technique –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We’d all love a magical, quick-fix strategy to turn around our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies, that’s needed.
How Presence Works
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we’re 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 child enables us to tune in to them and to understand what’s really going on.
Without presence, that fearful, frustrated voice in our head gets in the way — “He’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts. “He’s not getting away with it!”
With presence, we get curious and ask illuminating questions, such as, “Why is he behaving this way?”
The effectiveness of the way to respond to our child in any given moment depends on whether we’re coming from a place of fear & frustration or a place of presence. In fear & frustration, we tend to make a declaration of our authority and arbitrarily remove a ‘privilege’ in order to control the situation. In presence, we’re more likely to acknowledge our child’s perspective and find an empowering, rather than a punitive, response.
Disciplining with Intuition & Creativity
I don’t believe in thoughtlessly applying strategies to our children. However, some really good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve used again later when they seem fitting. You see, when I’m present, the voice quietens, my mind slows down and I access my intuition & creativity more easily. Over the years, my intuition and creativity have given me many helpful ideas that I never would’ve thought of.
One such technique is my “Try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to me or someone else.
When he was five years old, my son began putting up big resistance when it came time for him to set the table for dinner each night. I’d dread asking him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for him to set the table had evoked a defiant shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stomp of the foot. This time, I remembered that it was up to me how things would go from there — I could escalate the situation by arguing with him about the way he’d spoken to me and the setting of the table or I could find another way. So, I held my tongue and got present.
After making the shift I realised that all my son needed was a little acknowledgment that he didn’t want to set the table and an acceptable way to express how he felt.
Without thinking about it, I said to him, “Try that again”.
He looked at me, puzzled.
“Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I explained.
He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”.
“It’s annoying when you’re interrupted from your play to set the table, isn’t it?” I commiserated.
My son nodded and his scowl relaxed. We had a moment of understanding.
“We still need knives and forks out so we can eat our dinner”.
He quietly set the table then went back to his play.
By getting present, I’d recognised my son’s needs instead of being overtaken by my own desire for control. I’d 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.
These days, I just say, “try that again” when he’s disrespectful and he knows what I mean. Usually, it defuses the situation because he speaks politely and I listen to how he’s feeling. So simple. Yet I don’t think I’d have thought of this useful little phrase had I been trying to figure out how to get him to set the table without fuss.
Being a Disciplined Parent
It takes discipline on our part to get present. While presence makes the steps that follow when disciplining our children easier to identify, getting present isn’t the easy option. It can be difficult to tear our attention away from that fearful, frustrated voice that wants to lead the way. It requires us to make a deliberate choice to calm ourselves and override that voice. However, the more we do it, the easier it becomes and the more effective we are when disciplining our children.
Tip: It’s helpful to regularly practice getting present at other times of the day, such as when making a cup of tea or listening to someone speak. The more we do it, the better we’ll get at finding our way there when our children are challenging us.
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