Not too long ago, I was loading my sons into the car after a horrendous grocery shopping experience throughout which the boys acted like little hooligans. I strapped my resistant 2-year-old into his car seat, simultaneously barking at my 4-year-old to “sit down … NOW!”
It wasn’t until I slammed the door and went to get in my side that I noticed an older woman staring at me. Her eyes told me she’d just witnessed my entire child-like display. She looked down, got into her car and pulled away.
I got in the car and sat there, feeling like a very small person and a terrible parent – not the mother I had always envisioned myself being. What’s worse is that shortly after my silent yet resounding exchange with this stranger, I realized that I undoubtedly had made my children feel just as small as I was feeling.
At a loss, I started the car and headed home – all of us silent. I quietly pondered how I could have possibly handled the situation differently. Was shouting and speaking ugly to those I love really necessary? They needed some sort of discipline, but how could I have handled it more effectively so we weren’t all feeling so bad at the end of it all?
The Need for Discipline
It’s the dreaded “d” word that makes parents cringe, yet discipline is an unavoidable part of parenthood. A child’s world without discipline translates into endless opportunities to wreak havoc in his own life and the lives of those around him.
“One of the basic human needs is feeling physical and emotional safety,” says Jim Fay, co-author of Parenting with Love and Logic (Pion Press) and founder of the Love and Logic Institute based in Colorado. “Limits and boundaries provide that.”
Fred Starr, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist at 17th Avenue Psychiatry in Nashville, agrees. “Discipline allows children to function in society by allowing kids to mediate their wants and needs.”
So if we know discipline is necessary, why does it conjure up such difficult feelings? Probably because its definition has evolved to mean controlling a child by yelling or spanking in hopes of affecting a change in future behavior. That’s not what it should mean, though. “People think that yelling and screaming at their children and telling them how bad they are won’t hurt them,” says Fay. “It’s more disciplined if it’s not yelling and screaming and hitting.”
Discipline, if carried out in a positive, peaceful manner, is one of the most responsible and loving things parents can provide for their child. “True discipline is where someone gets to learn a lesson that’s going to make his life better and the lives of those around him better,” Fay adds.
Time for a Change
Understanding that kids will be kids and that discipline is a non-negotiable fact of parental life, why not make the experience as pleasant and non-humiliating as possible?
“Instead of viewing children’s willful behavior as bad and reacting in a way that overpowers the child,” says Karan Sims, an author who has been published on the subject, “parents can view this behavior as a healthy, positive sign of their child’s development and find ways to empower the child.” Sims points out that when parents overpower and stifle their children by yelling, spanking, etc., the child feels powerless. He will then develop into a teen or adult who either A) wilts, letting others control every aspect of his life, or B) becomes destructive and rebellious, continually fighting any form of authority.
By finding ways to view a child’s power struggles as positive, Sims says, you can ultimately reduce fighting and create cooperative relationships in which both parent and child are empowered.
Fay agrees with Sims. “Effective parenting centers around love. The logic is centered in the consequences.”
What Kind of Parent are You?
Fay and co-author of Parenting with Love and Logic Foster Cline, M.D., classify ineffective parenting in one of two ways: “Helicopter” parents think love means revolving their own lives around their child’s. They hover over the child, rescuing him from the slightest trouble. Subconsciously, the message helicopter parents send is, “You’re fragile and can’t make it without me.”
The helicopter parents’ counterparts are drill sergeants, who feel that the more control they wield by barking orders, the more compliant their children will be in the long run. However, the real message they send, Fay and Cline say, is, “You can’t think for yourself, so I’ll think for you.” Neither one of these types of parents equip children for happy and productive adulthoods.
The Power of Peaceful Discipline
Where do discipline, peace and positivity meet, and better yet, work together? The crossroad is found in choices; more specifically, in offering choices to your child. As a “Love and Logic” convert, I can attest to the effectiveness of this simple, “why didn’t I think of that?” parenting style.
An example: It’s naptime, and Mom asks her 2-year-old daughter if she’s ready for a nap. The toddler says, “No.” Instead of raising her voice or simply picking the child up and carrying her to bed (taking away the power she so desperately wants), Mom simply offers two choices. “Would you like to walk to your room or shall I carry you?” The child opts to be carried to bed for her nap, and when all is said and done, both parties are pleased. The toddler feels in control by getting to choose how she goes to bed. Mom feels in control as well by getting what she wants no matter what choice the daughter makes. Mom didn’t engage in a power struggle when the child said “no” or punish her for her child-like reaction. This is peaceful discipline in action.
It’s important to remember that the key to offering choices is that the parent must be able to live with both options. When necessary, there should be a backup third choice in the rare instance that the child refuses to choose between choices one or two.
Suppose your child’s been playing with her food for the past 20 minutes, and you tell her that you’re leaving the restaurant in five minutes. Her choices are to either A) quit playing and finish her lunch, or B) remain hungry until dinner. The parent must be prepared to leave the restaurant in five minutes no matter what. Be consistent and steadfast, or your child will never take any kind of discipline seriously.
If the child plays for the remaining five minutes and leaves the restaurant hungry, she’ll undoubtedly be famished by dinner time. When the child comes seeking a snack an hour after lunch, Fay and Cline say it’s important to be empathetic to the fact that the child is learning about choices and consequences. Instead of saying, “I told you you’d be hungry if you didn’t eat your lunch,” try “I can understand that you’re hungry. I get hungry too when I skip a meal. Dinner will be here before you know it.”
In the end, the first time you offer choices and see your child thoughtfully ponder his decision, you’ll be amazed. When he makes a choice and the potential thunderstorm is diverted into nothing more than a sun shower, you may find yourself speechless, as I did.
Kids are our most precious legacy. If you treat them with respect, you’ll reap what you sow. If you offer the opportunity to make intelligent choices, they’ll master the art of learning how to think responsibly and make wise decisions. And, when it’s time to set your legacies free, everyone will sleep a bit more peacefully.
Ashley Driggs is managing editor for this publication.
PUT ON YOUR THINKING CAPPS
Fred Starr, M.D., occasionally teaches parenting classes at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Bellevue. In his sessions, he tells parents to put on their thinking CAPPS:
Control your anger. If your kids see you lose control, they’ll have carte blanche to lose control, too.
Allow kids to solve their own problems. They’ll get good at it, and will develop excellent problem-solving skills that will be useful for life.
Pick your battles. If your child doesn’t want to wear her coat, fine. But do insist that she at least bring it with her.
Perfection is impossible. “We have to fail our kids occasionally. If we don’t, they’ll never leave home,” says Starr.
Strive for empathy with kids. Always try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. You’ll be surprised how the walls come down if your child realizes that you just might understand.
THE “V” OF LOVE: PEACEFUL DISCIPLINE FOR EVERY AGE:
Traditionally, parents give babies a world of choices and slowly tighten the reins as they get older. That’s the reverse of what we should be doing, say Jim Fay and Foster Cline, M.D., authors of Parenting with Love and Logic. Instead, parents should start simply. When a child is young, provide choices like, “It’s cold outside. Would you like to wear your mittens or gloves?”
Either way, the child’s hands will be warm, and he’ll learn to make a responsible choice. As the child gets older, offer choices appropriate to age. “Would you rather play soccer or do swim team?” As the child approaches adulthood, he’ll have learned to make responsible decisions, and the parent will feel confident sending him out into the world knowing this.
To learn more about the “V” of love and other aspects of Parenting with Love and Logic, visit www.loveandlogic.com