Once upon a time, I talked about a discipline experiment I was trying out with Sam.
Now after another insightful and eye-opening New Beginnings Progressive Parenting talk with Coach Pia, I realized how much more I could have done — or could be doing with respect to this aspect of parenthood. Kris of OC Mom in Manila talks about a good chunk of the learnings in her blog post (Progressive Tips on Disciplining Kids – a must read!), but I also wanted to build on what she said. I feel like I got so much from that session in particular.
It came at an opportune in time too. I don’t know if it’s the age, the transition , the social influences or all of the above, but it feels like disciplining my kids has become more of a challenge these days. I feel they continuously test and push their limits and see how far my patience will stretch. At the end of it all I just feel so run down, frustrated and defeated. I admit I am guilty of many disciplining mistakes over the years and I think about it my poor children had to endure it all (Sam most especially).
Here are some of the things that struck me from the talk:
Get down to their level. Have you called yourself a broken record? I have many times — it’s like everything I say to do or not to do falls on deaf ears. But one technique I learned is for to kneel down and make direct eye contact with your toddler when talking to them. Note that the operative word is talking — not shouting or reprimanding or yelling. Just — respectfully talking to another person. It’s so simple and yet so effective. If I were to put myself in Sam’s shoes, why would I listen to someone who is loud and who’s words are just flying over my head? Instead if someone made eye contact with me to tell me something , I’d definitely listen. And there would be no shouting, and at best, broken records. It made sense (and it really works)!
Separate yourself from the rule. It’s important for both parents to remember that the rule is there for the benefit of the child. If the child understands why the rule is in place (and it’s not just because Mom or Dad said so), then it is highly likely that they will comply.
I try so so very hard not to say, “because I said so”, and instead, say things like, “too much candy will give you a tummy ache and it is bad for your teeth”, or “it’s important to finish your food so you have energy and are strong and healthy, and won’t get sick.” In this way both parents can use the rule — if mom enforced it, dad won’t have a hard time instilling it. It’s the rule of the house; everyone follows because it’s good for them.
Be open to negotiation. Somehow being able to negotiate with the parent still gives the toddler control over their situation. I’ve found that if I agree to Sam’s “extra 5 minute” TV time negotiation when she asks for it, she readily complies right after.
Don’t stick them in a situation where you set them up for “failure”. This one stuck to me when I was reading through a conversation Coach Pia was having with another mom. Kids will be kids, and they will definitely misbehave. Not because they want to embarrass you or have any sort of malicious intent against you, (As OC Mom says, it’s not personal), but because they are overwhelmed with a specific feeling that they don’t know how to express properly. It could be too much to expect them to sit through a two-hour formal dinner for instance, without banging on the table or talking loud gibberish. Or, taking them to a wake and expecting them to sit still and behave is a tall order. If you already know that you may end up losing your temper at something they could do, then it’s best to avoid the situation altogether. Don’t find another reason to reprimand them.
Earlier tonight we took the girls out with us for dinner and while waiting for the food, Sam was sticking her chopsticks in the glass of water in front of her, and Jamie was banging her spoon and bowl on the table. Now the “old me” would have gone straight to reprimanding them for making a mess and the whole evening would be stressful and tense. But then I remembered and thought to myself — it’s unfair to keep telling them, “don’t do this or that…” when I’ve already brought them to a place that’s so limiting child-wise. So I stayed calm and just asked Sam to be careful that she didn’t spill the water all over herself. She responded positively because she didn’t want to get wet anyway. She just wanted to make water marks on the table. Quite harmless. And, she ate her food without a fuss.
Jamie on the other hand, broke the spoon she was holding. She looked at me with this “uh-oh” face and again, I didn’t scold. She looked like she knew what went wrong (Again, OC Mom talks about natural consequences). Yes, it was partly my fault for letting her hold the spoon but again, it was the allowable limit to taking them with us. I just told her there was no more spoon that she could play with something else less breakable, and she did.
When they are tired, sleepy, hungry, overwhelmed… all bets are off. The wrong time to teach a child is when all is not right in her world. It’s just like an adult: the worst time to give him criticism is at the end of a very long day. You kick them when they’re already down. A child can’t process what’s going on and will just react to the overwhelming unexplainable feeling, and thus a tantrum erupts. Coach Pia’s advice is to help them calm down and give them what they need first.
Process our parenting mistakes. I try all these methods and slip and fail still. It’s hard and frustrating (especially on days when I’m not right in the head as well!). If I say something wrong or do something I shouldn’t have, then I sit the girls down and apologize. I don’t know if they understand everything, but I think the mere fact that I say, “Mommy shouldn’t have done that”, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry” shows them I’m human. It too sets the example that they should say sorry when they don’t follow or listen or (unintentionally) hurt your feelings.
Err on side of filling your child with love above all else. Coach Pia says that showing your child you love them takes precedence over enforcing the rule. It’s not about spoiling them silly or letting them get away with murder. Rather it’s more of finding the right teaching moment when you’re sure your child feels loved by you.
I think we should clarify that the premise of the discipline “mistakes” of the past is that it wasn’t anyone’s fault; we just didn’t know any better. Who did? No one can blame a parent for doing what was done to them or what seemed “right”. But I guess this is the point — getting this “new attitude” or this new approach towards parenting across, so that more are aware and can make the changes as they deem fit for their parenting styles. Coach Pia says while the progressive method is harder, in the end it is more fulfilling. By involving the child in the process you build a stronger connection with them. With such a clear lasting benefit of the outcome, I feel it is definitely worth every effort!