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…you can’t discipline your kids…

May 29, 2013

…unless you commit to being a disciplined parent.  Teaching discipline to kids is more about being disciplined yourself than it is about disciplining them.

You can even be correcting them and/or praising them and not actually be disciplining them.  Disciplining kids is not just about punishment or reward.  It is teaching them to be disciplined in their own choices – to choose to do the right thing even when they don’t feel like doing it.  If you’ve been parenting at least a year or two you know that this is not easy.  If you punish a child for biting his sibling he will still probably do it again.  You can punish him 2 or even 3 times, but if on the 4th time you look the other way he is definitely going to do it again.  If the punishment you use isn’t effective (for instance: when my kids were 3-4 years old “timeout” seemed more like their own little “me-time” – more of a spa retreat than a punishment), but you keep using it anyway because a book or talk show guest told you to… he is definitely going to do it again.  Unless you learn to be disciplined in an effective approach he is very likely to repeat that pattern over and over until you are so tired of repeating yourself you stop noticing… or you throw a tantrum – neither of which will change anything except his level respect for you …and your level of respect for yourself.

Will he eventually grow out of biting his sister?  Yes, but if you don’t put appropriate boundaries in place early on his methods of manipulation will just become more sophisticated with age.  Plus, the sibling will resent the lack of protection on your part and eventually start acting out as well.  This will also form a foundation of distrust for their relationship over the years that will plague you and make friendship between siblings erratic at best.  Will they survive?  Probably.  Can your family do better than just survive the craziness?  Absolutely.

The obvious truth is that children will challenge authority.  It’s how they’re programmed. Everyone is born self-centered and, in varying degrees, willful.  But because we love these little narcissists so much and because we want them to have successful lives and healthy relationships we shouldn’t allow them to stay that way.

Despite our instincts, going off on tirades or lectures isn’t going to change them.  Telling them how wonderful they are every time they play without biting won’t do it.  And, no, an occasional hand to the back of the head (seriously, do not do that) will not do the trick.  And, I can’t believe I even have to say this but… ignoring bad behavior won’t change them, either.  Explaining patiently why they need to follow instruction is helpful, but that alone will not change them.  Here’s the basic outline: you have to combine patient explanation with consistent and expected consequences (meaning they have been thoroughly briefed on what will happen beforehand so they know that it was their choice to bring on the consequences) for poor choices delivered in a calm, sympathetic tone.  Add to these frequent, enthusiastic praise for good choices because it will do your kid a world of good to know you are on their side; and it will save you having to deal with some of the negative consequences – not all, but some.

The specific negative consequence used should vary by the age of the child, the personality of the child, and the severity or repetition of the offence.  Regardless of the specific punishment you use, it is critical that it be done with love and grace.  So if that means Mommy and/or Daddy takes a time out to consider how to best handle the situation or just to calm down before passing the verdict, by all means, put yourself in time out.   (Most of the time, though, you can avoid this step by creating a plan for consequences – more on this in the next blog)  Your anger or disappointment should not be used as a disciplinary tool.  It will do more damage to your relationship and cause more long-term problems than it could ever solve in the short-term.

If you don’t learn to discipline your emotions, children are likely to develop unhealthy tempers themselves, start to tune out your tantrums and continue doing what they want to, and/or learn to manipulate your emotions.  BTW – Don’t blame your child for pushing buttons that shouldn’t be there in the first place.  That doesn’t mean you are expected to be perfect, but once you notice that there is a button… treat it like a malignant tumor and have it removed.  Figure out why that button exists (hint: most likely it’s some form of pride/insecurity) and ask God to change your heart in that area.

I realize this may sound unsympathetic, but I don’t think sympathy is what is lacking in the blogosphere when it comes to parenting.  And I do sympathize.  I remember the hardest years when both of my children seemed to be hitting the “challenging” phase at the same time.  The most helpful thing I learned was that if I stayed consistent my kids would return to their sweet little selves in about 3 weeks time.  Three weeks of absolute torture for me (and lots of Mommy time-outs before learning about the planning step I’ll be explaining in the blog), but there was light at the end of the tunnel.  If you have a particularly strong-willed child (or if you’ve haven’t practiced being a disciplined parent in the past), it may take longer to convince them that you will not change the boundaries.  And strong-willed or not,  you will most likely have to experiment to find the right consequences for each child, but there is light for you, too.  I’m not gonna lie… A few months or so later you’ll probably go through another similar phase, but this time you’ll be ready for it.  Accept that whether you realized it or not this is what you signed up for; discipline yourself; and remind yourself often that your little “angel” is worth it. 🙂

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