We’ve all heard that discipline is the “better way” to raise our kids if we want them to grow into positive, loving, contributing members of our society. As a result many of us have tossed the old “punishment focused” tools aside only to find that without those tools our kids don’t listen and we are at a loss for what to do about it. In an effort to fix this problem, we find ourselves putting on blinders to our kids’ bad behaviour, or yelling and threatening – using the exact tools we had promised ourselves we would never resort to.
I believe every parent is doing the best they can with what they know in any moment in time. My goal is to help parents identify what they know and understand why they do what they do, so they can feel good about themselves as a person and shine as a parent.
Discipline is less about the tool you use and more about the mindset and delivery model than anything else!
The first thing to be aware of when deciding to use discipline, is that what we are really striving for is to instill self-discipline. In other words, we are trying to help our kids internalize a way of living that will guide them in making good decisions in their lives whether we are there to enforce things or not. Done well, it helps our kids become independent and confident in their uniqueness so they can embrace whatever life throws their way and grow to their full potential.
This is not an easy task. Internalizing something is about linking action and consequence in a way that makes you want to do what is right. What is right, can change depending on who you talk to and often doesn’t really connect for us until we have lived it. This means, discipline will not always stop our kids from behaving in ways we do not approve of, but it will open the door to creating a strong loving relationship based on mutual respect and acceptance.
The second thing we need to know about discipline is that it will always be harder for us to do than punishment. The only way we can truly teach self-discipline is to model it ourselves. This means we have to model being calm and self-controlled even when our kids are pushing our buttons or behaving in a way that we think is unacceptable. Being the “bigger person” when things are upsetting to us, is a challenge at the best of times.
Thirdly, because most of us have been raised in an environment that uses punishment, we are familiar with it. This means punishment tools and the delivery model for using punishment is firmly established in our parenting pack. These tools and/or methods will always be within reach when we are parenting, causing us to react in ways we believe unacceptable.
Fourth, it is important to know that when we are in a heightened emotional state – angry, embarrassed, hurt, scared – we are much more likely to grab for a tool that matches our emotions. Even though we have made the conscious decision to use discipline rather than punishment, and even though we have learned tools and strategies to do this, when our kids are pushing our buttons and we get “upset”, we are very likely to overreact. Sometimes we will grab a tool that we know can be positive – like time-out, privilege removal, etc – and then deliver it in an angry and attacking way.
When this happens our typical response once we are calm, will be feelings of guilt, remorse, disappointment and/or worry that we have ruined our child for life. Mistakes are always an opportunity to grow. So when this happens forgive yourself and use it as an opportunity to model a genuine apology. This doesn’t mean eliminating the consequence that was put in place (providing it wasn’t outrageous) but instead is about identifying how your behaviour did not model the kind of parent you are trying to “grow into”.
Finally, discipline will always work best when we plan in advance. This means becoming aware of our expectations, rules and boundaries and sharing them with the people we live with. It requires us to come up with ways to deal with problem behaviours in advance and think about how and what these methods will be teaching. It’s also about thinking ahead so we can be consistent and always follow-through on the rules we have put in place. Although being this organized might sound time-consuming and draining, it actually makes things a lot easier and allows us to model skills we want our kids to internalize.
In the end discipline is a mindset that can help us reconnect with our parenting goals and model behaviours we feel important enough to teach. It is a skill that requires us to really bring out the best in ourselves, before striving to bring out the best in our children. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it – and provides an opportunity for everyone to grow.