By Nathalie Bowman
Children over generations of time have been raised by parents with a heavy hand for discipline. Rules were set forth, and it was required that they be obeyed. But, inevitably, kids would “break” the rules and punishments were inflicted. Being yelled at, grounded, lost driving privileges, No TV for days are examples of punishments many of us have experienced. Some rebellious kids would sneak out anyway, and others would just submit to the punishment. If you ever experienced punishments like this, how did you feel? Most children don’t feel better as a result of these punishments. In fact, why do parents think that children will DO better when they FEEL worse?
Punishments may solve the problem temporarily, but they also have the potential to drive a wedge between parent and child. The parent wonders what’s wrong with the child, and why can’t they just do as they’re told, and the child wonders why their parents won’t even try to understand them, their needs, desires, feelings, and even their pain. Ultimately, children don’t feel safe when harsh punishments are inflicted. They rarely open up to their parents and relationships are strained. Punishments happen because parents get frustrated and don’t know what else to do. Parents “lose it” and dish out whatever punishment comes to their head in the moment.
Keeping appropriate boundaries
How do we keep appropriate boundaries, teach children to be responsible, and teach them wrong and right, if we don’t punish our kids? They have to have a reason not to do the bad behavior again, and punishment is the key, right? What if punishment is NOT the key? What if there are better solutions?
A couple of months ago, two of my sons received an invitation to a birthday party. The day finally came, and we still needed to purchase a gift. My 11-year-old son walked by me as I was getting ready, and I caught a stinky whiff. I asked him to take a shower before the party. He replied that he didn’t have any clean underwear! Well, he is responsible for his own laundry, so I told him to hurry and put his clothes in the washer and get in the shower while I took his brother to the store to shop for a birthday gift, and I would come by and pick him up for the party after we got the gift. My son was not happy with this idea. He is the kind of kid who really cares about others and it’s important to him to have a part in choosing the gift. He threw a fit and got really angry. “NO! I will NOT let you go to the store without me!” he yelled as he stood in front of the front door with his arms outstretched and his feet planted. “I’m not going to let anybody leave this house to get the present unless I can come with you!” he shouted while blocking the door. The other kids snickered, and one whispered, “Mom, we can go out the back door or through the garage and still get out.”
In the past, I would have told my son to “go get your clothes in the washer and get in the shower NOW, or you won’t be going to the party!” Notice the threat and punishment in the moment? This time, however, my brain was thinking differently. It didn’t even occur to me to say anything like that. Instead, I came up with a solution that worked.
I knew that we didn’t have time for my son to take a shower, wash his clothes, and go to the store before the party started. I also knew that it was a water party. So, I told my son to get his clothes in the washer now, take a super quick shower, put on his swim trunks, and he could come to the store with us, then I would take him and his brother to the party. While they were at the party, I would put his clothes in the dryer so he would have something clean to wear when he got home. He agreed. He put his clothes in the washer, took the quickest shower in the west, found a great gift, and they enjoyed the party.
Some would say that I just gave in and rewarded my son for his bad behavior. But what I really did was validate his concerns, knowing that giving and connecting with others is really important to him. I allowed him to do what was really important to him, and he felt like his needs were valid. Instead of having his need to serve others squashed by my need to punish and be right, we came to a good solution. Treating my son like a real person with needs helped him behave better because he knew he was loved. His behavior became better overall.
Positive Discipline offers parents solutions that allow for proper boundaries, respect, learning to create solutions, and helping children become independent. I have seen and used many parenting techniques/programs and have not found anything better. A parent who uses Positive Discipline sees their child as a person with thoughts, feelings, ideas, and helps the parent develop a positive relationship with the child, while teaching children they are loved, and their feelings and ideas are important. Consequences may be necessary, but they are different than punishments inflicted. Although some may see a few of the Positive Discipline suggestions as “soft”, treating your children with respect and love helps them feel better so they DO better.
As I’ve been studying the Positive Discipline philosophy and ideas, my brain has shifted. I used to be a parent that would punish in the moment, usually under stress and frustration, and it wasn’t very effective. I have cleaned out my heart so I can be a more peaceful parent, and now that I’m studying Positive Discipline, my brain is being retrained as to what my children need and how I give it to them. When I dropped my sons off to the birthday party, the best part was the realization that my brain automatically went to a solution instead of a reaction! Now it is becoming a part of everyday life in our home.
The two parts of parenting mentioned in this series of blog posts are vital in order to have this work for you. Become a peaceful parent by cleaning out the frustrations inside you, and study and implement positive discipline and your parenting will become much more simple and your relationships with your children will improve!
(Over the next couple of months, I will periodically be sharing specific positive discipline techniques and ideas, so stay tuned!)