Guest Post By Sarah MacLaughlin, Author of the Award-winning Amazon Bestselling book, What Not To Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children
I consider myself someone who does use discipline so when I saw a post online entitled, We Don’t Do Discipline, I was intrigued. The author’s suggestions are fantastic, but reading it I realized that “discipline” and “punishment” have become synonyms. This should not be the case.
Notice how I said I use discipline. When discipline is a noun, more of a quality the adult possesses and promotes, then we are on the right track. When discipline becomes a verb, as in, “I need to discipline my child,” we may be heading in the wrong direction. Discipline should be ongoing. It should start with self-discipline (on the part of the grown-up) and be integrated into everyday life. The root of the word discipline is “to teach” and that is certainly part of what I do as a parent. Below are a handful of guidelines that I tend to follow when I think about lovingly shaping my child’s behavior; you know, gentle discipline.
Accept a child where they are: Honor their impulses. Many childhood behaviors are confounding. Spitting, aggression, and rudeness are great examples. I am often asked, “Don’t I need to send a strong message about this?” You need to send a message, yes. But it need not be a harsh, controlling message. I am often triggered by an entitled tone in my child’s voice when he wants something. He frequently demands instead of asking—after all, he is four. I feel a very strong pull in myself to withdraw from my son when he does this. I find want to “teach him a lesson” in more of a punishing way. I have learned to resist this pull, and the pull to further control him by withholding that which he wants until he “can ask nicely.” Instead of increasing disconnection by doing this, I check myself, present him that which he desires, and then gently offer the teaching: “Sweetie, here is the milk you wanted. I like to be spoken to kindly. Next time can you ask me in a kind voice?” Usually, he says, “Okay Mommy.” If he doesn’t, it is a cue to me that he actually needs more connection, not less. Less never helps.
Have age-appropriate expectations. Children are not tiny little adults, but they are small people. Get to know what you can generally expect for each of your children’s ages—and know that development is not a straight line. It goes in more of a one-step-forward, two-steps-back pattern. We will have to repeat ourselves. There is a definite difference between cooperative and compliant children. I, for one, want the former and not the latter. When we interact with young children, we don’t need to coerce or bully, disapprove or shame. We need to model. We need to connect. We need to show we care.
Maintain unconditional positive regard. When a child’s behavior is alarming, try to attribute the best possible motivation to what you observe. Our interpretation of a child’s actions critically impacts our response. Rebecca Thompson, in her fantastic new book: Consciously Parenting, tells a story of her son leaning in toward her with a scowl on his face. Initially, she thought he might want to hurt her, he ended up just wanting a kiss. What if she had reacted to this misinterpretation of his intentions? Things would have gone horribly awry. If you can refrain from judging a child’s behavior as bad or wrong, you are going to be in a better position to stay calm and actually respond to them (as opposed to reacting). If you saw the movie The Help, you will remember the mantra that the housekeeper repeated over and over to her charge: You is kind. You is smart. You is important. What message is more important than that?
Speaking of being kind, smart, and important, you, dear reader, are all these things, too. You too need to take care of yourself—we all do. When I hear a certain tone creeping into my voice, I know I have to arrange for a break. When I cannot maintain respect and dignity in my relationship with my child, I know I’ve gone off track. When I am disregulated, I cannot offer guidance. And my child does need that guidance. Maybe guidance is an even better word than discipline.
Please let us know: How do you use gentle discipline? How do you regulate, teach, support, and guide?
Please comment on this post about how you use gentle disciplie and regulate, teach, support and guide your children. Your comment enters you in the eBook Giveaway — to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you’re the winner!
Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah’s blog here: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html.
Also, you can enter at Sarah’s site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch. Winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th. Go here to enter: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html
About The Author
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, and works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots, and writes the “Parenting Toolbox” column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally, and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life’s work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site: http://www.saramaclaughlin.com/ and her blog: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com.