June 18, 2014

Parenting and Discipline

So I talk big talk about what not to do when it comes to parenting. If you've been reading my blog long enough, you know we're into attachment parenting and gentle parenting.
That, for us, means no time outs, no spanking, no hitting, no yelling, no shaming, no calling names, no empty threats, no lots of things! So you might wonder, what do we do then?

Well, first off, we do discipline our child. We are not against discipline. I find when a lot of people see we don't parent like them, they think we don't discipline. We do.

Our son knows not to hit, spit, kick or punch people. He knows to hold my hand when walking down the street. He listens and obeys (for the most part). Like any four year old, he will have his off days and he will have his testing moments. He acts like a child (which makes sense!) and we respect his limits and don't put him in situations where he would be inclined to act out. We practice going out in public and learning how to behave in different situations during short trips.
So just that explanation gives you an idea of what we do do: we respect limits and keep our expectations within those limits.

We also repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, in the same even tone until he gets it.

I think people forget that repetition and practice are the best ways to learn anything. You don't learn to play the guitar over night. Kids don't learn how to tie their shoes in one afternoon. So when a child has to be told every single night that his dirty clothes go in the laundry hamper, and every night you tell him five times before he makes his way to it, you repeat it every night until one night he does it on his own.

You are creating habits that will last a lifetime. You are not running a race. You are not in a competition to see who learns it fastest. You are not running out of breath (unless you seriously have COPD or emphysema). Surely you have the time to spend teaching your child these simple tasks and habits and can spare a few minutes of your time to remind him/her to put their clothes away.

So reframe your thinking and remind yourself every moment of the day with your child is a teaching moment, not a bad behaviour moment. You have opportunities to teach or punish every day. We choose to teach. Every time.

We empathize with him.
Whatever stage he is at, we remember he is smaller and less powerful than us. Do you remember being 4 or 5? You may or may not. But I can guarantee, while you didn't have a care in the world for the most part or knew anything about banks, the government or mortgages, you did know you were smaller than others and that big people had authority. You did not have fully developed fine and gross motor skills, so things like eating with utensils or brushing your teeth took a lot of concentrated focus and effort. You did not have control of your schedule. There were many things you were not capable of doing and you knew it. You were sometimes envious of others with skills you did not have. You also did not have the capability to think ahead or plan. You became frustrated when you could not make yourself understood. Sometimes things were so overwhelming, you're not even sure what you were feeling, let alone able to verbalize it. Yes, being a kid is fun and carefree, but it's also limiting and confusing. Children don't know how to navigate this giant world of ours. This is even more of a struggle when they have a disability. When you empathize with them and realize they are doing the best they can with the limited skills they have, you realize they need a whole lot more love and understanding than actual punishments.

I have no doubt you do get results from other forms of parenting. Spanking does stop the negative behaviour quickly, but it doesn't help the child cope with whatever they're struggling with. It doesn't teach them negotiation skills. It doesn't teach them problem solving or critical thinking. It teaches them to fear being hit by a person they love.

Similarly, yelling and telling a child they're an "idiot" will probably get them silent and sullen very effectively. It will also teach them they are bad people. It will also teach them you, the person they love and trust the most in the world, think they're an idiot.

It's up to you what you want your child to learn in the long term and I believe gentle parenting techniques will best benefit my son. It takes effort now, but I hope to reap the rewards in the future. And he will, too. He will learn how to compromise and negotiate. He will have a healthy self-esteem. He will learn to think for himself. He will learn people can be trusted not to hurt him, and that loving relationships are those where people treat each other with respect. He will have a healthy sense of morals which are internally reinforced, knowing he should not harm a person - not because there's an external threat to him of being punished by someone else, but quite simply because it is the wrong thing to do.

I can also be sure that looking back on how I chose to parent my child, I know I will not regret not doling out more punishments instead of hugs.

And hey, we all mess up now and then. I would be lying if I said I've never yelled. It's what you do with your mistakes that make a difference. You can try to pretend it never happened and see what kind of interesting things your child internalizes from it, or you can own up to your mistakes, be a role model and apologize for losing your cool. You're the adult. You can make adult choices. 

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