May 29, 2015

The Ultimate Goals of Positive Parenting

The word 'discipline' comes from the Latin 'disciplina" which means "knowledge" or "instruction." In modern English, a lot of people have added the connotation that discipline involves punishment.

If we look at a related word, "disciple," we see it means "student" or "learner." There's a sense of volition involved as well. This is someone who is eager and willing to learn or follow.

I think we can all agree that children want to learn. They are eager to please and soak up information like sponges. They ask tons of questions and are just trying to understand the world around them. They make the best disciples and we can be the best instructors, if only you nurture that natural curiosity and teach them respectfully.

To accomplish this, we engage in what I call "gentle parenting." Some people call it "positive parenting." I think those terms simply mean that we respect the child as a person, with rights to bodily autonomy and opinions. I don't want my son to obey me or anyone else blindly. I don't want him to fear me. I want him to feel he can come to me when he is overwhelmed, and together we will come up with a solution. I want him to know he has a right to his thoughts and feelings and a right to have them respected.

We can do all that, and do it without punishments. We do not hit, spank, call him names or shame him. We don't put him in "time-outs." We don't take his toys away.

Instead, we do a lot of talking. A lot of negotiating. A lot of getting to the root of understanding what the real issue is. See, kids don't always have the tools or vocabulary to express what they are feeling. Often they do things that may seem unrelated or even opposite to what they are really aiming for. They simply don't have the necessary skills to act in more congruent ways.

It's counter-intuitive to me to punish someone for a lack of maturity or skill. I don't think it accomplishes anything other than shame and distance between you.

Instead, as a parent it's up to me, the adult, to be the model and mature one. If I don't want a child who screams to get what they want, it's important that I lead by example and don't use screaming as my reaction to things I don't like.

If I want my child to be able to say 'no' to things like, for example, an extreme but valid case like molestation, I need to respect his 'no' even when it doesn't suit me and my wants. A child who is scared to say 'no' to their parents will be scared to say 'no' to other family members, friends, or strangers.

I want my son to think for himself and for that, I need to teach him how to make good decisions. This comes from talking about the various outcomes to a situation. For example, one day he said he would like to let our pet bunnies run free in our backyard. I didn't say no, but I did tell him that if we did that, we probably would never see them again. I explained that we don't have good fences, and the bunnies move fast and are not trained. I explained that while it may be possible they would run back towards the house, it was much more possible they would run away. I asked him if he was prepared to deal with that possibility and he decided against it. I believe I met him where he was in his stage of maturity and allowed him to feel empowered making his own choice. If he were only two or three years old, it would have been a different sort of conversation. It probably would have been more along the lines of, "we are not going to let the bunnies run free today because we don't want to lose them, just like we ask you to stay close to us when we go out. We don't want to lose you." That's simple, it explains the reasoning and adds in a lesson that he can relate to - child thinks, "I don't like being lost. Bunnies don't like being lost. Stay with mommy. Bunnies stay with me."

None of this means I never get angry or upset, or that my son is perfectly behaved at all times. Far from it. He still tests the boundaries and I still have to take a deep breath now and then. However, I make it my ultimate goal to remain calm and remember my job is to teach him. I wrote a list of things you can do if you think you are losing control.

I think the main thing to always keep in mind is that you are the adult one in this relationship and it's your duty to model the behaviours you want to see and teach the skills your child needs to develop.

This post is part of the Positive Parenting Day Blog hop, hosted by Thoughts of an Introverted Matriarch

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