A different perspective on discipline that will reduce power struggles
What does discipline mean to you? For a lot of people it means rules and punishment. Discipline is so much more than this. We often think about discipline as being external. It is something we as parents enforce.
If , however, we were t think of it as internal (think of this as self discipline), what would change in our parenting? If our job as parents was to teach an guide our children rather than to be the enforcers of consequences, what would our parenting look like? So you may be thinking that this sounds like we should just let our children do whatever they want. This not the case. As the guides and educators of our children we would set limits , but we would also provide our children with the power of choice (and in this the ability to experience natural consequences).
As a result our children will learn how to make decisions themselves and manage their own wants and impulses. They will grow to listen to their internal voice and make decisions based on thinking things through, rather than needing an external enforced to ensure that they make good choices. As an added bonus you are no longer the constant bad guy in every scenario and the power struggles will decrease. I will give you a few examples to highlight this more clearly. The other day, my oldest was having a rough morning. Everything was an issue and everything was a fight. I found myself fighting the urge to follow her around and remind her of all of the things she needed to do. We finally got to school on that chilly morning and she decided not to wear her coat. I reminded her t was cold and then caught myself and said "that is your choice". Fast forward several hours later, and she is telling me that I was right and she was cold . In another example, my youngest struggles at times to get ready for school. She likes to engage in any activity not related to getting ready. One morning she was digging in about not getting ready. I reminded her we are leaving at a specific time and will get in the car at that time whether or not she was dressed (limit set). Well, that day was a pajama day. She went to school in PJ's with no shoes on (I gave those to her teacher at drop off). The next day, I calmly asked her if she was choosing to wear PJ's again. She said she wanted to get dressed and there were no further issues. As parents we have to choose our battles. Often times we get into power struggles that we could have avoided if we could let go of our own need for things to be a certain way and to allow our children to learn from the natural consequences. We want to protect our children and prevent them from any discomfort but often times we grow most when we experience discomfort. Allowing for natural consequences allows us to move from a rule enforcer/punisher to a teacher/guide/support.
Here are a few points to keep in mind: -Decide if this is a safety issue that you have to dig in with. There will be times when you n try to find a way for the environment to provide consequences and feedback (like being cold without a coat, or having no markers because they dried up after your child left the cap off). -Stay calm and set a limit if needed. For example: "if we leave the house late you will miss play time at school", "if you don't get ready for bed soon it will be can feel is difficult to ignore. too late for story time because the lights go out at 8". This limit setting is t help guide your child.
-Provide the opportunity for freedom, again with a limit. For example: "you can dump all the toys on your floor in your room only and they need to stay there" or "you can dump your toys on the floor in your room but they need to be picked up once a week so that your room can be vacuumed".It is up to you to decide what you can tolerate and what works for you. This gives them permission to do some of the things that your child tends to do but you set appropriate limits around it. -Let go of the need to control the situation. This is a tough one. We cannot control our children, as much as we wish we could. They can say no, ignore us, and exercise their free will. If we push our children one direction we often times leave them with no other option than to push back. This is where power struggles happen. We have to let them get feedback from the environment. Typically this feedback works better than any punishment we could enforce. Our voices tend to get tuned out after a while but real life experiences are hard to ignore.
Stay calm. There are times when your child will not like the natural consequence. If your child leaves the caps off of the glitter glue (another real life Glassman scenario) and the glue is dried up, they may get upset. If they ask you to purchase new ones and you set a limit such as "you can replace them with your allowance" or "when you show me that you can put the caps on consistently then we can get more", they may get even more upset. Breathe. Validate their feelings but avoid blaming, placing fault, or saying "if you would have put the cap on you would have glitter glue". This will only make them more angry and believe me, they know this already. Simply saying "I see how frustrated you are that the glue dried up" is enough.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.