I will try to not get too long- winded, and I will try to keep my thoughts organized. This is a subject that I can talk about for a long time as it is important to me. It is in response to a post from Prayingforoneday and this post in particular. I enjoy this blog, by the way.
His questions are…have we been too lazy with our kids? Is there a lack of discipline that is contributing to teens today getting into more serious trouble?
Here are my thoughts and my ways of teaching. I’m not an expert by any means. I’m far from perfect (I mean, I’m WAY far…I waved goodbye to far from perfect a long time ago. You get the picture). But I have learned a lot over a quarter of a century of raising my own children and caring for other kids. I have taken many, many hours of child development courses. I take what I agree with from each course and piece them all together to make my guidelines. What I ended up with is not anything new, and it really isn’t all that hard. What is does is work wonders about 98% of the time. There are always those kids who are going to be extra difficult, and they make up the other 2%!
Let me start by making it clear that when talking about children, when I say discipline, I mean to teach. It is a very rare thing indeed that I actually punish a child. I usually don’t need to go to those extremes. I save that for when a situation is or could have been dangerous. To me, to discipline means to guide and teach. It does not mean to punish.
I remember a time when it was taught that a child’s self-esteem was the most important thing. Do NOT let a child ever feel bad about themselves at all costs! Make them think the universe revolved around them. No kidding, this was actually taught in a lot of child development classes. Okay, so I sat through a few of these classes with wide eyes and jaw dropped to the floor. Yes, I think it is important to help children see how important they are. I want them to feel good about themselves and their actions. But, no, the world does NOT revolve around them. Try living around a child who thinks the sun rises and sets for them. No, thank you. So, from these classes I took the idea of good self-esteem and positive encouragement and let all the rest of the information go. Honest and frequent compliments when a fantastic behavior is occurring is a wonderful thing. I will not, however, drop everything I’m doing when a child calls to me. I will not reschedule my daily routine because a child doesn’t like what’s on the schedule. I will not let a child interrupt me when talking to another person, unless it’s an emergency or the need is real.
I think a child develops good self-esteem by having control over themselves and their environment. It comes when they realize they can be kind and polite to others and make people happy. It happens when they learn something new and see the excitement it causes in not only themselves, but the people surrounding them. It comes from loving and being loved. Setting and enforcing boundaries shows love, and I really believe kids thrive on it.
Going back to the old classes I took…I was taught that if your child is doing a bad behavior, let’s say spitting for an example, you are to completely ignore it. When the spitting doesn’t get the attention and he moves on to throwing toys, well, ignore that too. Just keep ignoring until he does something, anything, that is considered a ‘good’ behavior. At that point, you are to clap, smile, be happy and praise the pants off him! To yell or punish or threaten would hurt his self-esteem. I say BS to that idea, pardon my language. This method might teach a child that he gets positive attention when he behaves, but where are the boundaries? Does he have to figure them all out by trial and error all the time until BINGO, he found an acceptable thing to do? I just could not bring myself to do this. So, what do I do instead?
I give choices. Every single time we start an activity, I explain the rules and make it very clear what will happen when the rules are broken. I then make sure the kids know it’s up to them how long they want to be able to participate. Kids are smart. They listen and understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Some kids follow the rules, some honestly forget and need a gentle nudge for a reminder. Some blatantly break the rules because they need the attention. An example:
We are getting the play-dough out. I explain to the kids that the play-dough has to stay on the table or the play stove. Play-dough does not belong on the floor, or in the sink, or thrown to another room, etc. I make very clear rules. Let’s say Johnny decides to make a ball out of it and gives it a heave across the room. I don’t yell or show anger. Becoming angry transfers power from you to the child, and you don’t want that. No, I look a little sad and use a firm but calm voice. “Oh no, Johnny, I guess you decided you are done with play-dough for today. Why don’t you pick it up and put it away now and find another activity.” It puts the action back on the child and he knows he made a mistake. Will there be tantrums? Sometimes. I don’t let the screaming bother me. I once again shake my head and state how sad I am that he decided to scream instead of simply talking to me. He then has to leave the room until he settles down. After he is feeling better, I hug him and let him know I care for him and we can discuss what happened if he wants to. The trick is to have nerves of steel and NEVER back down from your rules. It creates boundaries and they will learn to function within those boundaries. It gives them a sense of satisfaction when they stay within the rules and have fun! It shows respect for themselves and others. It builds that coveted self-esteem.
It would take all day and 20 posts to go into all the details and variables, but I hope I got the main idea across.
I don’t think you have to do a lot of yelling, or hitting, to raise a respectful and happy person. It does take work and time. Give a child choices in everything possible (what they want to wear, if they want milk or juice, if they want to play with blocks or trains). Let them have all of the control over their day to day lives as you can, while staying within the safe boundaries you create for them. As they get older, the rules and boundaries change, of course, but the basic foundation is the same. Making choices is a great learning method because every single choice made has a consequence. Some good, some bad. And with every bad choice and consequence, a lesson is learned. Mistakes are awesome because that is when we do our best learning.
When kids are floundering their entire lives, not sure how far they can push the limits, they get lost and are just wandering. When we make our very young child believe the sun shines only for him, how is he ever going to learn to respect and love others? He will grow up wandering and lost. I see the signs of that a lot, these days.
If anyone is interested and not totally lost and confused, I can try to clarify or expand upon this. As you can see, I can go on all day on the subject! I might have already posted something similar, so if I did I’m sorry.