Saturday, August 18, 2012

Disciplining/ Discipling a Preschooler

A recent conversation with a friend on spanking got me thinking on discipline. I can imagine that people might think "OK, so you don't spank - what do you do?"

Firstly, let me make 2 points.
1) The most important thing is not about punishing wrong actions, but parenting with empathy and grace (seeing things from their perspective)
2) Its very important to have appropriate developmental expectations of your child.
Let me talk about this a little further.

1) Empathetic parenting. So my child is acting out and testing boundaries - why? Lets try and put my own emotions aside for a few minutes (and practice some Fruits of the Spirit) and see what is the root cause of my child's misbehaviour (Exercising Wisdom and Grace). MOST of the time it is something as simple as they are tired, overstimulated or needing some attention from you. As frustrating as it sometimes is - when  E acts out, it is USUALLY because I haven't been paying proper attention to him and spending quality time with him; haven't been listening to him and validating his right to be heard; been moody and irritable with him for my own silly reasons. If that is the case, amazingly, what quickly fixes some naughtiness is a vigorous tickle game and/or a story and cuddle on the couch. I have written on my wall "Misconnection = Misbehaviour" so that I never forget it, and am often reminded of the real reason behind his actions.

2) Appropriate developmental expectations. Don't even discipline a child under one - they have absolutely no concept of right or wrong. It would be totally unfair. A child between 1 and 2 is purely exploring their new found freedom and environment. The law of distraction works wonders. A 2 year old is coming to terms with boundaries and disappointments on a regular basis. Expect frustrations. This is where empathetic parenting is really needed. A 3 year old (where we are at the moment) wants to start testing their boundaries, and their little personalities are coming out. This is the first time we really needed to assist with shaping and setting boundaries.

So what I am discussing here essentially is disciplining a 3 year old. We are very blessed that we have had to do very little discipline with him in his life. His firm trust and connection with us has made him a lovely compliant child - even though he has a fairly strong will. Ruling out what I mentioned before, in the case of him being purely tired or overstimulated, and if he is having a period of consistent resistance - most of the time a stern warning or look of disapproval will quickly set him back on track. If you have read my previous posts you will understand that, as with our relationship with God, we want to please Him. That is the basis of why we obey Him and his commandments. We like to think that this is why E is quick to listen to us as well. He genuinely doesn't like it when we are hurt or sad by his actions and he will often come out of his own to give us a "sorry kiss". He will also often comment and say, "is mommy sad now?" This means that he can in turn sympathise with us as we try to do with him.

On very few occasions (probably twice a week if that) we will put him on the 'Thinking Chair'. Some might call it the Naughty Step or Time-out Zone. We don't like to use those terms because we don't want to label him naughty, and form his identity in any way as being naughty. For example, if he is doing something naughty we don't say "You are naughty!" or "You are being naughty!". We say "What you did was naughty". I also often make a point of saying to him that he is a good boy, not a naughty boy. His identity is not in what he does - that's what the world believes. His identity is in Christ and what Christ has ALREADY done for him on the Cross!

Back to the 'thinking chair'. Some Attachment Parents don't believe in time-outs, but I tend to think they work very well for  number of reasons:

  1. In a heated moment it gives him a chance to cool down
  2. In a heated moment it gives me a chance to cool down! (Important)
  3. It separates him from his fun/ overstimulating/ dangerous situation so he can gain some perspective on what he did wrong
  4. It gives him some time to think about what he did wrong (I don't believe that a child under 3 can really grasp this though)
  5. Being placed in a quiet safe environment allows us to discuss what happened and reconnect without distractions.
The rule of thumb is generally 1 minute for every year of their age. If I put him on the chair (very rarely) when he was younger than 3 I would sit with him so that he didn't feel like I was abandoning him and so cause separation anxiety.

What usually would happen is if he is misbehaving in a way that I see as unreasonable and disobedient is give him a warning. This usually fixes the problem. If he is being defiant I will tell his what will happen if he doesn't listen, and then count to 3. If he hasn't wised up by 3 then its off to the thinking chair with mommy. I take him by the hand and sit him down. The best place for us is a chair in the bathroom (because its pretty boring in there!). Then I will tell him why he is sitting there, and leave him for 3 minutes. After this time we have both cooled down and gained some perspective. At this stage I will go down to his level and calmly ask him why he is sitting on the thinking chair (only after they turn 3 do I think they can do this), and he will often tell me exactly why. Then I repeat what he did in my own words to him what he did wrong and why he shouldn't do this. Thereafter I will ask him for a sorry kiss and hug. But usually he beats me to that and dives onto me to say sorry. Then we have a big cuddle - and I remember it no more! Just as the Lord does when we repent.

This technique really works well for us and it doesn't put a notch in our closeness by any means. I haven't broken his trust and I haven't had to intimidate him in order to listen to me.

Another important point I try to regularly put across is that I as the parent make mistakes too. I make a point of apologising to him if I do shout or act wrong because its important for him to see that we all make mistakes, but its more important to make right. He responds really well to this.

I hope that this helps give you some practical tips on what has really worked for us. Please don't think that just because we don't hit our child that we are permissive parents, and that he runs the roost and bullies his parents. He is by no means a spoilt and naughty child. I often get compliments on how lovely he is. Yes, he has moments - we all do. But we are all growing and learning. Parenting with Grace really calls for asking God for wisdom on a regular basis, because we are growing and learning as parents too. Putting your emotions and feelings aside and acting in love, in times of frustration, is really a growing experience as we grow in character and self-control ourselves. Lets model these things to our children.

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