I’m a Mean Mommy. My husband is a Mean Daddy. As a result, our son is a charming confident little guy. He trusts and respects our authority. The secret is… discipline. I’m not talking about the “go out in the backyard and cut your own switch” type of discipline. This has proven to create angry resentful human beings. We show our child we care enough to teach him right from wrong, respect for authority, and we hope we will raise a self-respecting member of society as well as a person who knows he is loved and loves himself. I’m talking about raising a person with self-discipline, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
While desperately skimming my library books to create a battle plan for a toddler counterattack, I stumbled upon the most important concept pertaining to discipline. I loved my out-of- control two year old. But, apparently, my arsenal was empty after one too many shoot outs at the OK Corral. And there in a book by renowned author T. Berry Brazelton, it said that discipline shows your children they matter. Children determine they are loved by your reaction to their behavior. If you don’t correct them, they think they’re unworthy. If you give them too much praise, they doubt you. And if the only attention they get is negative attention, they will make sure they get their fill. Kids know they are entitled to guidance and care. The opposite of setting boundaries, following through, and showing your kid the validity of your word, is showing your child they don’t matter.
My kid knew what a no-no was. He had me fooled until he shot me the look over his shoulder whilst his hand hovered within striking distance of the no-no (possibly a cat’s tail, lamp, or baseboard heater) and I realized I’d been played. So because I loved him, I set non-negotiable boundaries with him. Boundaries are what kids crave. These can include the family’s rules of what is permissible or off limits to touch, how to behave, or how to treat people or animals. And discipline is the administration of the pre-stated consequences for breaking the rules. As well as being fair and age appropriate, the disciplinary action should be preceded by a verbal warning. If their next choice is to disobey anyway, they’ve chosen to engage in the battle to see who wins. They are hoping you do. My little guy says no to me but he cannot make all the decisions. Too many choices will make his little brain go “sploop”. Given too much power, children are overwhelmed and can become “control freaks” in an attempt to quell this huge fear of a world they’ve been led to believe they have control over. If there are no trustworthy consistent internalized boundaries, they might carry these fears and the resulting controlling tendencies into adulthood. Sound like anyone you know?
Consistency, my husband reminded me, is another important component of discipline. The three year old questions if you still mean what you just said 39 seconds ago. How about now? And now? What about now? We compared notes on no-no’s, stayed consistent with our discipline, and noticed we had a child who mostly minded us. Consequently, he was given a little more freedom. He trusted that if he’d been given a warning and still chose to misbehave, I would put him in the “Thinking chair’. He called it the “Fixing chair”. This was our chosen disciplinary device and the number one best thing we established to help us parent, thanks to my husband who was brave enough to put our son in the chair for his very first two minutes. In the following two years, it has been used as an either/or choice as in, “Eat your pancakes or sit in the thinking chair”. It’s been an exile destination for distracting toys. And I have put myself there when I needed to calm down (although I didn’t use the mathematical equation of minutes in the chair equals age or I’d have been there the better part of an hour).Regularity provides for trust between parent and child.
And then, as my son began to master the skills that are necessary for daily existence, like getting dressed, wiping his butt, and making his bed, I realized another important factor in discipline. What I ask of him, he will ask of himself. My hope is for this self-discipline to foster in him a sense of reliability, pride, and self-efficiency. I had pretty lousy self-discipline for most of my life. Apparently my inner adult was vacationing on a beach in Mexico when my inner child needed to be told it was “time to pick up the mess” or “you don’t have to take that from anyone (especially from someone who says they love you)”, or “you are enough ; be anything you want to be”. I started a cleaning business in college and began to clean up after myself. I endured 8 years of a very bad marriage before I chose to not hurt myself anymore using someone else. And now, I constantly challenge myself to face what I fear and do it anyway.
As parents, we are leaders. Self-discipline was hard learned for me but to not exhibit the same behaviors I ask of my child would be hypocritical. When I was a kid, I thought most adults were hypocrites. As a daily example, I say please and a thank you. I set goals, praise myself, work hard, and apologize to my son when I need to. And, yes, sometimes I think it would be easier if I got blind obedience from my kid. Good luck with that.
The happy ending to successful discipline is the creation of an independently thinking child. Independence belongs to the individual who is empowered by and entitled to a separation from their parents. The trust and boundaries have been established. I was not given these gifts. I rebelled because my parents did not give me permission to be separate. If, as parents, we ask our children to substantiate our existence with theirs, we rob them of the opportunities and joys they are entitled to as humans. Self-reliance and free thinking are among these. I revere the power I hold and consciously endeavor to guide him with a gentle and firm hand. It is more than most. And I still manage to convince my son I’m the driver of this family’s minivan and I make the necessary decisions along the way. He doesn’t need his license yet.