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The Fixing Chair : How Discipline Means Love

 I’m a Mean Mommy. My husband is a Mean Daddy. As a result, our son is a charming and mostly- confident little guy. He trusts and respects our authority. The secret to this? Discipline. I’m not talking about the “go out in the backyard and cut your own switch” type of discipline. We show our child we care enough to teach him right from wrong, respect for authority, and we hope he will grow to have self-discipline, self-esteem, and self-confidence. We began this parental journey not having a clue how to do this.

I had many of those mother moments when I felt lost and incompetent. I loved my out of control two-year old but my arsenal was empty after one too many shoot outs at the OK Corral. While desperately skimming my stack of library books to create a battle plan for a toddler counterattack, I stumbled on a book by renowned author T. Berry Brazelton who explained that discipline shows your children they matter.

By age two, they very well know right behavior from wrong. My two year-old knew had me duped until his hand was within striking distance of the no-no, a cat’s tail or lamp, and he shot me the look. If children decide they are loved by your reaction to their behavior, then if you don’t correct them, they assume they’re unworthy. Brazelton also wisely pointed out, 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 crave boundaries because they are proof of love and safety. I set non-negotiable boundaries with him. Typing them and posting them so we all knew what they were. 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. The opposite of setting boundaries, following through, and showing your kid the validity of your word, is showing your child they don’t matter.

The administration of the pre-stated consequences for breaking the understood rules and boundaries is discipline. Preceded by a verbal warning, the disciplinary action should be fair and age appropriate. If the child’s next choice is to disobey anyway, he/she has chosen to engage in the battle to see who wins. They are hoping you win.

He says “no” but he came to live with me, my friend once said. Too many choices in his world will make his little brain explode. Continually overwhelmed, children can become “control freaks” trying to quell their fear of a world they’ve been led to believe they have control over but don’t. If there are no trustworthy consistent internalized boundaries, children can then carry these fears and become controlling anxious adults. Sound like anyone you know?

Consistency, my husband reminded me, is another important part of discipline providing trust between parent and child. The three year-old wonders if thirty-nine seconds later, you still mean what you said. What about on Tuesdays? Or if the wind is from the North? As his parents, we compared notes on no-no’s, administered the same 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 what we called 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. The thinking chair method became, I explained why he was in there, kept him there for as many minutes as his age, and then re-explained why he was there and asked for his apology if necessary. In the following two years, it has been used as an either/or choice as in, “Stop hitting the kitty 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.

The result of discipline, expectations, and boundaries will be a child who can fly from the nest and thrive. If we ask our children to stay reliant, we rob them of the opportunities and joys they are entitled to as humans. Your boundaries, self-discipline, and trust become theirs. The happy ending is the creation of an independently thinking confident child. Knowing you’re loved is powerful stuff.

Fiona from the Thinking Chair on Shalavee.com

Choose Your Choices

The word ‘control’ seems to embody mankind’s split personality. We profess we are in control and turn around and toss it away unceremoniously. Both precious and free, we play with the word and cheapen its power. We speak of being “out of control” when it seems to me we attempt to and successfully score control over most everything in our lives constantly. We avoid paying the emotional costs of honesty.

Early in life, each person will be a “Three Year Old”. This is the inception of the control-freak. He’s loud and irrational and he is attempting a coupe of the household. And what results may be the point many lives fall apart and unhappy patterns solidify.

The TYO knows he is misbehaving. Heck, he knew at age two when he shot his parent a sly glance after making the test move. If no one brings the “No” and means it, then he begins to believe he’s not worth the effort of the parents’ love. He knows intuitively that if the parents loved him, they would’ve said no.

Moreover, the world frightens the TYO. The more he demands the restraint he needs the parent is not bringing, the scarier the world gets. When there’s no guidance to create a healthy internal parent, he’s got no skills or confidence to handle the scary world. Or when the over controlling parent drowns the TYO, they rob him of the empowerment for his own survival. This causes panic too. He’s screwed either way. Now he can develop compulsions to assuage his ever-growing bottomless fears.

Enter the self soothing simple choice of an addiction. I have dabbled in a few of these. They’re make-believe at best, life threatening at worst. I know a woman in recovery who believes everyone has some sort of addiction. I want to agree but I also hope for a few functional people in the world; those who’ve moved beyond.

Addictions are an adaptation and a response. A thumbed nose at the expectations of authority. However, reactions aren’t a true choice. They’re the TYO’s FU. Wear your fear on your sleeve or shamefully bury it, deep down there’s no authenticity or truth anywhere nearby. Maybe we you perpetuate and maintain the parent’s distorted vision of how you suck. Seemingly inadvertent, it is still a chosen perception and action. The trick is to recognize your power to choose any of it.

Even if you don’t believe you’re worth it, making choices and taking actions for your benefit are what your children will emulate. They will do as you do, not as you say. People will treat you as you treat yourself. Self-respect is learned. You learn it through practice and developing self-pride. Self esteem begets more of the same. And squelches grief.

And if children learn self-respect by watching you and heeding the boundaries and limits you have displayed, the next generation has more esteem and confidence and internal resources. Do we really want to raise another generation of heroine addicts? Or do we seed our earth with self-possessed people who can preserve the species and their planet for 20 generations to come? It’s really an individual choice. Choice is yours. Really it is.

There was no parental guidance at our house. I never knew how it felt to have my own back until I loved my kid so much I’d do anything to make him feel safe. Including healing myself. I had never loved myself that much to care. I attempt to provide him a contained safe world full of boundaries and limits until he can set his own.

Had you already chosen what you’d get from this piece? Not in need of any guidance I can provide? Is there a “right way” of doing things? Consider the reasons. Question your inner control-freak and see if you have been denied the recognition of your power to choose recently.

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