I hate the word discipline - it has so many negative connotations. Kids hate it, too, but does it all have to be so terribly negative? The answer is a resounding no! The key is in our attitude and in thinking about what we're trying to achieve and what our motivation is. Are we trying to force our children to act in a way that doesn't inconvenience us or are we lovingly trying to equip our children with the tools necessary to handle life on their own?
Really what we're trying to do is to teach our children and equip them for life without us. Basically, we're trying to work ourselves out of a job. Our motivation is love for our children and this should be evident in everything we do.
Realise that children are little human beings. Appreciating this truth can keep us from expecting unreasonable things from our children. It's amazing how prone we are to expecting children to behave in ways we would never behave ourselves. I remember reading the example of the young man with the new sports car. His younger brother wants a go. He's 17 and he's just passed his driving test. Would you expect big brother to share his toy? No way. But for some reason, we expect children, shy of their second year, to share their toys. Why are our young children less entitled to ownership of their possessions than you or me? Of course there’s a place for sharing, but think about and appreciate what it is you’re asking for. Another example, we wonder why it’s painful dragging our toddlers around the shops while we barely expect Daddy to do so! They’re little humans and we should be careful about what we’re asking of and expecting from them.
Prevention is better than cure – the power of a little notice. We’ve all seen the wailing child being dragged out of the playground or the toy store. We’ve seen the poor mother chasing little Johnny for his bath. Well, you’d be surprised the effect a little notice can have. What if your boss in work came up to you at lunch break, demanded that you drop everything and attend to a business matter which could just as well wait another 15 minutes to be tended to? You’d tell him where to stuff his urgent business matter! It’s not really reasonable to expect our children to drop everything and immediately fall into line with our plans. How about letting the little people in on the plan ahead of time? You’d be surprised how much easier things can become. It’s all about respect really. We need to think – are we trying to convenience ourselves, or are we trying to raise happy self-confident children who have learned that they matter and are respected as intelligent human beings?
Love is a four letter word spelled t-i-m-e. How corny. I can’t remember where I read this before but it is so profoundly true. This universal concept applies to our relationships with our children, irrespective of age. The only thing you have of value to give your children is you and you can’t make up for that with anything else. If you want your children to learn that they are loved, respected and cherished little human beings, the only way you can teach them is to give them your time - quality dedicated time. It’s really very simple but it’s so important. It can be hard, though. That’s where time management comes in. If you are struggling to give of your time, perhaps it’s an opportunity to look at time management techniques. Examine yourself and identify what you are spending the bulk of your time on. Then ask yourself if these things are important enough to squeeze out your kids. Schedule quality time with your children – it’s one of the most important things you can do to teach them that they are important and loved.
It’s not about performance – it’s about assistance and support. Some things take time and there’s no value in rushing them. Yet many parents get hung up on them…thinking it’s a competition. Parents easily fall into the trap of measuring their kids up against others on such questionable metrics such as, when they took their first steps, sat on the potty, or rode their bike without training wheels for the first time. However, this is not good. It can prejudice our view of our own children and it will be impossible to prevent these negative judgments from being passed on. In reality, it doesn’t matter a bit if your child rides his or her bike when they are 4 or 14. If they’re not bothered – leave it be. If they want your help, they’ll ask – and then assist by all means.
This principle is especially important for potty training. It doesn’t matter if Johnny uses the potty at 2 or at 4. If I told you Bill Clinton didn’t use a potty till he was 4, would it matter to you? I have no information on when Bill Clinton used the potty for the first time, but it’s irrelevant! As parents, we can get hung up on things like this and get obsessive. Relax. If Johnny has an interest in the potty, facilitate and encourage his efforts. If he’s not interested – leave it be – try again in a few months. We can do a lot of damage by forcing these issues and there’s no benefit to expediting them. This is where you should be aware of external factors that can have a negative impact on the process. For example, you need to get little Johnny into crèche and he needs to be potty trained. This is probably the wrong reason to expedite the toilet training process and perhaps your child would be better served by considering a different crèche or by taking additional leave. Again, ask yourself what your motivation is. The answer will always tell you if your behavior is helping or hindering your child.
Let them speak – and listen. Think of when you were telling someone about something important to you and you saw his eyes darting around, not really paying attention. You finish what you’re saying and the underwhelming response you get confirms that they weren’t really interested, or they were distracted by something else. How deflated do you feel? It’s a real morale quencher to not be listened to. Imagine you’re a child and this is the normal response you get. Your child would very quickly learn that they don’t really matter and how they feel or what they’ve done isn’t really that important. This is probably one of the hardest things of all, because, my word, children can be chatty! But sometimes, we just need to drop what we’re doing and listen – really listen. This will pay dividends in the long run for your child. Use the feedback technique to show your child that you’ve listened and you’ve understood. Especially when they’re sharing their emotions and especially when they are angry. Our children need to know they can speak and be listed to, without fear of chastisement. If your child knows they can speak and be listened too – he/she will have a healthy route and outlet for all that’s inside.
These are principles which I, as a parent, have found to be true and which I hope you can benefit from. I believe that as parents, it is our duty to educate ourselves and give our children the best chance for a happy and fulfilling life. I believe if we constantly examine ourselves and our motives, it will be self-evident if our actions are helping our hindering our children. They are valuable little individuals, dependent on us to be equipped with the tools for life. Let’s do the best we can to do the best job we can.