Monday, October 14, 2013

Gentle Discipline in Theory

A friend asked me to write a series about gentle discipline. Truthfully, I find the idea a bit overwhelming, in part because I feel unqualified to write what I don't always practice. Also, I think that what we use as gentle discipline will seem like no discipline at all to some readers and too harsh to others. Rather than try to write and defend a dissertation, then, I will simply set forth gentle discipline for our family at this point in time.

Also happening in our family today: licking the dryer.

Our guiding principle in child-rearing is to model the behavior we want to see. We give our children love and respect. We don't force them to be independent before they wish it. We support and encourage them. We treat them the way we want them to treat each other.

What It's Not
I know what love is and it just don't stop, but I can explain it better when I say what love's not
-Mars Ill

I have read in some gentle discipline circles that parents ought to treat their children as respected friends. Parents ought never impose their own will, but invite cooperation and gracefully accept when that invitation is ignored. We're not in that camp. There are definitely times we impose our will because our children are not our friends. If my friends treated me the way my children do (pulling things off the shelves, yelling in anger, asking for a favor then refusing it, etc.), we would not still be friends. We guide, instruct, and discipline our children. We do none of these things to our friends. (You're welcome.)

Toward the other end of the spectrum, some parents force obedience through punitive measures. This might be through time out or invoking guilt and shame. It might be through corporal punishment, including spanking. We're not in this camp, either. If I exile, scold, or strike out at Peter when he misbehaves, he will follow my lead next time Anne aggravates him. Might does not make right. Certainly I could raise children who respond with instant obedience in every situation, but these children would also learn that authority means control rather than leadership.

What It Is
We talk with Peter a lot. When he is misbehaving, we take the time to be sure he is aware of what he's doing and explain why we don't want him to do it. Then we present choices, never giving choices that we won't accept. He can choose to continue that behavior, but: in a different room, at a different time, without our cooperation, at the expense of a later activity, etc. Or he can choose to stop, at which point we say, "Thank you." Sometimes, of course, the behavior simply must stop. "What will happen if I don't stop?" "That's not a choice this time. Stop." He does, 98% of the time. (The other 2% will be a different post.)

We also do a lot of proactive parenting, setting them up to succeed rather than to fail. There are very few places they can't go or items they can't touch in our home. If they are getting antsy, we engage them in active play. If they just seem to want attention, we offer to read a book. We try to meet their needs before they try misbehavior to express themselves. We pray with and for them regularly.

Teaching is a crucial part to this whole theory. We teach words to express feelings. We teach peaceful ways for both children to have what they want. We teach turn-taking and sharing. We teach how to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Often this is explicit (Peter is only 3, after all), but also implicit in how we treat ourselves, each other, and the children.

I'll write more in the near future about how this theory works (and sometimes doesn't work) in practice.

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