Discipline means "to teach". We begin teaching our kids from the minute they're born. We talk to them through diaper changes and baths. We dress them in weather appropriate clothes. We provide nutritious food. These simple bits of parenting might not seem like they are integral parts of teaching children, but we are modeling for them from the very beginning.
As they approach toddlerhood, the discipline becomes more challenging. Our little babies start to blossom into people with ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Often those that clash with our own. We know food doesn't taste different off the blue plate, but try convincing a three-year-old! Instead of helpless babies, we have little humans who are trying to figure out the world. They test us and the world to learn about it.
Their precocious exploring may be dangerous at times. We must step in when there may be harm to themselves or others. I promise, no matter how gentle you are when you correct your toddler, they will not enjoy it, and they are likely to protest. Be strong. Explain why briefly, and move on. "I can't let you hit the dog, hitting hurts. Let's use gentle hands". Then move them away from the dog and move on with life. Repeat. Ad nauseum. Eventually, it will sink in that hitting the dog isn't an option.
As they age, the why can become more developed. "The dog doesn't like when you hit, you may not play with him until you can use gentle hands". It might be necessary to remove your child, or the dog, from one another for safety. This extends to siblings and friends as well. A calm down period might be required for children who get very angry when corrected. Will had to be excused to his room, a safe space, to have his feelings before he and I could connect about the wrongdoing and work through feelings. Once he was capable of logical thinking, he could even apologize for his poor choices.
I had to maintain constant contact with Mack. He explored the world violently and destructively. When I could let him destroy, I did. But often, he destroyed his siblings' creations. There was once a deck he and his buddy destroyed. I had to tomato stake him to ensure his safety and that of his surroundings. I was then able to immediately remind him about safe choices.
Each child is going to require different steps and levels of correction. While Will screamed for hours in his room, and Mack needed constant supervision, Rory simply needed a logical explanation. She accepted correction along with reasons, and we rarely had to repeat ourselves. Kae argues regardless of what anyone tells her, no matter their well thought out reasons. She is right and everyone else is wrong regardless. We have to be firm and consistent with her.
We prefer to use words that help our kids become aware that they have control over their bodies. "Choice" is powerful. Not only do they learn they can control themselves, but they learn that others get the same autonomy. No more do I get to control your body than you do mine. I modeled this concept when my children were nursing. I often told them they were hurting me and we needed to adjust. Or that I didn't like how they were touching me, so they needed to get down.
Discipline is not one-size fits all. But the concepts of teaching and connection are. We can lovingly teach our children while remaining firm and unwavering. They will test our limits and resolve. They will exhaust us to no end. If we go soft just once, they will take advantage and continue to push that button until we give in again. As I wrote in the "Chores" post, it isn't easy to stay strong against these tiny clones who think they know all. Through consistency, we can help them learn to make healthy, kind choices with their lives.
I promise you will feel like you failed every week, if not every day. Today, I yelled...a few times. I am not proud of it. But I get up tomorrow and try again. I will never be perfect at parenting, or anything else in life. Every day I can do better than I did yesterday. I can continue to connect to the children in my life in the way they need me to.
With four of my own kids and seven more I am in frequent contact with, I have probably encountered most behavior struggles in some way. Please reach out if you want to bounce ideas off of me in your own parenting struggles.
And with that, at least two of my children are arguing, so I must away!