The Power of Positive Discipline
When I was having my first child, I heard about many parenting books I should read. And I avoided them like the plague. After all, none of the “experts” agree on the best way to raise children. Some take the Old Testament stance “spare the rod spoil the child.” Others go to the opposite extreme, “Don’t spank children. Let them do what they want and they’ll be just fine.” And, of course, if you admit to using any particular form of discipline with your children, someone will be offended by your choice and have plenty of advice to give about why you’re doing it wrong. So, long ago, I figured I’d just do what I thought best and muddle through as best I could. After all, that what’s my parents had done, and my four sisters and I largely turned out okay.
Then, a few months ago, my daughter’s school offered a Positive Discipline class. I’ll admit right here that about that time, I had been feeling like every day was a failing fight to gain some sort of order in the house and cooperation from the kids. No one wanted to pick up after herself. Everyone wanted to do her own thing, go to bed when she wanted, eat all the junk she wanted, etc. And the girls were picking at each other over every little thing. I found myself waking up in a grumpy mood, feeling tense all the time, constantly shouting “just stop it” or “pick up your toys.” So, I decided I should swallow my pride, admit I don’t know everything about parenting, and take this class.
Now I went into the class hoping it would be helpful, but expecting it really to be a bunch of “mumbo jumbo” that would likely offend my Orthodox sensibilities. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. The essential foundation to this method of discipline is one of which our Lord would certainly approve. Discipline should teach kids the skills they need to become happy, well-adjusted adults, and above all it should be kind, firm, and respectful to all. Okay, I’ve heard this elsewhere already, and I know that in the moment it’s hard to do. I have started off kind and firm on many occasions, only to meet with stubborn, resolute opposition, and find myself shouting, “That’s enough. Just go to your room.”
So, how do you implement kind and firm discipline? Well, that’s the next thing I loved about this class. It provided a variety of tools to use in any situation. If one doesn’t work, move on and try another, or let your child decide how to handle the situation. Never revert to shame or punishment, always act with respect and love. Sometimes it’s as simple as diffusing the situation with a hug. Other times might call for curiosity questions that encourage children to think for themselves, make choices, and live with the natural consequences of those choices. And if no one can decide how to handle a given situation, you can turn it over to the Wheel of Choice. This is a tool that can be made with your children before problems arise. Basically, it’s a pie graph that names all the things that might help your child to calm down, think rationally, or get out of a sticky situation.
My favorite tool by far, though, is the family meeting. We’ve held two of these. If there’s a problem and you don’t know how to handle it in the moment, put it on a family agenda. Then, once a week at the family meeting, everyone can give ideas for solutions, and come to a consensus to try out for a week. After a week, you can re-evaluate and adjust the solution as necessary. Let me give you a few examples from my life.
As I mentioned above, getting everyone to pick up their things is a big challenge in our household. So, we stole an idea from other families who use Positive Discipline, and at our family meeting, we agreed to make a “disappearing box.” If things were left out in common areas, anyone could warn the owner and then put them in the disappearing box if they were still not put away. Items remained in the box for a week until the next meeting, or could be retrieved by paying a 50¢ fine. There was definite improvement after a week, but when it came time for Saturday morning bedroom cleaning, we hit a wall. So, we put the issue back on the agenda and revised it. We added a stipulation that if you didn’t clean your stuff on Saturday, you couldn’t get your disappearing box items back that week. And if anything remained in the box for over two weeks we would donate those items to Good Will or our church rummage sale. I haven’t had to put anything into the disappearing box for a couple of days, so I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a new habit in our family.
Another example of Positive Discipline working in our family involves our daily routines. Everyone knows that children need familiar routines to feel comfortable and happy. Positive Discipline encourages you to let your child create her own routines for those parts of the day that you most need them. For us, this is bedtime for Bumble Bee, and after school through bedtime for Hummingbird. So, last weekend, I sat down with each of the girls, and we made lists of everything that needed to get done for them to complete their routines. For Bumble Bee’s bedtime routine, this meant having dinner, putting on pajamas, saying prayers, brushing teeth, reading a story, and being tucked in. We let her choose the order in which everything would happen. Then, we made a poster with words and pictures of the order of the routine. Now, when we finish dinner, instead of saying, “It’s time to brush your teeth” a million times. I can say, “What’s next on your routine chart?” And she knows what she needs to do next, and does it.
One final premise that I’d like to mention about Positive Discipline is that everyone, including children, needs to feel a sense of belonging and significance. At church, this manifests itself and is fulfilled by serving as altar boys, singing in the choir, or even passing the collection basket. Oftentimes, when we get home to our busy lives, though, it seems easier to take care of tasks ourselves so they’ll get done more quickly or better. Children’s contributions aren’t needed as they once were. However, it can make a great difference if we allow them to contribute as they can. So, when I first started the Positive Discipline class, I realized that there was plenty my children wanted to do to help, but I was in too much of a hurry to let them. Now, they take turns watering the plants, which I always forgot anyway. Hummingbird sets the table every night, and Bumble Bee helps me cook. She takes kids’ cooking classes from time to time and loves to cook! So, I stopped rushing about and started letting them both contribute.
This method of discipline may not be right for everyone, and my family is not perfect. We are still learning to implement it, and trying to remember all of the tools at our disposal in the heat of the moment. However, I already feel we’re making some small progress. Just as we are taught in the Church that sin is just missing the mark, and we can repent and try again, so, too, Positive Discipline emphasizes that mistakes will be made, and each misbehavior or mistake is an opportunity to learn a new life skill or practice what we’ve already learned. If you are looking for a new method of discipline that teaches children the values we all wish we had anyway, Christian values really, this is a great option. There are many books, and tools you can buy to help you implement Positive Discipline. They may be useful, although for some of them you could certainly create your own versions, so I don’t necessarily recommend jumping online and buying them. I do recommend checking out the Positive Discipline Blog, though, where you can learn more and get a few tips to get started.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.