Monday, November 9, 2009

The curved path to discipline

I always wonder, after the fact, if I'm too harsh.  I think an impartial panel would decide against me.  I square off too often, I'm too quick to punish, I am reactionary, I tend to have a short fuse, I jump to conclusions, etc.  I definitely have a lifetime of work to do in the area of discipline.  Still, I've come a long way, and the path I've been led to has been away from gentle, chummy discipline.

I really believed that talking it through with my 18 month old might work.  If I carefully explained that standing on the back of a chair with a pair of chopsticks was dangerous, "Ow! Baby get hurt!," that Baby would then stay off the back of the chair and quit running with chopsticks.  I also believed that Baby needed a chance to experience the world, so it was wrong to deny Baby every day objects.   Despite the sound of that, I am not an idiot.  After repeating myself a few times, and finding baby with the chopsticks again, I figured I was doing something wrong.  I also began realizing that anger was as futile and non- productive as reasoning with a toddler.

Enter one of my favorite discipline strategies- Don't let stupid things happen.

If Baby is too small to understand chopsticks, then Baby should not have chopsticks.  I do not mean taking them rudely away after misbehavior; I mean keep Baby away from the chopsticks.  Some day, Baby will be bigger and have impulse control, and then we can try the chopsticks again. This applies to helpful 4 year olds and wood stoves, too.

As regards standing on the back of the chair, I learned my next favorite discipline strategy- Let the accident happen.

Ezra only had to ride a chair to the floor twice before he quit standing in them.  For about two weeks, I was as vigilant about debris around the table as I was about trying to keep him from standing in the chairs.  One type of vigilance was productive- he hit only the floor when then chair tipped over each time.

I could go on and on about all the ways I've veered away from what I once believed was ideal.  But the only thing that has worked consistently is to NOT talk, at least not much, and to keep my cool.  My guess is that we will do a lot more talking as they get older, but that my un-checked temper will always mess up moments of discipline.

What about that impartial panel and my tendency to harshness?  Well, first, I'm working on it.  I believe this matters , maybe even more than being perfect.  Second, I like my kids.  Sure, we all have bad days or months or phases, and there are days my children do not like me.  That's life; it's these difficulties that help us learn how to better live together, and, almost ten years into this, I still like my kids.

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