This is entitled, “Discipline That Does Not Divide” and starts off by stating that “Imposing order on a child’s behavior is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. How do we control a child who can’t control himself? How do we get a child to do something she does not want to do? How do we stop a child from attacking a sibling? How do we handle a child who resists our directions?”
The authors go on to state that behavioral approaches with artificial consequences, imposed sanctions, and withdrawal of privileges are adversarial and there are other effective ways of changing a child’s behavior. After all, discipline itself is about teaching, self-control, rules not just punishment.
The authors say we must start with ourselves as parents. “Our ability to manage a child effectively is very much an outcome of our capacity to manage ourselves.” I agree with this, and have talked extensively about this on this blog. However, I wish the authors had also pointed out right here that children are developmentally immature and children do pull out things that parents do not demonstrate. They do say several paragraphs later that “It is not our children’s fault that they are born uncivilized, immature; that their impulses rule them or that they fall short of our expectations. The discipline for parents is to work only in the context of connection.” So I guess they do sort of mention what I had hoped, but I wish they had provided some good examples so parents don’t feel like failures in modeling behaviors when their children do things that children just do!
The authors go on to list seven principles of natural discipline that the authors outline in this chapter:
1. Use connection, not separation, to bring a child into line. You all know how much I hate time-out, so this section is right up my alley. Connect before you correct. Breathe before you connect would be what I would add here. Take a moment and pull yourself together before you react.
2. When problems occur, work the relationship, not the incident. This section addresses what I call “dog training” as applied to children: ie, if we don’t correct the behavior immediately, right now, then our children will obviously grow up to be Great Delinquents In Life.
I think this is true, that a sideways approach can work but again, I wish there more examples for parents here of what needs to be handled right away and directly and what could use a sideways approach. I also think this section could be mistaken for “you don’t need to do anything”. Understanding developmental phases is really important, but boundaries are still there whether the behavior is associated with development or not. What development gives you is the right tools to use in conjunction with connection and your own inner work as a parent.
3. When Things Aren’t working for the child, draw out the tears instead of trying to teach a lesson. They don’t mean to draw tears by doing something to the child, but how it is necessary to present things firmly and to not justify, explain, reason it all away and sometimes that makes the child upset and causes tears. “Your sister said no.” “I can’t let you do that.” This may very well draw tears, but you still have to be lovingly firm. Boundaries!
Not sure I really liked the wording of this section, but I guess it does underscore the important place that sadness and anger does have and how it is not beneficial to shield our children from being sad or angry by over-explaining and not enforcing any boundaries at all.
4. Solicit good intentions instead of demanding good behavior. Provide something for the child to hang on to that gets them going in the direction you want – ask for their help, redirect, garner cooperation, with older children share your own values. For an older child (I would say over twelve for some of these statements), they have such statements in this section as the parent saying, “I’m always proud of myself when I can feel frustrated without insulting anyone. I think you’re old enough to try it now. What do you think? Are you willing to work on it?” This section is thought- provoking and worth a read.
5. Draw out the mixed feelings instead of trying to stop impulsive behavior. “Trying to stop impulsive behavior is like standing in front of a freight train and commanding it to stop. When a child’s behavior is driven by instinct and emotion, there is little chance of imposing order through confrontation and barking commands.” Isn’t that truth? The authors talk about neuropyschologists who have uncovered that much of a child’s responses are driven by instinct and emotion, not from conscious decision making. (Which is what I have said time and time again in this space! See the back post on defiance, it is ever popular!) The authors talk about how to use mixed feelings to bring order out. Again, I think this tactic is for much older children.
6. When dealing with an impulsive child, try scripting the desired behavior instead of demanding maturity. “Children who have trouble with self-control also lack the ability to recognize the impact of their behavior or to anticipate consequences. They are incapable of thinking twice before acting or of appreciating how their actions affect other people.” We help our children by providing cues with models. “Many kinds of behavior can be scripted: fairness, helping, sharing, co-operation, conversation, gentleness, consideration, getting along.”
7. When unable to change the child, try changing the child’s world. The authors give some great examples, but also provide the caution that some parents use this technique to extreme lengths and remind us that this should never be used to the exclusion of the other six discipline methods mentioned.
Lastly, the authors point out that “the use of structure and routine is a powerful way of imposing order on a child’s world, and thus on the child’s behavior.” This was a traditional function of culture that is being eroded away.
“Structures need to be created for meals and for bedtimes, for separations and reunions, for hygiene and putting things away, for family interaction and closeness, for practice and for homework, for emergent self-directed play and for creative solitude. Good structures do not draw attention to themselves or the underlying agenda, they minimize bossing and coercion.” Sounds like what Waldorf education says about the use of rhythm to me….
Interesting chapter! Thoughts, comments from those of you reading along?