This post was written for inclusion in the Gentle Discipline blog carnival.
When I first saw the theme for this carnival I thought,”I can’t participate, we don’t do discipline around here”.
My children are 3 and 5 years old. More often than not they do what we ask them to do, take care of each other and are considerate of other people. It doesn’t cross my mind to use time-outs (or time-ins for that matter). If they do something ‘wrong’ all we need to do is talk about it, find out the reason behind it and explain what else they can do in a similar situation. Then we can trust that next time they will do their best to make better choices.
I remember having a conversation with my husband. He was wondering, “Shouldn’t we be doing what other people are doing – discipline out children, set consequences and use time-outs?”
My answer to that was, “We don’t need to”
I wouldn’t call what we do discipline, but maybe this is what gentle discipline is all about? Here is what our way of peaceful parenting includes:
1) Respect for our children
They are not little, insignificant people who know nothing about the world and need our constant control. They are prefect human beings with their own personalities, preferences and paths that may be different from what we’d like them to be. Our job is to nurture, not change who they are.
Our children are given the opportunity to make their own decisions and I’m not talking about pseudo-decisions like, “Do you want to wear the red or the green shirt?” When I ask them what they would like to do today, it’s an open-ended question. I’m prepared to listen to what they have to say and unless they come up with something totally outrageous and unrealistic (like “let’s go visit Grandma in Bulgaria”), I will accept their choice.
My son usually wears a T-shirt and shorts in winter, even when I’m wearing two long-sleeve shirts and a jacket. I accept that he is different and on the rare occasions when he asks for my opinion on what to wear, I will always take into consideration that he never gets as cold as I do.
2) Respect for ourselves
My own personal boundaries are firmly in place. I may ask my children what they want for dinner, but if they can’t agree on the same dish, it doesn’t mean that I will two different things; it is too much work for me. I will choose one of the suggestions and then give the other child a choice another time. If I want to leave the playground, because I’m cold or tired, then this is a perfectly valid reason, just as valid as when it is coming from one of my children. If my daughter is tired and doesn’t want to walk anymore, we’ll slow down, we’ll take a break and I’ll give her a cuddle, but I won’t carry her because she is heavy and it hurts my back.
This’s how my children learn that other people have needs that are just as important as their own.
3) Be predictable
Children don’t like to do things at a minute notice. As much as possible, they need to know in advance what is going to happen and have enough time to prepare for it. If I told my daughter, “I’m going to the gym now and I’ll leave you at the crèche”, she’d chuck a tantrum (quite understandably). If I talk to her the day before and explain in detail what exactly we’ll be doing, she’ll be perfectly ok with it.
4) Slow down
Often we lead rushed lives and expect our children to keep up. But things can happen effortlessly if we just allow a little bit more time. If I want my children to do something, I will ask them ask and then give them enough time to finish whatever they are doing and get mentally prepared for the next task. I might need to repeat myself, and that’s ok. A child’s world is a lot slower than ours. They live in the moment and are fully present in whatever they are doing (something we can all try to learn from them). We can’t expect them to switch gears instantanly.
5) Look for the reason within ourselves
I won’t lie (and you won’t believe me anyway), my life is not always a bliss. Sometimes my children and I scream at each other. When it happens, it’s not because my children are bad or they want to drive me crazy. It is because I haven’t slept, or I feel overwhelmed, or I haven’t spent any time by myself. At those times my children will reflect my mood back to me and they will push my buttons a lot easier. It doesn’t mean that I have to discipline them. It means that it’s time to look within and ask myself, “What am I lacking? How can I give it to myself?”
6) Use reminders
When I find myself struggling a few days in a row, there are some resources that I use to remind myself of the parent and the person I want to be. Here are my favourite ones: Kahlil Gibran’s poem Children and Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting.
How do you make gentle discipline happen?