Most of the time, when I ask parents about what discipline looks like in their home, they tell me about punishment, consequences, and what types of things are taken away from their children when discipline is practiced.
I find it very interesting that when I reflect on improvements that I need to make with myself, such as working out, making healthy eating choices, and carving out the time to pray, discipline is thought of very differently. I don’t tend to punish myself when I don’t follow through with areas of self-discipline in my own life. I can't think of many parents who look at self-discipline through a lens of self-punishment, so why are parents more likely to describe disciplining their children in terms of consequence and punishment?
The reality is that there are two parts to discipline. Training and correction. Correction does require a level of consequence at times but it is important to remember that discipline is more than a punitive action against a child due to misbehavior.
The training of a child begins with the training of the parent.
I always knew that I wanted to approach many aspects of parenting my own children differently than the way my parents handled discipline with me. What I didn’t realize was that this simple desire to do things differently was not going to be enough to actually make the changes that needed to happen.
So I began my parenting journey with my husband. At times we walked the same path and at times our paths collided. We had very little resources, with limited support and no consistent faith filled legacy that had been modeled to us. All we had was the desire to do things differently, which we did in some ways. But we failed to recognize when some of the same patterns we wanted to change became patterns of our own. After all, they were so familiar. They were a part of us that had been deeply rooted in the foundation of who each of us had become.
When I finally realized that I was an imperfect parent, raising imperfect children, in an imperfect world, it gave me some room to breathe.
I had to work on what it means to love my children the way that God loves me. A lot happens when we look at things through the perspective of God’s love. Relationships grow, families heal, children become restored, and God becomes glorified.
Discipline is about so much more than correction, consequence, and countering my children’s own values and beliefs. Discipline is a lifelong road made up teaching, training, correcting, reteaching, and lifelong relationship building. This new perspective has helped to renew my relationship with my older daughters and maintain a connection with each of them through their young adulthood.
These 10 steps to rethink discipline came out of a challenging time in my life. This realization has helped me with so much as a mom. I hope this will help you too!
Reflect - Think about patterns that have shaped you as a person and how those patterns are influencing your parenting.
Decide - Decide which patterns have been impacting your parenting in a negative way and what you need to change as a result.
Reach out for help when you need it - Plug into some type of community with other parents. Whether it is through a trusted friend, a parenting group, a family member, or looking for professional help through a counselor, it is important to have a safe place to be held accountable and be able to problem solve with someone else during those tough seasons. Just be sure that the person you trust will value your privacy and not share details about your child with others.
Build Relationship - Building a relationship with your children is about more than just expecting that your parental role and authority is respected. Building relationship is about creating intentional opportunities to connect with your child’s heart. It is about giving your child opportunities to share about themselves and being willing to listen to where they are and how their values are being shaped. It is about having a two way conversation instead of giving a one sided lecture. It is about observing each child's unique strengths, characteristics, and areas in need of guidance that your child demonstrates.
Teach - Many times, children are expected to “know better” by figuring things out on their own. This is an unfair expectation because they need to be clearly taught what the expectations are. Whether it is cleaning their bedroom or using manners, if children are not clearly taught what the expected behavior or action is, there is no guarantee that they will figure it out.
Train - This is an opportunity to practice meeting the expectations. Things that are learned require repetition, room for mistakes, and reteaching. Training is the hands on, practical demonstration of putting what has been learned into practice.
Affirm - Look for opportunities to affirm your children by letting them know what they have specifically done well. This is a vital step that needs to be practiced before correction is given. Correction without affirmation is basically criticism. Correction within an affirmed relationship is more likely to be received.
Correct - Correction should be done in private when a mistake is made in front of others. This will preserve your child’s integrity and help your child trust you. Correcting your children in front of others can embarrass them and may hurt your relationship with each other. Correction is about pointing out the parts of the expectation that were done well and then addressing what needs to be changed moving forward. Sometimes correction can be small and not require a consequence, like when a child needs to be reminded to use appropriate manners. When a correction is due to a behavior disruption, a consequence may be warranted. If the correction warrants a consequence, keep in mind that this should be a learning experience that is directly related to the behavior that is being addressed. Consequence should continue to build a skill, whereas punishment is not about teaching anything new, it is merely the removal of some type of privilege or a penalty for a mistake.
Restore - Many times children question their value when they have disappointed a parent. It is important to clearly communicate that even though you may be upset, you still love your child. If trust was broken, the only way that your child can regain trust is by giving them opportunities to gain your trust again. By restoring your child, you are preserving your relationship. This is the real life practice of unconditional love. Apologize if necessary. If you lose your temper and yell at your child, over react, or say things that put your child down instead of building your child up, it is okay to apologize even though you are the adult.
Repeat - Discipline is a cycle that is always in motion. It is up to you keep the cycle moving forward. Continue to build that relationship.
Let me assure you that these 10 steps are in progress for me on a daily basis! I am still an imperfect parent, raising an imperfect child, in an imperfect world. In relation to my older two daughters, I am still an imperfect parent in relationship with two young adults who are now making their own way in an imperfect world. I am doing my best to be present with them in their lives while they move forward on their own journeys.