I wrote this several years ago, but as we are in the midst of another 3 year old situation I thought it would be good to bring it back to the forefront.
Today I’m being featured over at Heart of the Matter Online.
I’m writing about how we discipline (and we do, really, I promise).
Come visit me over there?
And you can read the complete post as follows.
How We Discipline
And yes, we discipline. I promise, we do. Regardless of what you think after seeing us in Wal-Mart.
I’ve had a couple of questions in the last couple of weeks about how we discipline.
I read the books once upon a time. Most of the books were either useless or made me feel guilty. I believe you should read the books if you feel so inclined and then glean what’s good from them and trash the rest. I’m always concerned when parents “live by” a certain book. People are fallible. They fail, they learn along the way, they don’t tell you everything, they only have so much insight into your own children. And though children are children are children, they are all different. And usually different from day to day. I don’t even want you to ascribe to what I do. So my suggestion is to apply scripture to your everyday life. After all, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2Timothy3:16-17 (emphasis by me, of course)
Read God’s Word and apply it to the way that you interact with your children. I’m not just talking about the over- and mis-used “spare the rod, spoil the child” verse. I’m talking about all of scripture. Do not lie. Do not be deceitful. Do not use trickery. Be slow to anger. Be slow to speak. Be quick to listen. Let the little children come to you. Kind words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Fear not. Trust in Him. Love God. Love others. Now don’t get me wrong – I fail at these daily. I told you not to do what I do. But these are mygoals. To persevere, to be long suffering, to be gentle, to be meek, to not covet. These are the things that I try to keep in mind whenever we correct whatever it is that needs correcting.
I see 4 main reasons my kiddos cut up. Really basically just four.
1. They are tired. 2. They are hungry. 3. They are frustrated. 4. They are not being sensitive to the needs of others. That’s about it. Isn’t it?
How This Looks In Real Life
I try to find natural consequences to solve the problems.
So, when one of my kids is having a meltdown I try to single out what it is that’s at the root of it. In the grocery line and I have a 3 year old throwing a fit? I scan the list.. usually it’s one of the first 2. If that’s the case the fault is on me and I try to ride out the fit until I can either get him into the van so he can rest or I can feed him. If it’s not one of those, is he frustrated? And if yes, why? He wants out of the buggy? Sorry, he’s gonna have to scream. (Though I usually don’t put my 3 year old in the buggy unless he’s been cutting up way too much already – I need the buggy as leverage for a natural consequence). I ride out the fit and try to find another natural solution. Whispered in his ear “If you want that treat that we’re already buying you’ll stop screaming.” (And I almost always purchase some cheap treats right off the bat – they know it’s a standing incentive – yes, I bribe.) If he stops screaming I praise him and let him know the treat is waiting on him as soon as he gets buckled into the van. If he keeps screaming he doesn’t get the treat. If he stops screaming and then starts again in a few minutes I remind him again that there is a treat for him if he stops. He’s 3, I remind him more than I would my 7 year old.
Frustrated because someone’s hitting him? Address the child that’s hitting him. If you’re in the line, separate them, and handle all the “who did whats” in the van.
Frustrated because he wants one of those treats in the checkout line? I remind him I have a different treat for him in the van if he stops the fit.
The younger they are it’s usually one of the first 3 scenarios. You can still have those same problems with an older child as well as the loving others part. “It’s not fair” “I want what they have” “she’s touching me” “he’s picking on me” – they all fall under the “be patient, long-suffering, loving, and by the way, don’t covet.”
The Tactics We Don’t Use
I’ve heard about people using a drop of mustard on the tongue, the old school soap in the mouth, or meaningless work to discipline. We don’t do that. For a myriad of reasons, the least of which is the logic that although there are artificial consequences in life (drive fast = get a ticket) there are far more natural consequences in life (drive fast = increase your chances of a wreck, lie = your friends won’t believe you anymore, say mean things = people won’t want to be around you). We also don’t have a list of consequences that go with a list of grievances – that’s too much work for me and too much for me to try to remember. We use natural consequences and big picture parenting. If they’re fighting over a toy – I take the toy. If they’re fighting over video games I turn off the games. Fighting over who gets the suntan lotion first (and therefore gets in the pool first) then you go to the back of the line (along with having to hear me say the verse “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”) and when my 7 year old then began fighting for the “last” position I just reminded him his heart was still fighting for first place.
I remind them not to grumble and complain. The other day I talked to them about contentment. I read the Bible to them and get them to see the big picture in the Bible and then apply it (at a neutral non-fighting time) to real life situations. Then when I remind them of the stories and verses later they know what I’m talking about. It’s a discussion tool at a relaxed time.
If my 5 year old daughter is whining and complaining and I’ve fed her recently I let her know she obviously needs a nap (or an earlier bedtime) if she can’t control her emotions. I’m not angry – I let her know I have a really hard time controlling my emotions most of the time. And boy, does a little rest do wonders for me. She keeps whining? She goes to her bed. Whether she sleeps or not. If she gets calm and it’s been a few minutes (depending on how horrendous her behavior was earlier) then she can come back out. If it continues I’ll send her to her bed, tuck her in and there she will stay (screaming or not) for naptime. I will try to go back and console her if she’s upset. But if I’ve sent her in there the second time, then she usually does really need the rest. I’ll sit with her, brush her hair back and try to read with her. Help her settle. Because the big picture is that she needs rest and a Mama that understands.
When we’re in a full-blown defiant on all levels for days on end tantrum – which surfaces in cycles no matter how consistent you are – think about yourself – how consistent are you in your obedience to your Father? It goes in cycles, doesn’t it? Consequences for our sin, shame, forgiveness seeking, deciding to do better, falling away, sin, and the cycle continues. What happens for you in relation to your Father, happens to your children in relation to you. Anyway, when that happens we do what’s called boot camp. We use the methods I talked about in myLessons From The Group Home post.
The Big Stuff
Lying is something we don’t tolerate. Ever. Even our tiny kiddos get told the difference of truth and lies. And encouraged to tell the truth. I’ve noticed the 3 year old lately starting to say “Nothing” in response to “Hey, buddy, why are you quiet? What are you doing?” That is not acceptable to me. It’s not true. I take him to the side, look him in the eye and tell him quietly and clearly that that’s a lie. That he needs to answer Mama with exactly what he’s doing, not the word “nothing”. We have dealt with some pretty frequent willful lying in the past with our older children. In the midst of it, I really thought it wasn’t going to end and I really worried. Much prayer for them (quietly, to myself). If it was about a fight that 2 of them had and someone’s telling me they didn’t do it – everything stops until it’s dealt with. It’s not overlooked. You go to your bed until you tell the truth. Two children give me 2 different answers? Then one of you is lying. The lying is always disciplined way more seriously than the actual incident. Someone broke something? Two children are saying something different? I won’t even deal with the broken object at all. A non-issue. But if you lie, you will sit in your bed until you come forth with the truth (within reason, people). If we knew which child was lying we laid the pressure on that child. Much talking about being trustworthy. For days we talked about the importance of being trustworthy. We looked for opportunities to discuss lying and truth and trustworthiness and consequences – books we were reading, shows we were watching. We prayed for wisdom of how to address it. We did a lot of talking and a lot of praying. It passed. And now when that child tells me something – I believe them. Above and beyond any child outside my family. Because I know they understand the importance of it. And just as we taught, they are now trustworthy.
So what looks like an unruly child in the check out line and a frazzled mama is actually a frazzled mama attempting to ride out a fit, in order to teach the 3 year old that throwing the fit doesn’t get him instant gratification at the appeasement of other store patrons. It’s the bigger picture that not everyone can see at the moment.
It’s all a work in progress – me, them, my parenting, our relationships with each other, with our Creator and Redeemer. It’s all about the relationship. And sometimes there are fits along the way. And disobedience. And acceptance. But if the relationship is there, the trust will follow, and with trust comes obedience.
Y’all, I don’t have it all figured out. Puhlease. My oldest is only eight. I have much fear for what the upcoming years hold. I pray all the time. I mess up and yell and get frustrated and cranky way too often. And we talk about that too. How we all sin. And need forgiveness. Including Mama.
But in the end I try to remember why exactly I’m doing all that I’m doing. And go from there. And it helps to know that they are kids. And that there’s a balance. Between law and grace. Obedience and mercy. And that I’d rather err on the side of too much love. Because really, extravagant love is what we have for a role model.
It’s not just behavior modification. It’s understanding and applying Truth to life.