Even for those who choose to spank, this article contains tons of great practical tools for disciplining your children.
Before we get going on this hot topic, I would like to preface this by saying that parenting is extremely personal and I know that each family has its own special dynamics and circumstances. In many cases Whitney J and I do things differently; she does choose to spank her children. If this is a tool you choose to use, you can check out her article How I Lovingly Spank My Children.
So here we go…
“Gentle discipline,” also known as “positive discipline,” is an extension of Attachment Parenting (click HERE to learn more about Attachment Parenting). Attachment Parenting (AP) incorporates the “golden rule” of parenting: parents should treat their children the way they would want to be treated. Gentle discipline is rooted in a secure, trusting, connected relationship between the parent and child. The attachment is formed from birth by meeting their cycle of needs (see image below). Any parenting methods or forms of training that involve ignoring a child’s cries or cues, spanking, yelling, harsh or overly punitive manors of discipline are believed to weaken the bond instead of strengthen it. The ultimate goal of all discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline; AP parents believe an empathetic, loving and respectful approach of communicating and consistency by modeling positive actions and interactions with others is what fosters such self-control and self-discipline.
Hopefully you are still reading! I know that was a bit “clinical” but now that I have the technical definition out of the way, I can explain how I personally discipline my children. This method was introduced to me when my husband and I got certified for foster and adoptive parenting. They place the highest value on forming healthy attachments between children and their caregivers.
Here is a great article about the opposite of healthy attachments; attachment disorders, along with their symptoms and their treatments: Attachment & Reactive Attachment Disorders
Firstly, the book “Love & Logic Magic For Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth To Six Years” (click HERE to check it out) has been an amazing reference for me and has completely blown my mind in regards to natural consequences and personal choices (which we will detail in another article). Before I had children I always assumed I would spank them. This was mostly because that was what had been modeled to me and partly because I was not even aware of the fact that you could “discipline” a child without using physical means. As a child, I did not respond positively to being hit and every time I was hit I boiled with anger, shame and embarrassment. It did not cause me to respect and love my parents more, rather it created mistrust and fear. This is the part where people become divided… As a non-spanking Christian, I have had many people corner me about Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates their children,but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” If I really love my child, I would use the rod. In my reading I have found that the rod is a metaphor for the gentle guidance a shepherd offers his sheep through his staff. If you want to take the Old Testament literally, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, if your son is lazy and won’t work, take him to the city and stone him to death. Obviously I’m being dramatic but I’m just trying to prove the point that one must be careful in stating certain scriptures as the model for all believers to live by.
I have never spanked my children and trust me, that does not make me a weak parent. It takes EVERYTHING in me at times not to lash-out when my toddler has pushed me too far, but the best thing I can do is model positive behavior and elevate her to a higher standard. I constantly remind myself that my child is not giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time. Most times I am able to track bad behavior back to sleepiness, hunger, boredom or most importantly lack of quality time with me or my husband.
A lot of people view gentle parenting as passive parenting but it is actually an unwavering dedication to building a strong, healthy, bonded, independently thinking child.
As mentioned above, from birth I focus on bonding with my child, forming a healthy attachment through meeting their cycle of needs, understanding normal behavioral milestones, communicating, allowing natural consequences and giving my child lots of choices. There are many effective ways to discipline your child: techniques such as prevention, distraction, and substitution. These are what I use up to a point. When my child began really testing boundaries and the effectiveness of these techniques diminished, I sensed it was time to move on to the next form of age appropriate discipline. Due to her level of comprehension, I was now able to begin implementing more pre-filtered choices and natural consequences. The Author of “Love & Logic Magic For Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth To Six Years” (click HERE to check it out) states that allowing your child to make choices aids in self-esteem, boosts confidence, fosters independence, and helps with their decision-making ability. You have the opportunity to give them choices ALL DAY LONG. 95% of them are of no real consequence, but it gives your child a sense of freedom to choose for themselves. The remaining 5% of the day that really does matter is in your control. You spend your day making deposits into their independence banks so when the moment arrives that the outcome does matter, they are not crushed by the relinquished freedom. For example, giving them time options is extremely empowering. My daughter loves to be given the choice of an amount of time to spend on something; she feels a sense of control over what she is doing.
Tools for Positive Discipline (from attachmentparenting.org):
Here are some examples from Simplemom.net:
“Your daughter, Anne, likes to dress herself in the morning. You’re not going anywhere today, so it doesn’t really matter what she wears. But if you give her free reign, she’ll unload her entire dresser and change six times before breakfast.
- ANNE: I want to pick my clothes!
- MOM: Sure. Here is your pink shirt and your purple shirt. Which one would you like?
- ANNE: The pink shirt!
Anne was given the freedom to wear the pink shirt from a finite amount of options — the pink one or the purple one.
You can also invent decisions to be made, almost in a silly way:
- DAD: Hey bud, I’m having a ball with you at the park. We need to go soon. Should we leave now, or in ten minutes?
- ETHAN: In ten minutes!
- DAD: Sounds good.
Ethan was given the “power” to choose, but they’re still leaving the park. Staying at the park all day wasn’t one of his options.
This doesn’t always work — sometimes your daughter takes too long to decide, or she has a whiny attitude even about the choices she’s been given. In this case, you simply make the decision and move on. You be the adult.
- DAD: Lucy, I’d like you to pick the vegetable for dinner tonight. Would you like green beans or broccoli?
- LUCY: But I don’t want vegetables at dinner!
- DAD: We need a vegetable at dinner because they’re good for our bodies, and besides, they’re yummy.
- LUCY: But I don’t want one. (Ten seconds pass)
- DAD: I’ll make the decision. We’re having green beans.
And then the subject is changed to something else, and the decision is made and over with.
Hopefully, if you’ve given your child enough decision-making power throughout the day for the insignificant choices, you can claim your responsibility as a parent by standing firm with the decisions that do matter.
- MOM: Alright, Peter, it’s 7:30. It’s time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed.
- PETER: But I don’t want to go to bed!
- MOM: I understand. But your bedtime is 8 o’clock, and you were given lots of choices today. Now it’s my turn to make the choice about what we do next.
To sum it up:
• Let your child “do it” when she asks, if the end result doesn’t matter.
• Allow her to make choices throughout the day, choosing from a finite amount of selections.
• When your child doesn’t cooperate, make the decision for him and move on.
• You make the decisions that do matter, and claim your position as a parent cheerfully and unwaveringly.
For more on this idea about making independence deposits into your child’s account, along with other parenting ideas, I recommend picking up a copy of “Love & Logic Magic For Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth To Six Years“.
Click (HERE} for Natural Consequences: The Easy Way out
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