– By Deborah Godfrey
With our busy lives, we often look to short term, easy answers for everything, including parenting. We have fast food, computers, the latest gadget or gizmo to save us time, money or stress. Many of these ideas are great and do make our lives easier. The area of raising our children, however, is quite a different matter.
Our approach to discipline often tends be “single event oriented”. Take the example of a child who does not get ready for school on time. We might yell, nag, threaten and have a rotten morning every day. This pattern usually ends up with the parent as responsible for the child’s behavior. This causes the parent to use some sort of force or control to get the child out the door on a regular basis. If we instead take a long term approach, we will realize there are many opportunities for teaching the child skills that will benefit them in the long run. These skills will also serve to lighten our burden of being responsible for something the child can most likely be responsible for himself.
One example is a mom and 7 year old daughter in my Tuesday night class. She was having the “morning trauma” and decided to take a new approach. She turned over the responsibility of getting ready in the morning to her daughter, including getting up (she gave her an alarm and taught her to use it), getting dressed and fixing herself breakfast. With these new responsibilities, she gained a sense of pride and accomplishment. She became motivated to cooperate because of the feeling of worth and value she felt inside. The mother, so relieved to have this burden lifted, showers her daughter with gratitude and acknowledgment for her contribution. The mother reports that for the morning routine is working well almost every day.
Another example is from a mom of 5 in the class. Her 16 year old son comes home from school, into her home office to tell her about his day. She listens to him while she works. There was no problem here. The kid is a very agreeable, well-behaved kid. The mother realized she had not been giving him her full attention. She decided to take an extra moment, stop her work, turn her chair around and listen when her son shared about his day. She said that she noticed each day she did this, what he had to say became deeper, more meaningful, and more vulnerable as he began to open his heart to his mom.
I have noticed there has been a great deal more “wildness” in my home. Perhaps it’s all the in-service days, or holidays, or being stuck inside from the rain, but I have definitely noticed my patience and tolerance has been decreasing. Last Sunday, I was observing my children (at 7am), yelling, playing, fighting, running around and appearing to be misbehaving (all that noise? They must be doing something wrong!). I wanted to scream at them to knock it off. In reality, they were just bored and trying to have fun.
I went to my computer. Someone had emailed me an idea for a craft project, to make napkin rings out of toilet paper tubes, felt and seeds. I quickly printed it out and said, “Hey kids, wanna make a project?” I let my daughter read it and they were off seeking the materials needed. We had everything except the felt to cover them. I pulled out an old, soft wool skirt and gave it to them to cut up. They spent the next TWO HOURS working on them, happily, cooperatively and quietly!
It happened again Friday morning. I saw the signs immediately when they were kicking each others feet on the couch, alternately screaming with laughter and pain. This time I came up with idea to make “mailboxes”. I gave each child an envelope and we sat down and decorated them with our names and pictures. We taped them to a wall and now we can write each other messages. Again, it redirected the kids to something useful, cooperative and relatively quiet. My son was not having much fun, but was doing it anyway. Then he would not tape it to the wall, so my daughter did it for him. He was sitting on the couch, mad because he thought it was a dumb project. My daughter put a note in the box and he refused to read it. When she went out of the room I said, “Hey Michael, you want me to get out your mail and read it to you quick before she comes back?” He first shook his head, “No”, but then he said “OK”. I read to him, “Michael- Thank you for saying that you didn’t want to do it.” From Michelle. Well, that made his day! He grinned and wrote a note back to his sister, “When you got mad because you thought the envelope flap was up, you listened to Briana when she said it was supposed to be that way.” Then Briana jumped in and wrote acknowledgments to them. I am happy because a situation that could have become ugly became a great new communication tool for our family.
Raising our children is not just about discipline–that is getting the behavior we want. Raising children also involves teaching them values, skills and responsibility. Raising children involves teaching children how to handle relationships, how to live a happy, prosperous life and how to make sure to honor and respect the lives of others.
Guiding children’s behavior as they grow is the very essence of teaching children all they need to know to learn to be responsible, happy adults (and great at parenting themselves)! It is our job to take time and thought to achieve that result, and I must say, even though it takes a great deal more effort at first, the results are worth it!