Before Discipline

25 01 2012

* I was asked to give a talk to a group of moms on the topic of discipline. Not that talks are my “specialty” by any means, but here are my thoughts (in case anyone wants to use them) having had to engage in a lot of discipline over the years with 4 crazy but awesome kidlets. Wow, I actually really look forward to not having to discipline anyone anymore…its exhausting trying to do THAT well.

“I was asked to share a little bit today on the topic of discipline. It’s probably the hardest part about parenting; figuring out how to guide behavior and correct attitudes.  Being consistent is exhausting; and the way kids can push a parents buttons is exasperating. How is it that a 2 year old can push you, a grown adult, to the edge?  They’re only this tall…but there are times we have to literally walk away, calm ourselves down and reengage again.

I have stand out memories where my kids and I have locked horns over an issue. The hours I have spent thinking about discipline, I can’t even count. Parenting is not for the faint of heart; and good discipline does not come in a kit where you can pull out methods that are “sure to work.” Although, I have some favorites that I look back on…

I just couldn’t get Josh to not be rough when he was little…he would push or hit and I just couldn’t get the point across to be gentle. One day when he had been really rough, I grabbed a pair of yellow rubber gloves and drew sad faces on them and I put them on his hands. He hated them. They restricted all of his play, they looked silly and he couldn’t really do anything when he was wearing them; it really helped to get my point across about kindness and gentleness and to refine that behavior. It worked. I learned something too; I realized that Josh would always need a physical consequence to his actions. A talk would not do. Being sent to his room would not do. He had to feel it.

I found those gloves lying around the other day and we had a good laugh; he is 16 now and how I discipline him has totally changed of course. And…he’s taller than me, so I have to be way more strategic.

Speaking of Josh (I have a lot of examples with Josh) when he was a little older, I realized that Josh thought a lot about what he would be like one day, “as a man.” I saw this and realized that if I told him a story about how this behavior would look if he carried on with it, what that would look like when he was grown up, it really connected with him. So I would paint that picture and it was one of the only things that would make him really stop and think; it was very sobering to picture himself not being a “good man,” or  “a good father,”  or a “good friend.” It mattered to him that he would grow up to be honorable, and I found those kinds of talks really worked.

The point is that these things worked with Josh, but they wouldn’t have worked with my other three. Every child is different; every situation is different so it requires a lot of creativity along the way.  So what I want to talk about, more than a bunch of cool ideas, is to talk about the things that are behind discipline. It is actually these things that shape how we discipline.

As parents we need to engage, not control.  We need to take a step back and look at what an engaged relationship looks like with our kids, before we can even begin to know how to correct them.

I will just share a few thoughts with you. I have just picked 3 big ones to keep this short; I know there are others, but these are 3 that have proved over and over to be THE THINGS that carried me through their toddler years into their teenage years; I have had some really testing times through the teenage years and it has given me a lot of opportunity to ask myself if these three things are true; I believe they are, they have saved the day time after time after time as my husband and I continue to engage in disciplining and guiding our kids.

 1. You can’t discipline without being fully engaged in KNOWING your child.

That seems so obvious when I say it, but from what I see, it isn’t obvious enough.

The problem is, many of us have grown up in homes where we weren’t really known by our own parents, and so a pattern has been created – a pattern of non-relating.

What does it mean to be known?  I think knowing someone allows us to detect things that are imperceptible to others.

  • It’s  knowing that thing they do when they suddenly feel insecure,
  • it’s the shadow that crosses their eyes,
  • its how they process  conflict,
  • its knowing what opens them up and what shuts them down.

Knowing someone really well is so important when it comes to discipline because you will find yourself speaking to finer behaviors which is a lot easier than trying to deal with the big bad ones later.

When you know someone, you will see the little bit of attitude long before it becomes chronic. When you know someone, you will sense the lie before it is said. You will feel the wall coming up before it is immovable.

Effective discipline is something that can be received and not resented. Receiving discipline happens when a child feels invested in, not materially: relationally.

You have toddlers, you can do this right. You can really watch them. You can think about them. You can pay attention. I encourage you, don’t let these years slip by simply keeping them entertained and educated. Slow down, study them. Know them.

2. You can’t discipline if you can’t TALK.

You know how many parents can’t talk to their kids? How many kids roll their eyes at their parents or just shut down? How many silent car rides are there? How many incredibly shallow conversations happen that never break the barrier, moving into heart issues? It’s a tragedy.

When your kids are small, talk to them. If you aren’t naturally conversational, you have the chance to change that right now, because it is that important. Google “Great questions to ask your kids” and become an expert at talking to them and to their friends. You don’t have to be the “cool mom” you can be the interested mom.

When it comes time to correct behavior, having a fantastic conversation in and around the problem, moving beyond the problem is one of the most satisfying things I have experienced as a parent. Problem solving. When you get that win, it is awesome.

You have toddlers and you can begin your relationship on the right foot. I know they don’t say much now, or much that makes sense. But when you lean in and you talk to them and you ask them questions they know they matter. And when they know they matter, you can correct them within the safety of that relationship.

It is funny in our home because the kids know it is in the DNA of our family to talk. One day when our daughter was angry at me she said, “You know, our family isn’t like other families mom…they don’t talk as much as we do!” She didn’t mean it as a complement but I loved it. Now when we reflect on our family, the kids identify it as the thing they most value in our home – the ability to talk and talk things out.

You may have a child who doesn’t want to talk. I had one. As soon as there was conflict, he would shut down and want to walk away. He was overwhelmed by his emotions. I never let him walk away. I would let him cool down if he needed to, but I made him push through conversationally. It sounded different then it did with his brother who can’t stop talking…that’s ok. We needed to learn how to talk with each other, and I wouldn’t let him off the hook.  So much of discipline is talking. If you don’t have this, it’s going to be hard.

3. You can’t discipline without WISDOM and INSIGHT.

Now this is where I need a disclaimer because I can’t talk about wisdom and insight without talking about my relationship with Jesus; some of you might not have a relationship with Jesus so I’ll tell you how this has affected my parenting when it comes to discipline and leave it up to you to decide if you think there is something to it.

In my experience, knowing how to guide a child in the way he or she should go can be absolutely baffling especially when I have been

  • pressed,
  • especially when things go wrong,
  • especially when they have been angry with me,
  • especially when there have been repeating patterns that I just can’t seem to break.

Sometimes you just hit a wall as a parent and you can stay there a long time if you don’t find wisdom and insight into your child.

There are times when I have been so FRUSTRATED and have felt so helpless. Maybe some of you have already experienced this. There are times when I have been just out of ideas.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have prayed for wisdom over my kids. I have asked Jesus to tell me about them. I have trusted that He knows exactly how they are wired up and He knows what will work. I know he can see deep within their hearts and minds and he can give me good ideas to reach them.

I can honestly say, any good idea, any effective idea, any real win I have had in battle with my kids has come because of what God has shown me after I have asked him.

This may sound strange to some of you, I am sure it does. But the Bible says that Jesus loves our children, that He carries them close to his heart, and if this is true, wouldn’t He want to tell us about them, the things only He knows?

I have needed a wisdom and insight that goes beyond what I have.

When I have listened to God, things have turned out so much better than if I had just relied on my own ideas. It is uncanny and amazing. When I listen and there is a breakthrough, I know it isn’t because I am so smart. It is because I listened.

I know there is so much more to say, but I will close with this…

When my kids were small our house was carpeted in the most impractical way – beige but almost white carpet. I rented a carpet cleaner from Samson’s Soap and had just spent hours cleaning it. It was barely dry. This was in the Spring and we have an empty lot beside us and in the Spring the mud is a cross between oatmeal and glue; the more you walk in it, the bigger your feet get.

Anyway, perfectly clean carpets – I remember admiring them as I walked down the hall to my room — and my son runs in with 5 of his little friends and before I can say anything there is mud from 10 little feet down and around about 30 feet of carpet. It was a disaster. I came out and was totally speechless.

The reason I raise this is that my kids are 14, 16, 17 and 19 now and would be easy for me to talk to you about what worked really well, to make my parenting journey look like a hallway that is cleanly carpeted. Look how well we have done! Even if it appears neat, I could walk away today and find muddy footprints all the way up the hall! That’s parenting a child who has a free will. It’s messy.

But I have had opportunity to test the three things I have said to you today. In good times, are they true? Yes. In bad times, have they carried us through? Yes.

My prayer has always been that whatever mess they make it will be temporary, they will see it and understand what they have done and it will serve them well. I pray that whatever they do it won’t have long lasting negative consequences and ultimately they will see the good way to walk and choose to walk in it. And my prayer for us is that though we may be tired at times, and frustrated and even afraid…that we would  choose, as parents, to be fully engaged in the journey.”

— Teresa Klassen



7 responses

25 01 2012

I think I need to print this one out. Let me know when your blog becomes a book. Chantelle

25 01 2012

Haha 🙂

25 01 2012
Writing Jobs

This was a very nice post. I enjoyed reading your blog today very much.

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25 01 2012
Debbie McGowan

Thanks Teresa you have an amazing way with words and thanks for your honesty. Love you Deb

25 01 2012

Thanks for your time, energy and reflection in putting this together. So many thought provoking ideas; one that spoke to me the strongest was “its knowing what opens them up and what shuts them down.”

26 01 2012

I really liked this post. thank-you for sharing

27 01 2012
5 Practical Parenting Ideas: A Few Things That Worked Well (Wait…6) « OneBrownLeaf

[…] I posted, “Before Discipline,” the other day, I was thinking about some things we did from the start with our kids that I feel […]

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