I am currently in a debate with my significant other as to how we want to discipline our child when the situation calls for it. She is 10 weeks pregnant and it’s kind of early, I know, to be talking about this, but it’s just something that keeps coming up, and we can’t seem to come into an agreement on anything. She doesn’t like the idea of negative reinforcement but I feel it is important.
I don’t want to spank my child, but what I do want is to make him do some manual labor as I talk to him about what he did wrong and why. When I say manual labor, I mean take away the luxuries we share in life and make him/her do it with his/her own two hands such as doing the dishes by hand. So, while I help him/her work through the mistake he/she made, he also realizes not to take for granted the luxuries we have today due to technology. She disagrees. We don’t even know the gender of our child yet, but this is a topic that keeps occurring in our conversations. We both would like to put it to rest so we are turning to an expert, whom we believe to be you.
Thanks for trusting me. A couple of thoughts… First, the discipline plan you’re envisioning is for a child older than an infant or toddler, correct? Here’s an interesting and wonderful thing…handling discipline issues with empathy and respect in the first years usually means that there will seldom be disciplinary situations later on. Seriously! This is what I’ve found personally and through the experience of many other parents as well. Getting the first years “right” is the key.
The most effective way to provide discipline in the early years is to define boundaries while maintaining a trusting relationship. This means taking on the role of being our child’s gentle and confident leader. Young children need to be stopped from doing “wrong” things, but in a brief, kind and unemotional way. (I describe this more thoroughly in No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame.)
When treated with honesty, fairness, and empathy — as people who are just learning and don’t yet have self-control — children begin to internalize our values. Even babies know when they are being spoken to directly and with respect. This is a path to self-discipline that serves our children well throughout life, not to mention fostering a close and loving relationship with their parents.
Punishments of any kind tend to take us off that track and foster a more adversarial or manipulative relationship, which is likely to lead to more frequent and difficult discipline issues down the road.
I love your idea about instilling an appreciation for hard work and the luxuries in life. I do think that there are far better ways to do that than making those lessons a punishment, which will definitely cause your child to perceive them negatively. The most powerful way we teach those lessons (and just about every lesson) is through modeling — being a person who takes pride in hard work, doesn’t mind a bit of struggle and values simpler, low-tech things.
The truth is children usually end up teaching us these lessons. I’ve never known a young child who wouldn’t rather light candles than turn on lights, hold a parent’s hand and walk to preschool, vacation in a tent rather than a hotel, spend all day outdoors, or live in a smaller, cozier house rather than a big one. Children of all ages love to do things themselves. They like to create and build things rather than press a button and have it done for them. They don’t mind chores, work and struggle, especially if we continue to present those things as positive, interesting parts of life and don’t interfere or “fix” everything for them. (Wait until you see your baby’s “work ethic” as he, for example, struggles to grasp an object on the floor nearby, or figures out how to crawl.) I guarantee that your child will inspire you to appreciate work and the simple things in life better than anyone else ever could. All we have to do is keep nurturing these innate qualities.
So, my advice would be to learn everything you can about discipline in the early years. Figure out what feels right to you and your significant other to give your baby the best start possible. Prioritize the quality of your relationship with the important person you will soon meet (so exciting!). Keep life and toys very simple in the first years. Don’t indulge in TV as a babysitter, provide tech devices or the latest toys because the Joneses do. Someday your kids will be proud like mine are, that they were, in one daughter’s words, “TV deprived”. Since they’ve become students they know: “TV makes you dumber, Mom.”
(Okay, so my son’s a little upset that he’s the only 5th grader he knows without a cell phone… But in their hearts children know that we are thoughtfully considering doing what’s best for them rather than caving in, and they appreciate that.)
Regarding lectures… My personal belief is that they are heard best by our children when they aren’t presented during a disciplinary moment, especially with toddlers. When you and your little boy or girl are enjoying a relaxing time together, share about your values and philosophies. Lectures during discipline tend to be interpreted as shaming. With toddlers, saying too much (which means more than just a few words like, “I can’t let you, because…”) can make the child perceive a momentary incident as a major event. Besides being shaming, this often backfires, because our child will impulsively seek out this negative attention and drama again.
I really hope some of this helps. I appreciate the care you and your significant other are taking to figure these things out together ahead of time. It bodes very well for your child, who will soon change your life in the most wonderful way!
P.S. Here are some posts worth reading:
“Positive Child Guidance: A Look At Discipline vs Punishment” by Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute
“A Toddler’s Point Of View” by Lisa Sunbury from Regarding Baby
“I’ll Let You Know How It Goes” (insights on preschoolers doing chores) by Thomas Hobson, Teacher Tom
All your ideas are welcome….please share!
(Photo by roland on Flickr)