Positive Parenting: Discipline versus Guidance

August 28, 2011

As parents we all joke about the elusive “manual” that should accompany the birth of all children in this world. However, in all honesty, any manual would (based off my experience!) be basically useless. In less than ten seconds after the birth of my son I quickly realized two things:

1)      Any amount of instruction would be useless and

2)      No two children on this planet could possibly be the same

For these two reasons I have quickly realized that I must all take it upon myself to learn how to be a good parent from the very basic levels. It is frustrating, and I have certainly had my moments of weakness, but as I found myself in tears recently – heaped on the bedroom floor, I also had a beautiful awakening. I CAN do this, and do it in a way that makes both myself and my son feel happy and loved and live a fulfilling life together. Discipline is one area that is the most difficult, in my opinion, as there is no “one size fits all” solution; as my son throws a tantrum or chooses to slap me for no apparent reason it’s natural to want to react, but HOW I react is crucial.

In recent months I have done a great deal of reading on this subject, trying to find a way to communicate with my 14 month old why it’s not ok to dramatically throw himself on the floor when he doesn’t get what he wants, or slap the boy next to him because he’s playing with a toy he wants. I don’t believe in spanking or physical punishment of any sort, and despite my quick temper I also do not believe in verbally reprimanding children out of anger. Love conquers all, and I am determined to show my son that I love him so much and am willing to go the distance to teach him right from wrong while holding his hand, not slapping it.

The word “discipline” alone has a negative connotation. I immediately make the connection discipline = spanking, yelling, reprimanding. I believe that the first step here is breaking away from that immediate word recognition, there are other types of discipline out there but I prefer the word “guiding”. Through my own actions, or guidance, I can show my son how to be happy, even if he can’t always get what he wants. There is an article I found recently that really stuck with me, it was a “discipline” (guidance) article that clearly states that all you need is LOVE (L – Look for the reason behind the behavior; O- Open your heart; V-Validate feelings; E-Explore solutions).  The amazing thing about articles like this is that I’m able to apply the information to my life with a 14 month old, but I know that years down the road when my son is a teenager and is testing the limits in a whole new way, I can apply these same ideas then as well (brilliant!).

However, I’m all about the “here and now”, and there are three things that have helped me to maintain sanity recently:

    • Validation: No matter how dramatic, the screaming and crying is meaningful. Maybe I don’t necessarily agree with the reasoning, but the fact that my son is clearly distraught makes me equally as upset. I comfort him rather than get angry – buying that toy is not a matter of life or death, but at that particular moment it is all that matters to him.

    • Understanding: I am not going to purchase every item my child is drawn to each and every time we venture outside of the house. However, when he chooses to get upset about that all I can do is understand his point of view (which, at 14 months, really is focused on all the fun objects around him) and try to reason with him through love. I show him something else (rocks these days are not only free, but prove to be incredible tools for entertainment), entertain him with a fun game or song, and then we move forward – happy.

    • Learning: In my opinion, learning goes both ways. My son learns from my behavior (quickly, I might add), and I learn the simple joys in life by watching him. Maybe it’s in all of our best interest to place a little bit more importance on the little things in life, and learn to appreciate each moment for what it is. Those testing moments where my child wants to alert everyone in the entire state of Colorado that his mother refuses to let him play with the electrical outlets is natural, they are cool after all, but I can calmly tell him that they are dangerous, appreciate the fact that he is so amused by something formerly considered insignificant in my life, and learn together that there are alternative options available.

I’ve learned through my own research (along with a lengthy trial-and-error process) that discipline is a tough subject for many parents, and I don’t feel that is due to us really wishing to cause conflict between one another but rather because we are all doing the best we can as parents and trying our darndest to figure out the best way to guide our children. As I mentioned earlier, there is no one size fits all approach to parenting, but together we can share some funny stories along the way and watch our children grow up happy.

I am not a professional in this field, I have not done any studies or counseled others in the subject of positive parenting – all I know is what I feel and what I can do to impact the life I have with my son. Not everything works, and something that works today might not work tomorrow, but it’s all about the experiences that make up our life together, good and bad, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Finding quality information is sometimes a challenge, although I do have a “go-to” that hasn’t failed me yet when I’m in search of a new trick or tool, or simply looking for some words of encouragement. If you haven’t found yourself on this site yet, I would highly recommend – this website has done an incredible job providing materials and resources for parents like myself seeking ways to positively and actively parent their children.

As a side note, I would like to extend a special “Thank You” to the amazing author of the Positive Parenting blog – you have inspired me in so many ways.

Hopefully, the experiences I have shared will shed some light and inspire you to consider a positive approach to your child’s next fit or scream session. Or, perhaps my story has made you smile – parenting is a journey, and it’s a wonderful thing to realize that you are not the only one facing such a dilemma