Everything we know about discipline is wrong!
Are you one of the 57% of parents who struggle to figure out the most effective way to discipline your kid? In accordance to ZERO TO THREE’s national Parent Survey 6 out of 10 of parents face a discipline dilemma. Establishing limits and creating boundaries is one of the most difficult aspects in parenting. It’s extra hard because we haven’t seen great role models and we haven’t been trained.
In this article I am offering different perspectives for you to consider. I like to call them Discipling Hacks. These are things for you to think about before you start disciplining.
Everything we know about discipline is wrong!
Discipline is not what we think it is. To understand what discipline really is, let’s look up the word in the dictionary. The origin of the word "discipline" is from the Latin word ‘discere’ which means "to learn." The real intent and true form of a discipline is to study, learn and train.
Discipline is not about:
· Parents establishing consequences and applying punishment.
· Getting a child to obey a certain set of rules.
· Doing the right thing.
· Being rigid with your child.
· Doing what you’re told.
The traditional meaning of Discipline implies that there is something wrong with our kids behaviour and it needs fixing. But this cannot be true! Kids do not know what they do not know. They haven’t learnt the things that parents know. It’s unfair to expect kids to do something they don’t know it yet.
More importantly we cannot expect kids to do something they are not capable of doing yet. The same survey discovered that there is a big expectations gap. “50% of parents believe that children are capable of self-control and other developmental milestones much earlier than they actually are”.
During my parenting workshops I ask mums and dads to list down typical behaviours they wish their kids to display. The top 3 are: sharing toys with others, sleeping through the night, and flushing a toilet.
These are great behaviours! Do a reality check before you start disciplining any of them.
1. The skill of sharing and taking turns develops by the age of 4 years.
2. Learning to sleep through the night is a learnt skill and takes time. According to one large study (Paavonen et al., 2020) 2-year-olds wake on average 0.9 times a night. 3-5 is a common age for night terrors and nightmares and kids struggle with sleep.
3. Ability to understand the need for rules develops between 4-5 years.
Stop Disciplining, Start Teaching
Here is my definition of Discipline. It’s a learning process where parents create an environment using various teaching methods in such a way that a child chooses intrinsically to behave in a respectful or certain way.
Just think about it for a second. When do you learn best? Do you learn when somebody raises the voice or yells at you? Do you learn well under stress? Or do you learn well when you are feeling calm and peaceful? When somebody takes time to explain things to you? Shows and Tells why some things work and why some do not.
My son, who is now 4 years, didn’t flush the toilet. First I was using traditional disciplining and my very serious voice: “You need to flush the toilet. Come back and do it!” I had this conversation zillion times per day.
Then I switched to the teaching mode. I did a reality check and learnt that my expectations were not fair. I had to accept that he’ll start following the rule consistently in about a year from now.
Then I got curious. I started observing and understanding why he’s not doing it. After my little investigation I discovered that he could not press the button! His little fingers did not have enough power to press the button till the end and release the water.
I asked: “I see it’s hard work to deal with this flush button. What ideas do you have? Let’s see what we can do together to make it work. Maybe we need some help from your friends. Which toy is good at flushing the toilet?” My son’s eyes started to sparkle. He brought his favorite plush toy and called him ‘Cat The Flusher’. Now every time he goes to the bathroom, he takes the Flusher with him. My son climbs up the toilet and uses full power of his body and cat’s paws to flush the toilet.
Besides that, I had a little teaching moment:
- What happens if we leave wee-wee in the toilet and we don’t flush it??
- It smells really yucky!
- Do you know why it smells yucky?
- Would you like to have a look in the book and find the answer?
We opened kids’ encyclopedia and read about the human’s digestive system and how it processes the food.
- Do you now understand why it smells so bad?
- What happens with other people who come to use the bathroom after you?
- They feel sad and disgusted.
- Exactly! And how would you feel if it happens to you?
- I would not like that!
- Me neither. What do you want to do from now on?
- I’ll do my best flushing it!
The right way of discipling is not happening in the heat of a moment with fighting voices and stressed facial expressions. Our parenting goal is to create productive learning environment that is fun and exciting! They will learn and remember it better than having constant battles and hearing fighting voices. When they hear fighting voices, they do not learn about flushing the toilet. They learn about them being insufficient, not being enough. And I am pretty sure that this is not what you want to teach them.