In my motherhood I have learned most from living-breathing examples when another mom shares a mom-fail or a breakthrough in her parenting. In the same way, I figure while you watch me discipline, love, grow, and mess up, you will glean some wisdom you can use along the way as you raise your own children.
We can’t discipline when emotions are high
Take this last week as an example. My son was home recovering from a sore throat. Sick days mean the TV is on a bit more than usual. I had asked him to pick up some dirty clothes off his floor, and as I was talking, he grabbed the remote and switched on “Treehouse Masters.” (oops) … I said, “Um. Please turn off the TV right now.” He did. Then I said, “It’s not kind to turn on a TV when someone isn’t finished speaking.”
After turning the TV off, he started getting a bit worked up. He defended himself as he talked more loudly to me. This sometimes happens with children when they anticipate a loss or sense they have done something wrong. They get a bit animated, or they melt down into a full-blown tantrum. How is a mom supposed to discipline (instruct) when her child is steeped in emotional overload?
How Time Out can benefit discipline
I asked my son to go to his room for ten minutes to calm down.
We don’t generally use “time outs” in a traditional sense around here. My boys are now 11 and 18. Years ago I realized the time out was especially good for one thing: giving space to regroup and calm. So, that’s what we do. We take a little distance to get our emotions reeled back in. My #1 priority is that my son be in a teachable place, and that I be in a calm spirit. Some days that takes just a little time – others it can take a lot longer! On this day we both only needed that short ten minutes to breathe and we were back to our senses.
Before I invited my son to come out of his room, I asked, “Are you calm enough for us to talk together about what happened?” He said yes. I always ask that question because sometimes one or the other of us hasn’t calmed down completely. That’s fair. There’s just no use in trying to work through something, or teach the lesson behind the discipline if either one of us is still fired up inside.
When he came out, I invited him to sit next to me on our big chair together. Years ago, with my oldest son, I came up with a four-step approach to use during a moment of discipline. It involves teaching and listening so everyone is respected and feels safe enough to make changes.
A four-step approach to discipline
So, we sat side-by-side and went through the four steps: The first is to stop (the madness!). We had already done that as we took our space to calm. The second is to sit down. Sitting helps de-escalate and tells our body and mind we aren’t in a fight, we’re here on the same team. Thirdly, we pray. So, I prayed for us. I prayed that my son’s heart would be soft, and that he would learn respectful ways of listening well. Holding my son as I prayed, I asked that I would be kind and caring. I asked God for the unity of His Spirit in the bond of peace between us as we resolved this situation.
Finally, the fourth step is to take turns talking. I let my son go first. He needed to share what he felt went wrong and what made him upset about our interaction. Then I was able to calmly say, “I wasn’t finished speaking and you turned on the TV. Do you think that was respectful of me?” My son answered, “No mom. That wasn’t respectful.” (This is the kind of response you often get when hearts are calm and heartstrings are connected). I asked him if he would work on doing better next time – listening to me all the way through until I finish speaking, acknowledging what I say, and then asking to turn on the TV after we are finished. He agreed. #mom-win!!
The two keys to all good discipline
What keys did I use in this experience that you can use in your own home? Well, there are two. They are simple and yet, it has honestly taken me years to grow into using them consistently. Here they are (the holy grail of parenting tips just for you from me): Be simultaneously kind and firm. And the secret is that they must be used together.
Listen to what Jane Nelsen, founder of Positive Discipline has to say about these two keys. It’s life-changing, family-healing, empowering stuff!
One of the foundations of positive discipline is to be kind and firm at the same time. Many parents know how to be kind … until they get upset. Then they know how to be firm without being kind, and they vacillate between the two: being kind until they can’t stand their kids (who develop an entitlement attitude) and then being firm until they can’t stand themselves (feeling like tyrants).
I think we all know the mistakes made in the name of firmness without kindness: punishment. However, many do not know the mistakes make in the name of kindness without firmness: pleasing, rescuing, over-protecting, pampering (providing all the “wants”), micromanaging in the name of love, overdoing choices, and making sure children never suffer.
The magic comes when you can hold your limits with your children, but remain calm as you do. After my son and I worked through the “listen to your mom, and don’t turn on the TV til she’s done” issue, we hugged. He leaned in hard and held on. When you are kind and firm as a parent, your child feels safe. They respect you, and they usually try to move forward with more effort to do what is best next time.
Using the kind/firm approach has been a gift to our family.
I hope it is to yours as well.
Want to bring this teaching to life? Come watch the 5 minute YouTube Video I made talking about the Kind/Firm approach and the four-step approach.