3 Types of Discipline You Never Knew You Needed
Discipline is Hard
Discipline is Hard
Discipline is one of the most challenging and controversial aspects of parenting. Challenging because there is no magic formula. Controversial because there is no universal norm as discipline is deeply influenced by culture, societal expectations, socio-economic backgrounds, and peoples' varied childhood experiences. Every child learns differently and gives and receives love differently.
What works for one child may not work for another, even children within the same family. Similarly, what one parent thinks is an acceptable form of discipline may not be for another.
You might think discipline is simple and straightforward. We all want the best for our children, therefore, we discipline. But so much of our innate insecurities influence all aspects of discipline, whether we recognize it or not.
Every parent brings with them "parenting baggage", which are our individualized fears, insecurities, and traumatic experiences that have the power to dramatically shape one's parenting style. "Parenting baggage" is most apparent in matters of discipline. How and what we discipline in our children exposes our deepest fears and anxieties about child-rearing.
How Do You Know if You're Getting it Right?
Discipline is uniquely perplexing. Most parents think they know how to discipline, but if kids don’t listen or get out of line (which, of course they will—they’re kids!), parents end up feeling defeated and confused.
The motivation to discipline our children comes from a place of love and protectiveness, yet many discipline methods end up hurting the parent-child relationship more than fortifying it. Why does this happen? Our intentions come from a good place. We want our kids to be safe, to be successful, to be independent, and to be happy.
It makes sense that discipline is necessary to accomplish any of those things. So why then do we end up in screaming matches, tears, and slammed doors when we try to impose boundaries and set limits? Sure, no one said discipline was the easy path. But it also doesn’t feel right that our children feel hurt, resentful, afraid, or unheard when we try to do what’s best for them.
Parents get stuck in a conundrum: impose discipline and feel too authoritarian; forego discipline and feel too permissive. Parenting ends up feeling like one long series of trials and errors.
But how much error is allowed before things go badly? Before our kids go down a path of rebellion, irresponsibility, and disrespect? This is the source of parental anxiety. If I do too much or if I do too little, how have I damaged my children? There is no sure path to raising strong, honest, responsible, and empathetic human beings. It is nebulous and uncertain.
Nothing Works All the Time
What, then, are parents to do? Timeouts, reward charts, grounding, corporal punishment, ultimatums, lectures, shouting, loss of privileges--we have heard of all of these.
Read about any one of these approaches in a self-help book and you can walk away feeling like you have a go-to plan on how to tackle the next parent-child conflict. These methods are relatively straightforward, easy to understand, and simple to implement.
Yet somehow they fall short. What these methods possess in simplicity they lack in nuance and sophistication. They are reliable, easy-to-access fixes in a pinch, but they are also inconsistent and short-term.
Traditional methods do not do the work of deepening the bond between parent and child, which is and should be the ultimate goal of child-rearing.
Not to mention, no method of discipline works all the time. What worked like magic one day might become completely ineffective the next. It is tempting to believe Parenting is more art than science. What worked like a charm on your kid yesterday is suddenly a dud the next day.
Why Most Methods of Discipline Don't Work
Anyone that tells you that they have discovered a no-fail discipline method is lying or mistaken. Most methods of discipline don't work because they don't respect children as competent, independent, capable beings. Respectful parenting is one of the most challenging and nuanced parenting approaches I have ever come across.
It requires us to trust our children when every bone in our bodies wants to control them. We are afraid now more than ever (see this neat article from 2016). Controlling the environment, controlling our children, and controlling the narrative all feel healthy and normal when you are increasingly afraid of what the world is and what it has to offer. We justify not trusting our children because we trust no one.
As a result, we have saddled ourselves with the heavy responsibility of controlling our kids for eighteen years and then releasing them into the big unknown when they go off to college. Eighteen years of controlling, optimizing, and hovering over our children make for stressful, exhausting, and draining parenting experiences.
No wonder modern parents are so tired and short-fused. We have bought into the idea that optimizing child-rearing in every possible category will make us happy and fulfilled parents that forge deep bonds with our kids. But optimized parenting is hurting us. When we attempt to optimize our children, what we are really doing is competing with other parents and other children. This only serves our egos and is a disservice to our kids.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Discipline is a Journey in Learning
Discipline doesn't have to mean we need to correct every behavior or anticipate every mistake. Discipline doesn't have to invoke anxiety and fear within us. We don’t need to constantly obsess over disciplining too much or too little. When discipline doesn't work, we don't have to resort to thinking we are failing as parents or that there is something wrong with our children.
Instead, discipline is learning. No more, no less. The end goal of discipline should not be changing, molding, or correcting behavior.
Instead, we should ask ourselves: did my discipline guide, love, and show respect for my independent-thinking, autonomous child? Did I deepen the bond with my child so that when she is on her own and I am not present, she will be capable of weighing the pros and cons and make safe, empathetic, responsible decisions? Do I have the willingness and patience to consistently evaluate and calibrate the level of trust I give my children, erring on giving more rather than less, even when I desperately want to hold on and give none at all? Discipline is learning, for both the child and the parent.
3 Types of Discipline You Never Thought of
If you want discipline to strengthen your relationship with your kids, here are three types of discipline to consider that you probably never thought of.
#1: Say Yes More
We say no too often. We think it is our parental duty to say no. Saying no is setting a clear limit, is it not? Conventional wisdom tells us that if children got their way all the time, they would become spoiled, entitled, and unable to self-regulate. Discipline is the means by which we prohibit, curb, and correct unacceptable behavior.
Perhaps. But at what cost? Children's brains develop rapidly between 0 and 25. Their brains are actually wired to play, experiment, push limits, and defy.
They don’t care about our schedules, work stress, chores, or personal dissatisfaction with life. Children are constant movement and they stop for nothing. A barrier emerges and kids charge past it with honesty and persistence. That is their beauty. Yet, it is also what drives us crazy.
That is why we say no. Saying no is easier than saying yes. Yes takes effort and creativity. These days, parents are chronically lacking in time, energy, and patience. Your kids don’t want to disappoint or aggravate you, but they must be able to be children. They must be able to be themselves.
That is why saying yes is so powerful. Yes means your children get to be children and you get to set the boundaries. You keep them safe, respectful, empathetic while they get to play and be free. This is discipline.
You will encounter many parents who justify their no’s and characterize saying yes as permissive. They will say permissive parenting leads to spoiled, self—absorbed children and that parents who say yes too often don’t have the fortitude to deny their children. But the tendency to say no is motivated more by ego than reason. In actuality, saying no is lazy, saying yes takes hard work. Saying yes doesn’t mean giving up and not caring.
Saying yes means creating an environment for your children where they feel free to play, explore, and defy safely and respectfully. Say yes more and you will see your children and your life as a parent transformed.
#2: Apologize When You Make a Mistake
Owning up to your mistakes and admitting when you're wrong is one of the best discipline tactics in existence. I swear by this approach and I have seen the benefits first-hand with my own children. Discipline is all about teaching our children to learn from their mistakes. When we model personal responsibility, we teach them that having the humility and self-awareness to apologize and ask for forgiveness is far more valuable than being perfect.
Apologizing acknowledges that we have wronged our children and that we accept their hurt feelings, anger, and resentment as valid.
Some parents think admitting fault and apologizing to children is not something that adults do. These same people view the parent-child relationship in terms of power dynamic. Apologizing is not forfeiting power. Discipline is not a one-way street where the parent instructs and the child obeys.
But that is all too often how parents view discipline. We are afraid that if we acknowledge our fallibility we will lose credibility with our children and, with it, our power and influence over them. It is this deep-seated insecurity that underlies our unwillingness to admit to our children when we go wrong.
Admitting one’s mistakes will not make that parent less credible or legitimate in the eyes of a child. Mistakes happen. We all make them. It is not a sign of weakness.
If you approach the parent-child relationship as one of autonomy and independent thought instead of control, power, and manipulation, you will not fear making and admitting your parental mistakes. Your child will trust and respect you more for your honesty and self-awareness.
I have seen proof of this in my own children. Despite my doubts that they would ever arrive at this level of maturity, I have watched my young children make misstep after misstep and apologize.
Of course, this was not always the case. There have been countless times when apologies were nowhere to be found, and that frustrated me to no end. But with consistent modeling, the message began to sink in and the apologies began to surface.
Few things make me more proud than when my child makes a mistake and apologizes on her own accord. It is not forced, coaxed, or done out of fear. The apologies are genuine. And the reaction they get after apologizing is its own reward. My children witness first-hand how an apology can almost instantly diffuse a contentious situation and soften the person who felt wronged. Scowls turn into smiles, and shouting turns into normal-toned conversation, almost immediately.
Apologies are powerful. Show children its power by diffusing their anger and resentment towards when you have made a mistake. The more they hear you say “I’m sorry” the more likely they will pause and think about the consequences of their own actions. And isn’t that what discipline is about after all?
#3: Really Listen
Why do we think we know better than our kids? Why are we so convinced that we: 1) always have it right, or 2) the rules don't apply to us? When are children tell us they are angry, upset, frustrated, sad, or feel stupid, rather than argue with them, listen. You may not like what you hear but it is of utmost importance to set your ego aside and listen.
When they say that you are the reason they feel stupid or awful, maybe you need to rethink how you are disciplining. Maybe you are correcting, controlling, and scolding too often. Maybe there are things that you can should just let go.
Maybe your child doesn't need to hear from you every single time that they could have made better choices. Maybe they know already that they could have made better choices and don't really need to be reminded by their parents--the people they love yet want to grow independent from the most--that they have messed up yet again. Maybe your kids are just trying to save face. Don't we all desperately want and need to save face sometimes?
Without a doubt, your children need the space and freedom to do what they do: test boundaries, make mistakes, and push back. Home is the safest possible place to explore the world.
They know they will make mistakes. We know they will make mistakes. And believe it or not, children know when they have done wrong. Incessant correcting, which parents erroneously view as discipline, will make kids feel downright awful.
Listen to them. They will give you clues into their mindsets. Children will not always use the words or descriptions you expect, but if you are open wide enough and long enough, you can decipher their language. Kids will tell you exactly what you need to know about how they are feeling, but only if you set your ego aside enough to listen. Setting aside your ego is key.
Love and accept your children, exactly as they are. As you can see, discipline that deepens the bonds with our children has more to do with our choices than theirs. The more we let go and let our children’s personalities, choices, and lives unfold, the happier we will all be. Your children will feel freer and more independent, and you will feel more relaxed and confident.
Stop thinking that you are preparing your kids for life. Their life is happening now. Right now. Every second of every minute or every day. Life for our children does not magically begin when they move out of the house, go to college, or get a job.
Your children are not asleep for 18 years and then awaken to a life that suddenly “matters” as an adult. How easily we forget how consequential and vibrant childhood is. Life is now. Let them live it and live it with them. This is discipline. Give it a try.