Discipline with Understanding
Discipline with Understanding
In the last issue we discussed the problems of discipline as a system of rewards and punishments. Now we will consider discipline as a way of leading a child to want to behave the way we wish (a later column will cover in more detail age appropriate behavior and our expectations).
In his book, What Every Parent Show Know, Thomas Gordon, founder of “Parent Effectiveness Training” seminars, describes some broad developmental stages and gives ideas for the type of discipline that is most likely to work at a particular stage. The stages are not based on age since each child progresses at his own rate.
The youngest children cannot tell us what their problem is. We only notice that they are crying, restless, whining, throwing food or engaging in some troublesome behavior. Guessing what is the problem is a common first step and often works. We wonder if he might be hungry or over-stimulated or wet. We search until we find something that works. At last resort, when we run out of ideas, we simply hold him to let him know that even though we can’t solve his problem, we are there for him.
Another approach to encouraging the behavior we wish is what Gordon calls, “Let’s make a trade.” This approach works when, for example, your one-year-old has discovered your jewelry box and wants to play with the sparkly treasures. You find some key-chains and paper clips and other similar items and trade with him. Should jewelry be a lasting interest, a clever parent might buy a few cheap pieces at garage sales for the child to explore. He wants to play with your stove or vacuum or lawn-mower? The toy industry has come up with a child’s version of just about anything an adult uses, but often you can make or come up with some sort of cheap substitute. A cardboard box works as a stove, especially if the child can use your real pots and pans.
The parent can communicate via actions what behavior is wanted. The child is dawdling and we’re in a hurry. We can gently put a hand on his back and nudge him along. Or we engage him in a playful swinging our arms and taking big steps. Our child keeps grabbing onto our nose, despite our clear “Ouch” and pulling back. We don’t assume the child is being “bad” — he may just be exploring how other people feel. We can put the child down, maybe explaining why, but knowing that it is our actions that communicate our feelings about this behavior.
Finally, we can change the environment. Most child-rearing books cover child-proofing our homes to make them safe. We put latches on cupboards and toilet seats, covers over electric outlets, gates over stairs.
But we can also arrange the environment to reduce conflicts. Our child wants to pull our books off the shelf? We can set our shelves up with a rope or small molding across the bottom of the books. We can get the books out by lifting them, but he cannot. Our house may look more like a houseboat for a year or so, but we will save our books and our tempers. Our child hates to be bathed? We can sponge him off after he’d fallen asleep. He may not be as clean as we’d like, but we’ll both be happier and he will outgrow his aversion to baths, especially when they aren’t forced on him. He runs around the doctor’s office pestering other patients? We can ask the receptionist to page us when it’s our turn and take the child outside to run around on the lawn. Again, we’ll both be happier than if we’d stayed in the office and struggled.
Next issue: discipline with understanding — the older child