Discipline is one area where I fail miserably as a parent.
I have discussed my concerns with many experienced parents and have read a number of articles to help me grasp the problems I encounter. But somehow, I have always felt inadequate in being able to discipline my 4-year-old.
Root Cause of failure in disciplining my child:
After investing a lot of time and speculation, I’ve arrived at three key issues that have been keeping me from achieving the desired results:
1. When I was a child, my parents’ temper had been the major disciplining force. I used to be too scared of the consequences which would entail severe scolding (only) if I dared to be mischievous or didn’t do as I was asked to.
When I applied this approach as a parent, it left me feeling miserable and guilty to no bounds. That was when I promised myself to not adopt it on my child. Beyond this, I have had no inkling of how to inspire my child to adopt a disciplined life.
2. The bouts of depression that came along with my divorce, left me confused, broken, frustrated and scared of landing up with the mammoth responsibility of being a single parent. I was in a fragile state of mind, unsure of myself and clueless of how I’ll give my child a good life.
3. My child and I are temperamentally poles apart. The many challenges parenthood hurled my way infused me with the feeling of being a failed parent. I have often caught myself sinking in the ocean of the notion that I am not a good enough parent when it comes to understanding my child.
It took me a lot of introspection and delving into my pent-up emotions to chalk out the above three issues. But ever since I had the clear picture in view, I knew what all I had in hand and what areas I needed to work on.
The Action Plan:
I had to begin working on my own self to reach an acceptable point of exercising methods of disciplining my child.
The journey has been uphill and failures frequent.
However, my guiding light has been my determination to evolve as a calmer, clear-headed, smart parent.
I have been guilty of yelling at my child, trying to scare her with negative consequences for bad behaviour and failing miserably to implement them. I have written at length about the reasons for the same here and here.
After many hits and misses, I came to realize that for my child the one thing that works well is positive discipline.
What is Positive Discipline?
Positive discipline is a parenting model based on the idea that there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviours.
The more I delve into positive discipline, I realise that it is the core of what we are trying to communicate with our kids.
We don’t want them to think they are BAD, but we do want to reinforce good behaviours and wean out the bad ones, without causing any physical or emotional damage in the process.
Positive reinforcement is the way that has helped me put this strategy into action.
Praising the good, ignoring the mistakes and encouraging the child to work on their strengths.
With anger & frustration keeping me at my wit’s end putting it into practice has been very tough for me.
Pari has been a stubborn kid since birth. Her obstinate behaviour makes her fight all odds and people irrespective of who they are to do things as she pleases.
Locking horns with her were taking me nowhere and were injecting me with frustration enough to make me go insane day by day.
That’s when I decided to play to her strengths.
Simple measures that are helping me discipline my child:
♠ My top priority has been investing time in understanding my child’s needs. This is because my daughter’s uncooperative behaviour was principally out of unmet needs than a challenge to my authority.
This understanding not only helped me care for my child’s need for food, sleep or even my presence in a more kind and empathetic light.
♠ I had to reinvent ways to distract my 4-year-old to steer clear of the power struggles that made every situation easier to tackle. Distraction works like a charm when kids get cranky and whiny because they have to wait for something.
♠ I had to learn to let go more than my over-cautious self would normally allow.
♠ I had to learn to choose my battles wisely.
♠ I had to train myself to see the bigger picture of letting her eat instant noodles for dinner before an exam rather than blowing the nutritious food trumpet all the time.
Not wanting to do the homework on an evening is seen as a crime in my family. It took me a long time to let Pari be and not get dark circles worrying about the homework not done.
When I chose to let her be, she surprised me by waking earlier than usual and finishing the homework before going to school.
♠ Setting clear expectations has helped me immensely.
Earlier, when I wasn’t clear on my expectations from her, I was only adding to her baffled state and my misery. Gradually, I have learnt to picture situations and plan ahead.
I now talk to Pari openly, honestly and as clearly I can make it.
I encourage dialogue so that we are clear about where we’re coming from and she is coherent of my expectations from her.
I tell her before every activity (be it eating, homework, outing, shopping, et al) what all is expected of her and what she can give a miss if she pleases. It’s our private talk, but she is briefed beforehand that keeps her carefree and myself relaxed from the anxiety of checking her endlessly.
♠ Phrase discipline positively.
I have been guilty of using negative language (don’t do this) more than the clearly worded positive language. The problem with that approach was my child was left confused and wondering what she should be doing and what not.
Being clear about what exactly the child is expected to do helps save time and the results are encouraging.
Recommended Reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
♠ Directing and not requesting was a huge shift for me. I’d often word my sentences in a way that allowed enough room for my daughter to retaliate with a prompt “NO”.
I learnt my lesson the hard way. I made a switch from requesting “Can you put the toys back in the basket, please?” to “Put the toys back in the basket, please.”
Though I am still being polite yet this simple assertive framing of sentences made it clear to my child that I wasn’t requesting but directing her to act.
In the year gone by, I have come a long way in disciplining.
Pari still acts stubborn, gets on my nerves with her wrong choices leading to harmful consequences (like catching a cold for eating ice-cream in cold weather).
You can see us mother-daughter fight like siblings, not talking to each other for an hour or two, I sometimes lose my patience under work stress but overall, with time we’re getting saner.
Though there’s a long way to go and I am aware that there will never be a point when I’ll master the art of disciplining my child.
But, life is about constant improvement.
I am getting wiser with every mistake I make.
I am getting calmer with every knot I’ve managed to untangle in my mind.
I am getting smarter as I am able to understand my child’s temperament better with each experience we share.
I am working on setting a positive example by being what I expect her to be.
Working hard (read very hard) to control my stress levels and give her positive attention.
I’m sure someday I’ll be a lot clearer on this topic than I am today.
But most of all, I take a moment out every day to let Pari feel that I love her unconditionally no matter what may happen.
How difficult has disciplining your child been for you?
Which method(s) of disciplining work best for your child?
Related Reading: How I discipline without breaking my child’s spirit
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