I’ve already stated where I stand on spanking/whooping your kids as a form of discipline. Short answer: I don’t spank my kids.
But this post is less about the “why I don’t spank my kids” and more about what I do use to make sure my children grow into healthy, emotionally capable adults with respect for themselves and the world around them. True, they are “only” 7 and 6, so time will tell on the effectiveness of my parenting methods. We’ll see.
1) Instead of getting louder, go softer.
I used to yell at my kids all the damn time. And truthfully, it just made me feel tense and anxious and I never felt like it accomplished much but giving me a sore throat. My kids would be tiptoeing around me, not wanting to talk to me for fear I’d erupt and they’d be caught in the cross-hairs.
I got tired of it before they did. So I decided to switch up my tactics and instead of yelling at them to do things or erupting because they’d done something wrong, I tried going softer and getting closer. When my kids would act out in the store (very rare, but it happens), I get down on their level and pull them close to me. I re-state how they are supposed to behave and give them space to comply. 90% of the time it works. If it doesn’t, we leave the store. When I’m frustrated about a mess they’ve made or an argument they’re having with each other, I take a deep breath and draw them closer. It helps them see that I do care about their feelings (and yes, this is important to children) but that their behavior is what needs correcting.
Going softer (hugging your child when they are misbehaving, holding their hands while you’re talking to them) seems kind of counter-intuitive. Who wants to try to wrestle a screaming kid into a hug? But positive physical touch releases feel-good chemicals in your child’s brain, allowing them to really hear what you’re saying.
2) Instead of getting physical, get intellectual.
Sometimes, children just do dumb stuff because they lack the mental capacity to know better. True story: When I was about my daughter’s age (third or fourth grade), I took $10 out of my Mom’s purse. I didn’t spend it. I didn’t lose it. I just kept it. When my dad questioned me about it, I told him I had it and showed it to him. When he asked me why I did it, I simply said because I wanted to have money in my pocket. That was one of the only spankings I remember. And it wasn’t bad (I actually remember giggling because he didn’t want to hit me, but he thought he should so they were really soft taps LOL).
But thinking about the incident now, I think I would have handled it differently with my kids. At 7 and 6, they’re old enough to understand the cause and effect of working hard and getting paid for it. So I would have made them clean the house, shovel a driveway, rake up some leaves, anything to teach them that this is how you earn money. You don’t take it. You earn it.
Here’s where positive reinforcement comes into play. So often we’re looking to “catch” our kids doing something they’re not supposed to, that we don’t look to “catch” them doing well. I hear some of you scoffing now. “What do they want? A cookie for doing what they’re supposed to do?” But really, we all crave positive reinforcement, whether it’s at home or in the office or with our friends.
So how does it work? For example, when your kids put their homework away without you having to fuss about it, point it out to them and let them know you’re happy they’re being responsible. It gives them an opportunity to feel like they’re doing something right, so they are more likely to keep that behavior going.
3) Instead of being lax, be consistent
The hardest lesson for me to learn as a parent is that kids need consistency. Whatever I tell them on Monday has got to be the same thing they hear on Tuesday and Wednesday. I used to be really lax on what behaviors were fine and when, simply because I was tired. Who has the energy to tell the kids to stop running through the house all the time? But I was doing them a disservice and creating more work for myself. Consistency in our expectations is 70% of our task.
The point is: Get creative
I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit when we reach for the belt at the first sign of disobedience. Even the “best” child will test you from time to time and you’ve got to learn to roll with it. Yup, roll with it. Perfectly obedient children don’t exist.
Ask yourself: What’s the lesson here? How can I get through to them? And sometimes, it’s less about getting through to them (you pouring in all your “wisdom” into them) and more about you allowing them to teach you how they can best be parented. We tend to treat children like they don’t matter, like they are our property to do with as we please. But if we’re patient and we really listen to our children, we will learn a more effective way to parent them.
It requires a LOT of talking. Talking in the mornings. On the way to school. In the evenings. On the way to the grocery store. On the way to their grandparents’ house. It’s more work than just popping them in the mouth when we don’t like what they say or how they are behaving. But parenting is never easy. It requires more of us than we sometimes know how to give. But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying, or we somehow settle for less.