On Monday, in the pouring rain, I popped along to a talk at my daughter’s school on so-called Positive Discipline. As I sat down, I was taken by the sheer number of parents eagerly waiting to be given the holy grail, the magical elixir, of parenting: (broadly) how to make your children listen to you.
This was a broad spectrum of nationalities, cultures, career backgrounds, but we all clearly have one thing in common: at times slightly unruly children (anyone who says they never experience challenging behavior is stretching the truth).
Children are wired, some might say genetically predisposed, to test us. I remember the vicar that presided over my wedding sitting us both down in his beautifully tended garden in Suffolk and telling us, and it’s true, that children test in you in ways you never thought possible. As a bright-eyed bride-to-be, I didn’t see the truth in this statement, but five years into the game I get the message loud and clear.
The Bissonette’s (Big D and Little D respectively), are the most wonderful little creatures and I’m blessed that they’re on the whole really very well behaved. But every child/parent has its moments, lately mine are most usually at bedtime, when they test you to breaking point. So the idea of developing some new tools for dealing with these occasions was too good an opportunity to miss.
Positive Discipline, which I understand is becoming a bit of a movement, focuses on the positive points of behaviour, based on the idea that there are no bad children, just good and bad behavior. It’s used to teach long-term parenting—the kind and firm parenting style.
The presentation worked through a few examples of what it feels like to be told “NO” all the time or “DON’T”, and how in our adult life this would be an unacceptable way of being treated. It doesn’t work in business, where we learn to coach and encourage – so why should it be any different with kids?
It also addressed how the Flipping Your Lid approach to discipline (I’m truly guilty of this as I find I have a very high level of tolerance but very occasionally I have a bit of a flip out), doesn’t work, and any outbursts of punishment can only cause negative outcomes (far better to let the situation play out and then talk if through at a later stage).
I can see that all this is fine in theory, but it can’t always be achieved. For example, my girls love to scoot around town and as a city dweller I deal with the constant threat of traffic daily. If my child scoots off and doesn’t stop at a road, my immediate reaction is to shout and behave like an out of control crazy woman – it’s innate. Primal. At that point, I know the risk of making my child feel negative is far less of a worry that them being under a car! But I do see that in other situations taking a step back and asking them to take control of their own actions would be a better, more positive, approach.
The theorists believe there are FIVE CRITERIA FOR EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE:
- Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
- Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)
- Is effective long-term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
- Teaches important social and life skills. (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
- Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)
As the week’s gone on, I’ve tried to put some of this theory into practice. So instead of telling Little D ‘No’ and ‘Don’t’ 100 times a day, I’ve tried to devote the time to ask her to make choices about her behavior – and it does seem to work.These are sentient, sensitive, little beings – and so trying to be calm, friendly and respectful does reap rewards. It’s a mindset shift, and I’m only at the beginning, but I think Positive Discipline may be on to something.
It’s not all plain sailing though. Big D was recently given a Kinder Surprise to take home after a party and I asked if she thought it a good idea to eat it after the huge slice of cake she’d just consumed – which she agreed it was not. But while my eyes were on the road, Little D gobbled the whole thing – so I guess that was her choice and the consequence will be that she’ll go crazy when Big D has hers today (and I’ll still feel a little frazzled by the drama.
In his father-of-the-bride speech, my dad said “Nicole didn’t come with a manual” but that I ended up alright, and there’s only so much you can learn from a textbook – ultimately we are who we are. But it did nudge me to be a bit more creative with my approach and to think before I react – which is sometimes just the check you need.
Ultimately, I’m with Victor Hugo, who said: “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction we are loved“. And provided that my little girls feel loved and respected, they’ll thrive no matter what. (But a few positive parenting tools may help with my sanity along the way!
If you’d like to learn more about Positive Discipline, click through to this link!
Love Mummy B