Thursday, January 17, 2008

Internal Discipline

Kat is featuring something new on Thursdays called Parent University. Today's topic is discipline. Here's my contribution.

Every parenting expert says it- discipline comes from within. However, parenting
experts seem to spend an exorbitant amount of time tauting external forces parents might use. Time out. Taking away privileges. Consequences. Spanking. Positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement. Rewards. Punishment. None of these things come from within the child. They're something adults can impose on a small person.

So how to work towards internalization of discipline? Great question. It's all about letting the children feel the weight of the problem themselves. Little people won't ever catch on to what is important if everything is handled for them by us.

Let's take the typical scenario of one child tugging the toy from another. Let's says they are old enough to speak well (3 or up). I can put the child who tugged in time out or send her to her room. I can take the toy back and give it to the victim of the crime. I can give stickers to my children if they haven't taken toys from one another all day. I could even spank the child who stole the toy. Parenting experts might agree that these are all perfectly fine interventions. I disagree, because all of this involved the extrinsic resource of the parent.

Why not request the children to hand the toy in dispute to the adult? The adult could say, "Whoa! Both of you want this toy right now. What can we do that is fair for everybody?" Let the children determine with one another what works. If one has a hard time finding adequate or appropriate words, then help. I promise three to ninety year olds can figure it out.

May sound simple, but I hadn't quite caught onto how to expand the idea more to family life. After all, I had been indoctrinated with behavior management in college courses for my special education degree. So, I found I had to go cold turkey with external force parenting.

Why? A friend gave me this great counsel concerning my future as a mother. Teenagers only give as much control as they want give to anyone. External force simply does not work on teenagers. Grounding. Taking away cell phones. Taking away driving privileges. All external forces. I'd be dire trouble if these were the only things I have to "control" my sixteen year old. Teens can walk away from control without relationship, and I've seen many simply jump the family ship. I don't want to use power with my children; I want relationship. Relationship is respect, and no one has ever demanded respect. It's earned.

A year ago, we decided as a family to stop punishment altogether. Can you believe it? We all still wanted some way for each to be held accountable for disrespecting one another, and so everyone came up with a system together in which we could live well.

What has been the result? Pandemonium? Bedlam? Nope. Quite the opposite. My children have developed more self discipline this year than any year before.
It took weeks, maybe even months, and many hours of family meetings to hammer it out, but we have arrived at a relatively peaceful household containing six strongly opinionated individuals.

So what's your advice on discipline? Post it and submit it to Kat, too.


Kat said...

Wow. That's so interesting. I'd love to hear more about the system you all came up with.

Jessica Lynn said...

I agree with Kat...please share!

truevyne said...

I'll post about it.