Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Purposeful Parenting: Discipline

Since before having children, my husband and I have discussed our desire to be purposeful in our parenting style. Each decision, from what our children eat to where our children play, is decided with a purpose in mind. Our greatest purpose is to raise our child to be a disciplined and loving human being. But breaking that purpose down into smaller steps is difficult.

These blog entries are a way for me to think through my parenting decisions with purpose and to document these decisions for our children to use one day, if they wish, when they raise their own children.


Discipline is often synonymous with punishment. However, Daddy Bear and I see discipline is a method by which to train our children.  Punishment is a part of that.  But it is not all of it.  Discipline means setting boundaries and continually enforcing those boundaries so that our children.

We hope that children who are disciplined will become adults who have discipline.

Little Bear is still very young but the discipline process started as soon as he was born. We put him in a crib, instead of putting him in our bed. At times, we chose to allow him to cry in order to that he would develop the skills necessary to soothe himself back to sleep. When he became more mobile and more curious, we gave him safe toys to play with but did not allow him to play with everything he wanted to. We set a bedtime schedule and, for the most part, stuck with it - helping his body to discipline itself to get adequate rest for his growing body and brain.

Around 12 months, we introduced punishment as an additional way of discipline. We would wait until he began to become engaged with an item that was unsafe for him to play with. At that point, we would remove his hand from the object and verbally tell him, "No Touch." For a while, this was adequate for his understanding that the toy was not his to be had. However, it didn't take long for him to begin wanting to go back to the toy. Knowing that children at this age do not necessarily have a very good long term memory, we would again remove his hand and say "No Touch." However, if he continued to touch the item after clearly hearing our request, we would spank his hand. This pain was usually enough to make him want to stop touching the item.

As he grew, so did his understanding of our phrase, "No Touch." Sometimes the shock and brief pain of the hand spanking would cause him to cry. But after a while, he seemed to gladly accept the gentle reminder that the toy did not belong to him.

Around 15 months, we would nearly need to say, "No Touch" before he would either completely stop playing with the item or would immediately give the item to us. It was satisfying to know that our consistent response to his curiosity meant that he was being kept safe and we were having to do less and less work to keep him that way.

At 19 months, Little Bear still must be told "No Touch" but rarely needs his hand spanked. We recently had neighbors comment on how well behaved he was. During a trip to their non-baby proof house last week, they were surprised to notice how many time Little Bear reached out for an item but pulled his hand back immediately without an adult saying anything. The external discipline as become internal discipline as well.

However, let me not make this process seem easy. It is not. In order to discipline our son, we are forced to discipline ourselves. At times, I want to allow Little Bear to do as he pleases just so that I do not have to interrupt my activity to train him. Every single practice of discipline that I want for Little Bear: sleeping in his own bed, using his own spoon, saying please and thank you, etc. takes up front energy on our part as parents. Every single element of discipline for Little Bear means upfront effort and discipline from me.

Children learn best from doing something again and again. If I choose to forgo the routine or if I chose to make exceptions, I am un-disciplining my child. Then, why am I surprised when my child, who was previously disciplined, shows signs of loss of discipline?

I have much much much to learn still about discipline and raising children. But the one thing I have learned so far is that consistency is the best form of discipline. It's not how many times or how hard my child was spanked that gives him discipline. It's how consistent am I - do I do what I say?

Children are on a learning loop, therefore, I must choose to work WITH that loop or against it. if I choose to work WITH it, I will be consistent with my own self discipline. If I work AGAINST it, I will continue to be inconsistent with my actions and create in my child a sense that he is in control and there are no considerable boundaries.

Let's see how this form of discipline continues through toddlerhood...

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