Natural Consequences, Discipline…or Punishment
What does discipline look like in your home? You know that mistake of “please, grant me more patience?” If you’ve seen Evan Almighty you may remember this scene:
What “opportunities” for patience do you have going on in your own home? I have to say, a huge “opportunity” is dealing with toddlers…and especially “threenagers”! Yes, they can be super trying, and it’s hard to have the patience to negotiate with them and ride through their constant waves of emotions (especially when they make no sense whatsoever).
But discipline is huge. Two of the three definitions of discipline pinpoint it as “using punishment to correct disobedience.” This, dear parents, has no place in your home. But this definition: “a branch of knowledge; typically one studied in higher education”…let’s play with this.
Instead of discipline being seen as punishment for someone “disobeying”…or maybe simply abiding by the beat of their own drum vs. yours, maybe discipline is the act of working within the knowledge and study of human nature. Of practicing and learning yourself how to better connect with another.
When I was a little girl, my parents’ motto was “say yes whenever possible.” My brothers and I were the kids that could show up at school with a Superman Cape and a tutu if we wanted. We were allowed to play in the mud, play dress-up in our parents’ closet, and scream at the top of our lungs….BUT it was always within the boundaries set by Mom and Dad. They gave us the world, yet a little at a time. We knew our limits.
Yes, we can play in the mud, and not in our brand new fancy shoes. Yes, we can play dress-up in our parents’ closet, and raiding Mommy’s makeup stash and covering the walls is a major no-no. And as for screaming and temper tantrums…our parents were the example on whether or not screaming and kicking was the answer.
Sometimes kids throw tantrums—it’s their only way to get out their emotions. Sometimes, however, what they need is not simply to let their emotions fly off the handle, but the discipline to practice managing them in a healthy way. I’d say we all can practice this discipline, correct? Throwing a screaming tantrum in a grocery store, although you feel like it sometimes, isn’t the best option. When did we as adults learn to stop that?
My guess is, somewhere along the way, the mantra “every action has a consequence” allowed us to see that a huge temper tantrum resulted in nothing positive. And if it did, you know the behavior will persist. Like the little boy at the grocery I saw a few months ago, who hid under the checkout counter and wouldn’t come out until the grandmother bribed him with a candy bar. He finally wobbled out, snatched it out of her hand and kicked her. As I observed the behavior on both of their parts, it saddened me, as they both “won” by actually getting out of the store, but they both lost miserably as they were trapped in this vicious cycle of the little boy kicking and hitting and the grandmother desperate to survive.
Discipline is the act of us managing our behavior in a healthy way.
The discipline of daily exercise. Meditation. Eating healthy. Navigating our emotions so we can feel all things, yet not allow those emotions to explode in a way that harms another. It isn’t okay for my five year old to hit me any more than it’s okay for my husband to. Is either allowed in your home?
Discipline in our home is very subject to the personality tendencies of each child. Each of us is addressed differently since we all have our own beautiful personality styles. As we all grow, we learn there are places where it is unacceptable to pitch a hairy fit. The key, though, is to allow a place where they CAN as they learn to navigate their own limits.
I used to get so angry when I was little—my middle brother and I were very close, and he would pick on me and I’d get furious. I was given a choice—if I needed to vent, I could go in my room, close the door, and do whatever to get my anger out that wasn’t destructive (cry, scream, beat a pillow), but I could not do it in the living room, at a store, or by hitting my brother. I distinctly remember storming down the hall, shutting my door (not slamming it, as this was a no because of squished fingers), and screaming my lungs out. I’d cry in my pillow, scream out loud, sit around, and come back out a new person.
Let me put a disclaimer here. Every emotion is allowed in our household. We don’t look down on crying, being angry, or any other “negative” emotion. I completely disagree with ever making your child feel bad for having strong emotions, telling them to “get over it” or making them feel shame for doing it in a public place. This is not about that. I don’t say “you’re okay” when clearly they are distraught. Feel the emotion. Let it be large.
Yet it’s my job as their parent to help them do it in a way that is not destructive to others. When you scream in a store, everyone covers their ears. A kid scream, especially, can be ear-piercing. When a child continues to hit a parent, they carry that over to hit others as well. And it gets to be harder and harder to keep them from not hitting as adults.
This is about helping our children to navigate a world that
doesn’t revolve around them.
In our household, we respect all things – so letting out all your emotions is a-ok. And when you choose to do it in a way that is not respectful of others (like screaming bloody murder at the store where everyone else has to cringe and listen to it), it is not being respectful of others in the area.
This brings us to attitude. My Dad would always tell me that “you are in charge of your attitude.” I could choose whether I was happy or sad, excited or mad. And when we were in a bad mood and taking it out on others, we got an “attitude adjustment,” which consisted of us sitting and listening to a motivational tape, such as Zig Ziglar or Brian Tracy. For my girls, we love listening to TED talks.
Sometimes we listened to inspirational sermons on different values that we were struggling with (like being kind). We learned valuable lessons during those times—it forced us to sit and think, and was much more effective than a basic time out, as we were learning principles to carry out in our lives, and new ways of handling situations. It’s funny how I’ll catch myself quoting something to my friends now that I learned during one of my “attitude adjustments.”
Now I understand that we are allowed to have every range of emotions-it’s okay to be angry or sad. It’s okay to let it out in a healthy way. Yet when it darkens my whole day and affects the mood of people around me—that is my fault.
I have the power to feel…and then I have the power to let it go and move on.
I can decide how my day will be. I can vent my frustrations and then be free to enjoy the rest of the day with my family. I set the example for my girls. They see me angry. They see me lose patience and get frustrated. And they see how I handle it – how I don’t scream or hit. There have been times I’ve flat out told them I wanted to! But I chose not to, because I understand the painful consequences of those actions. And I want to help them navigate past them as well. The best way to do that is to show them by example.
I can be annoyed, take a deep breath, and know that I can choose to be happy anyway! And surprisingly enough, that also affects others, and my daughter usually ends up laughing with me and forgot what she was mad about in the first place!
My youngest was the queen of this – short bursts of intense temper and frustration. She found a lot of inspiration from the wonderful Daniel Tiger about how to chill out and bring her emotions back to a place of peace. My middle daughter Ellie discussed this on her site and shared one of the brilliant songs: When You Feel So Mad. I look at angry Juliet in all her emotional sweetness, and I see a beautiful soul who is going to touch so many hearts. I let her have her anger – I let her feel and rage and cry. And then I pick her back up and bring her back to center. Because there is a big ole’ world out there and I need to help her navigate what is going on inside her soul and also what is going on outside in the world. As Zig Ziglar would say, sometimes we need a “check-up from the neck-up.”
So I love on my girls, I meet them where they are in whatever emotion they are in. And then we decide together how they can handle it in an effective way. Sometimes that means we need a firm pep talk on what “no, we are not getting fifteen candy bars” means, and sometimes it means we get extra hugs, some alone time, or a natural consequence for their actions.
How do you handle those perceived “negative” behaviors in your children? Do they have a song or routine they do to calm themselves down? What stories do you have about emotional outbursts in public?