How To Discipline Kids Naturally For Life (Episode 268)
In our last episode on the Mama Says Namaste podcast, I had guest Kimball Lewis of Empowering Parents come on and talk about lying. It's a perfect opening to what, truly, is an effective consequence for our children that isn't just punishment, but an opportunity to learn a different approach. It's equipping our children with skills in their toolbox to navigate their own emotions and responses and step into personal responsibility for them.
The Goal of "Discipline"
What does discipline look like in your home? I know what it's like to be pushed to your max and be so frustrated. Sometimes, as your children are acting out, we're pushed to our own worst reactive behavior, and we don't bring our best to the conversation, either.
Have you ever just wished that you were the Zen Master who could always stay calm? 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). I'll go ahead and state right here, however - those "threenagers", while very patience-trying, are your first focus...before they get to those teens years.
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 you personally practicing and learning how to better connect with each other and guiding your child on what skills may best serve them in their lifetime.
Every Action Has A Consequence
I don't actually talk about discipline and punishment in our home. We talk about consequences of our actions. Our children know they reap what they sow in this life. And if it's a bad attitude and a victim mentality, that's exactly what will be affirmed in their life. We let them know at a young age what all they have control over.
There is a great article from EmpoweringParents.com on how to give kids consequences that work - it's broken down to 14 points. Here are the top six we discuss in depth in the podcast episode above. Give it a listen to hear our take and examples from our own parenting.
- Use consequences, not punishment (consequences help to modify a behavior vs. just berate them for what they did)
- Make consequences task-oriented (I love this idea to have a quick task for growth and redemption)
- Make them time specific. (Not keeping these open-ended, but giving them a clear explanation of start and finish for moving on)
- Make consequences related to the original behavior. (These are your natural consequences - you don't need to double-dip.)
- Don't cancel special events as a consequence. (If you're focused on learning and redemption, it's hard to redeem a super special opportunity, like that big event or Christmas).
- Consequences are about learning. (Like I said, a consequence is a natural effect of their actions, and if they don't like it, they can learn a new approach)
Love Doesn't Mean A Free-For-All
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….yet, 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 they may know 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 while back, 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.
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 smashed 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. (We all read "Atlas of the Heart" together this year as we learned about all the nuances of emotions).
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.
Time for an "Attitude Adjustment"
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 and other inspirational/motivational videos.
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! It's amazing how this creates a ripple-effect in your home. When one parent is mad/sad/anxious/etc, it can set the energy for the whole home.
Feel the Big Feels
My youngest was the queen of 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...and already has. 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 lay out a natural consequence for your child? How do you redirect them to a more productive/effective/healthy way of navigating a situation? Do you as a parent guide, forgive, and let it go so they can try again?
Be careful to not spiral into more punishment than learning. Don't bankrupt your child with so many "consequences" they can't get out of it. Keep the 6 tips in mind we discussed on the podcast, and ensure your discipline is about learning - for them and for you. They'll give you plenty of opportunities to practice being that "Zen Master", and, in the process, you all can learn together the ways to move forward with the most love, light, and joy, reaping the benefits of the good fruit we sow.