Discipline is one of the toughest challenges of motherhood. One would think as a former elementary school teacher I know just what to do when my daughters misbehave. The truth – it’s all been a learning process. In the last five years I’ve learned punishment is just one element of discipline – and there is so much more. Problem solving, consistency, setting a good example and expressing love are HUGE proponents of discipline as well. In case you want to know how we do things in the Houston household, here is how we discipline our children.
First off – what’s the point of discipline?
The reason parents discipline their children is to ultimately teach the difference between right and wrong. In our home, we establish a set of rules that are clear and easy to understand. The girls know we have these rules in place so they are safe at all times, and also to ensure they grow up to be kind and respectful individuals. We’ve reassured both Annabelle and Ailey countless times we have rules and expectations because we LOVE them too much to let them grow up any other way.
What kind of behavioral issues have our children displayed?
We are blessed with two incredible daughters – girls who are strong willed and independent. The most common behavioral issues we have with Annabelle and Ailey are: not listening, hitting/hair pulling (Ailey), tantrums for not getting their way, and name calling. Neither one of the girls have ever been violent towards another child and most behavioral issues occur at home. With that being said, Annabelle has had a few instances where she was unkind to her classmates/friends, but more on that later.
When Annabelle was one year old, she had her first time out. I can’t recall exactly what she did, but she sat in a dining room chair while I counted out loud for ten whole seconds. After the time was up, we discussed why she was put in time out. Did Time Out work for Annabelle at 1? I don’t think so. Did Time Out work for Annabelle at 2? Absolutely.
We use Time Outs for both girls in similar ways. Annabelle usually has time out in her bedroom for 5 minutes (one minute per year) and Ailey has time out in a chair somewhere around the house or her bedroom if she’s throwing a tantrum. Both girls understand the reasoning behind Time Out – it’s a pause for everyone, a moment to calm down and possibly reflect on what she did to end up there. We often discuss the behavior enacted to result in a Time Out and apologies are always handed out if needed.
We are extremely consistent with Time Outs, especially at Ailey’s age. If we don’t give a Time Out for hair pulling one day and then give a Time Out for hair pulling the next, Ailey will never learn that the behavior is unacceptable.
The most valuable tool I took away from teaching is the use of a behavior chart for discipline (find some here). When we moved to Connecticut two years ago and were living with my parents, Annabelle acted out in a variety of ways. She mostly refused to listen to/was disrespectful towards my Dad for some unknown reason. We created a chart focusing on her day and not her behavior though. By giving her easy to complete tasks, such a brushing her teeth in the morning and eating her dinner at night, she was able to earn smiley faces.
In addition to the tasks, she had to be nice to others. A smile or sad face was recorded morning, noon, and night. If Annabelle was able to earn a certain number of smiley faces in a week, including smiles for her attitude, she could pick out a toy from the dollar store. In just a few weeks, Annabelle’s behavior had improved drastically and she was no longer disrespectful towards her Grandpa.
I used the behavior chart strategy with Annabelle again at the beginning of this year in a different way. Annabelle was not being kind to her classmates at school and bossing others around. For this situation, we implemented consequences instead of rewards for her behavior. Being kind is an expectation, so we weren’t going to reward a behavior she knows she is supposed to exhibit. Instead, if she was unkind, we took away a privilege: the television.
The first night Annabelle lost television privileges she threw a tantrum and sobbed herself to sleep. It was difficult for Annabelle to have something she loved so much taken away. Even though we explained she knew the consequences for her misbehavior, she thought she could say sorry to earn her privilege back. In her defense, apologizing works for a lot of situations – but not this!
Fast forward a month and a half, Annabelle’s kindness level had increased drastically. Not only is she being nicer to the kids at school, but she’s also been nicer to her little sister.
Find the Cause of the Negative Behavior
Kids often misbehave for a reason… and since we have very honest daughters, they’ll usually tell us why they do what they do. Getting to the root of the problem must be done on a calm day though. Annabelle later explained that she gets rude when she feels threatened by others. We are working on her talking through these feelings with an adult when they start to occur instead of acting out.
I’ve learned that including Annabelle and Ailey in the discussion about their negative behavior allows them to establish ownership over the situation. Our daughters are learning self-discipline and problem solving through this process.
Show Your Child “Loving Discipline”
One of the most incredible aspects of being a parent is discovering the true meaning of unconditional love. Whether you feel it or not, we LOVE our children at their worst moments. When they’re throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, drawing on the walls, or tormenting their sibling, the love is still there. We can’t always think before we react to a situation, but if you lose your cool, acknowledge your own mistakes. It’s important our children know everyone makes mistakes and that we DO still love them.
There is no such thing as the perfect way to parent.
I hope you’re not doubting your parenting skills at this point in life – because there is no such thing as the perfect way to parent. We are only at year six of parenting and I know the road ahead is long and difficult. My husband and I are learning as we go… and find it’s so important to reflect on everything, especially when forgiveness is required. We’ve told our daughters, “I’m sorry for…” countless times when we have overreacted to a situation. Moms and Dads need Time Outs too… time to reflect and process parenthood. Whether you believe it or not, if you’re trying to teach your children to be respectful, kind individuals, you’re doing an amazing job!