People are often shocked to learn that we have four kids and when they make the wrong choice, we don’t punish them. I’m not kidding. We don’t ground our kids. We don’t strip their room of all their stuff. For our youngest, a preschooler, we don’t do time outs or revoke her precious TV time. We also don’t make (futile or otherwise) threats or throw out random consequences.
Just because our discipline isn’t traditional, it doesn’t mean our kids are spoiled, entitled brats who have no empathy or manners. This can’t be farther from the truth. Our connective parenting style, emphasis on natural consequences, and opportunities for do-overs means our kids are better off. We have clear expectations for our kids, which of course, they don’t always meet. When they screw up, as all kids do, we prioritize relationship and teaching them a life-lesson over punishing them.
I know some of you are reading this and thinking, yeah, right. After all, most of us parent the way our parents did, especially if we believe we grew up to be “just fine,” so our kids will too. I also know that it’s really, really hard to unlearn discipline and parenting styles that have been embedded in us since our own childhoods. But what if there is a way to guide our children that cuts down on the drama and creates a happier home? Oh, and raise kids whom others compliment for being empathetic, well-mannered, good critical thinkers, and more?
There’s a soon-to-be released book to the rescue. High Five Discipline: Positive Parenting for Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Kids by Candice W. Jones, MD, FAAP offers parents hope. Most of us know that empty and random threats do nothing but confuse us all, but we don’t know how to get out of our punishment zone.
First, let’s talk about what discipline actually is. Dr. Jones shares that if we consider who our favorite teacher was in school, we likely recall that teacher who was someone “patient, kind, understanding, positive, fun, happy, nurturing, and instructive.” We need to look at our discipline in terms of parents as teachers and our kids as students. What was more effective? Someone who lectured us, punished us, spoke harshly to us, or someone who encouraged us to do the right things using what she later calls positive discipline?
Alright, point taken. Sounds great, right? So if we’re a little more Mary Poppins and a little less King Triton or Cinderella’s stepmother, we’d have more success. But how in the world are we supposed to actually do this?
Dr. Jones outlines four disciplinary styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. Hint: the first style, authoritative, is the preferred style. This means “parents are equally responsive and demanding. Home life is like a democracy.” Children have some decision making power, they are seen and heard, and they know the limitations their parents have in place and are expected to follow them.
If you want your kids to “become caring, productive members of society and successful adults,” you need the five puzzle pieces of effective and positive discipline. These are: knowledge of child development and parenting skills, encouraging positive behavior, good relationship health between parent and child, managing the environment, and discouraging and correcting negative behavior. Dr. Jones does an excellent job describing each. I’ll give you a taste of what she means.
Unless we understand what’s age-appropriate for kids, we may have too high or too low expectations for our children. We set them up to fail (and for us to be very frustrated and more likely to punish rather than discipline) when we don’t understand child development. It’s also important that we have a supportive, friendly, honest, respectful relationship with our kids. It’s very hard to effectively discipline a child we don’t know well and who doesn’t feel we are a safe person to guide them. (These are also similar to the foundations of connective parenting, a parenting practice we’ve followed for years.)
The encouraging positive behavior puzzle piece emphasizes positive reinforcement. Essentially, you want to catch your child doing the right things and acknowledge such, which will foster “self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, self-determination, and “self-empowerment.” See where the is going? Remember, the goal is to teach and to raise kids to be good adults—not fix whatever is on your last nerve in the moment.
Discouraging and correcting negative behavior is another puzzle piece. Dr. Jones reminds us of something we know but have probably forgotten. We need to choose our battles. Frankly put, “You don’t have enough energy or time in a day to correct everything your child does wrong.” Stick to focusing on “deal breaker stuff” like behaviors “that are harmful and unkind.” She also wrote something profound: “water the plant, not the weeds.” We can use our attention, redirection, distraction, verbal and nonverbal prompts, and more to help our kids versus honing in only on the bad and making it our life goal to ground or threaten these things out of our kids. (This, ahem, doesn’t work.)
I realize this is a lot of info, so definitely read the book for more details.
Lastly, Dr. Jones asks us to consider managing the environment. She shares that “being a parent is upper level management” and we need to do our best to control the environment. One strategy she mentions is being “proactive, not reactive.” By planning, anticipating, and getting creative, as well as establishing routines and structure for our kids, setting family rules, and giving our kids the opportunities to make choices, we are being good managers and helping our children succeed.
It’s so much work for parents to constantly chase kids with consequences that don’t make sense, especially when these punishments don’t match the behavior. We can either spend a lot of time and effort trying to control our kids, or we can strategize and set our children up to do well in the future, while still maintaining their trust in us.