Discipline without Fear

We were at the grocery store, and it wasn’t the greatest day for Ms Drama. She did not want to sit in the cart, she wanted to walk. So she spent the entire time in the store hanging over the side of the cart and whining about how everything was wrong with the world.

When we finally got up to the check out counter, she dropped her sippy cup on the floor for the third time, and her daddy picked it up and said in a serious voice “If you drop the cup again, I will put it away in the diaper bag.” Ms Drama nodded and took the cup, and I was smiling to myself when I happened to notice a Mennonite family waiting in the next line. The five small children clustered silently around their mother. A little girl clad in a dress and head covering stared at Ms Drama in fascination, the little boy stood with his mouth hung open.

Suddenly I remembered how many times I had been a little girl standing with my parents in a public place. Working to keep myself quiet and solemn and alert for the next order from my father. If I wasn’t paying attention and failed to obey quickly my parents would get angry, and our large family would look bad to the people around us.

My parents used to point out children who behaved like my two year old, “see what happens when parents don’t care enough about their kids to spank them?” or “It’s too bad that family doesn’t know the Lord” and “They can’t understand the joy they would get from their kids if only they knew how to discipline”. I grew up under the impression that anyone (no matter what their age) who was not practically perfect, could not possibly be “a real Christian“.

When our behaviour in public was complimented by some well-meaning person, I remember my parents thanking them, and then later telling us that our family was a Godly witness to what families could be if only everyone did it like we did. I don’t remember being thanked or praised for good behaviour, it was all attributed to the “success” of “godly parenting”. As child I was so afraid of letting God and my parents down by my misbehaviour. And it showed in parenting my own children.

At that moment in the store, I realized that almost 2 years after breaking out of punitive parenting, I’m no longer fighting the urge to care what other people might think. I don’t have that pressure in the back of my head thinking that everyone is watching to see how our family is going to fail, just waiting to see a reason to attack people of faith. I just parent in public the same way I parent at home.

I don’t worry that other people might think that I am being a permissive parent if my child is whining. I don’t have to worry that someone might see and report what they think is too harsh, because I don’t use harsh parenting methods any longer.

I am getting better at being attuned to my children’s needs. I am learning to speak to them with respect. I am able to enforce boundaries and rules when something happens, without threatening a spanking in the car or “when we get home”. I still have my moments of frustration when people roll their eyes as I walk in with 3 small children and a large pregnant belly. I still have embarrassing moments, like when we walked to our table in the restaurant and one of our children failed to follow us the 10 feet to where we were sitting down, and then screamed because she thought she’d been left alone in a strange restaurant.

But for the first time, I am finally confident in the way I discipline my children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04738076740941616678 Rebecca @ The Road Home

    Yay! I'm finishing up my day at work – and honestly I can't think of a better way to stop my day! You are beautiful example of awesome parenting. Keep it up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    …this is good to remember- just because we are 'church people' and yes- others might judge the Church by our behavior- what matters is family relationships

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    I remember my parents doing some of what you mention with regards to threatening with a spanking or a swat on the bottom in public. But what they did in public was nothing compared to what they did in private.

    And the justifications! Wow…it just floors me. I think I am more floored that they have the audacity to state out loud that they believe they are "godly" people and then to top it off for it to be because of what they did to discipline…it's just something I can't imagine doing myself. With my focus on humility the last couple years of my life…I would just have a real hard time feeling comfortable doing that (even if I felt it was true).

    I'm so glad you are feeling good about your discipline and parenting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14659411240699818388 rachel

    Okay, it's been an emotional day and I just put the kids to bed early and am laying down myself 'cause I just can't handle it all – and I feel like I will NEVER hit that point! That I will always worry, that despite my best intentions I will push performance based discipline and performance based rewards on my children. I yell, I'm so frustrated. I ignore them when it's all too much and I see them not obeying right away (they are 1 and 2 HAHA) and think about how people will think badly of me. Again. :) You gave me hope, thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13059918466503894975 Leigh Ann

    This is so encouraging to read. I get so frustrated in my attempts to change. Thanks for laying it all out there.

    Do you have any words of wisdom for how you enforce boundaries and rules? I keep finding myself resorting to "breathing out threatenings".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Michelle- It is pretty crazy now that I look back on it. Of course as a child it all seemed to make perfect sense.

    Rachel- (((Hugs!))) Believe it or not, it’s been an emotional day for me too, today it was just more connected to self-doubt then to discipline measures. I’ve reached the point where I feel I am making the right decision in choosing gentle discipline (for a long time I was so scared worried that I would “fail” and prove all the advocates of punitive parenting right!), but that doesn’t mean that I’m never at a complete loss at what to do in a given situation! I still yell (actually I yelled today), and I still have my “blink” reactions to things that my kids do. But I’m starting to feel like gentle discipline really does work, and that it is worth the effort. Oh, and for the record, I consider 18 months-3 yrs old my hardest age to cope with so far. Babies I can handle fine, and after 3 they are capable of communicating so much better! But that toddler age is rough! They are so sure of what they want, yet they have no real way of telling you and zero patience to wait while you figure it out!

    Leigh Ann- I have some strategies I could share, as well a few more books that have been very helpful! I would hate to go on and on about this topic if it’s only interesting to me, but if you would like to hear some of the ideas that have worked for us I can certainly try to put something together! ; )

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13059918466503894975 Leigh Ann

    I would love to hear more. I am reading all I can, and once I am allowed to check out books from the library again (must pay fines) I am going to read some more. I don't want to threaten and manipulate, but I do need some cooperation so we can just get everyone in and out of the store in one piece!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08863579550620358675 Jill

    Hearing you say that you are finally confident in the way you discipline your children makes me do a happy dance!

  • Rebecca in CA

    Hooray for you! I think it took me about two years, too, to really relax…and what a huge relief it was! Rachel and Leigh Ann…I still sometimes struggle with the desire to threaten punishment, etc., and every once in awhile something ridiculous comes out of my mouth, but it very quickly feels really absurd. I recommend continuing to read really good books; get lots of positive ideas rather than just "don'ts". As for a one and two year old…I had to learn the hard way with my first, but now, with my fourth child now almost three years old, I have really learned that obedience comes in stages and you have to respect that for it to unfold as it should. I am absolutely convinced that people who try to force their toddlers to "obey" are directly training disobedience and defiance, though they might be able to punish it out of them at least in a surface way.

    Anyway, the natural stages are described by Maria Montessori and I've found her description to be very accurate. Little ones often like to do what you ask them, and it's great to use those opportunities. You can also be encouraging by offering a choice, talking about what will come after, making a game. Make it easy for them to want to, in other words, in that first stage where they can obey when they want to. But don't force the issue. If you keep that good, trusting relationship going, they will gradually grow into the ability to do something because you asked, even though they don't feel like it–at first sometimes, then consistently. My ten year old is really at that point and trusts I will be reasonable; my eight-year old is a very intense personality and has rough times but is normally wanting to please; my five-year-old is mellow and forgetful but usually wants to comply when there is a need. My almost three year old I have never punished but she, like the rest, is mostly happy to please and to fit in, and is a totally fun little person.

    …but one thing you really become free of is the necessity of thinking that obedience is everything. I really do think obedience is a good thing and aim to help my children along in this regard but now it is just one little aspect of how I think of my relationship with them, and it doesn't rule my thoughts the way it used to. And I just enjoy them so much more!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09971244496160164955 Musings on Motherhood and Ministry

    Yay! Nothing more to say than that, hope it says it all :-)

  • TealRose

    I am a 56 yr old grandmother who was spanked, and it ruined my childhood. LONG story.

    A few GOOD things that my 'spank happy' mother taught me were:

    Be different, you don't have to be one of the crowd.

    Don't be a lemming – and follow another mindlessly off that cliff

    And … don't care what others think, do what is right.

    So – I never spanked my children, and they are great adults. I don't follow others blindly, so if I read something or was told something that really felt wrong, like spanking a child, a baby, etc I never did it!

    And I took NO notice of other 'holier than thou' parents.

    How can a child be hit in the name of 'discipline' which means to teach, when and adult may not be, even a criminal, and neither can an animal!

    I find it just SO sad, that anyone would think that a child would learn anything but fear, anger, resentment and hatred from being hit. I know I didn't …

    Thank you for such gentle sentiments!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13059918466503894975 Leigh Ann

    Thanks for the perspective, Rebecca.

  • Anonymous
  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    truthfully, when i see a kid acting out, i look for the parent to address the issue and to follow through on the discipline (spanking or not). following through does more for reinforcing rules and showing good parenting than a kid behaving or not behaving does.

    one of the things that irritates me is when parents tell their child that "x will happen if you don't start doing y" and then x not happening. it makes me even angrier when parents just ignore the behavior.

    (and seriously, i agree with you on not spanking your kids.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15991265512226039592 Like a Child

    This post warms my heart. I am still battling internal emotional battles for not spanking and feeling like a bad parent for that. I've bookmarked your blog!