In writing about discipline, I know every child, parent, and situation looks just a little bit different. I trust that as your child’s parent, you know what he or she needs most.
For instance, my oldest daughter needs affirmation. As a momma with high standards and perfectionist tendencies, I need to keep realistic expectations and praise her efforts rather than her results. A little discipline goes a long way with her desire to please.
My second daughter thrives on snuggles and physical touch. Gently teaching her hard lessons while snuggling or scratching her back goes much further than using a heavy hand. What she needs is a firm voice within safe arms.
What are your children’s needs?
To see what discipline looks like in our home, I thought I’d share a story from just a few days ago that deals with our most common issue: sibling conflict. Take what you want, leave what you don’t. I’d love to hear your own suggestions for this sort of scenario!
The girls were half playing, half cleaning their room, when I heard a loud scream from the opposite end of the house. Usually, when I hear these screams I wait a moment to discern whether I should intervene. My girls, at ages 5 and 7, are getting to the point where they are able to handle some disagreements on their own.
This particular scream, however, was accompanied by sounds of crying and additional screaming; a situation requiring my involvement.
My first move was to gather my own self before handling the conflict. I’ve noticed that if I rush in to save the day, I tend to let my own emotions run the show, which never helps! I am learning to take a deep breath and say a quick prayer to invite the Holy Spirit to take over. It often sounds something like, “Jesus, give me wisdom and patience. I need your guidance through this.”
I took another deep breath before entering the room to assess the situation. One girl was in a mess of tears because she had been hit on the head with a toy. The other girl was screaming in short spurts in an effort to distract me from identifying her as the culprit.
A helpful strategy in these sorts of scenarios between my children is to separate them. When they are together, they get loud and defensive. When I address them one at a time, each girl gets the opportunity to be heard before I speak truth in love.
I sat with the crying child on her bed and instructed the other to go wait in the living room for her turn. I began by asking questions. Our conversation looked something like this:
Tears and sobs of explanation.
“Oh, I wouldn’t have liked that either. What could you have done differently?”
Emphatic declarations that absolutely nothing could be done differently.
“Would you like me to give you some suggestions, or would you like to come up with your own ideas?”
I offered up a few choices. She could do as before and risk similar results, move her things to a different location, or choose a different game to play altogether. She was pretty set on risking the consequences, so I let her know she was free to make that decision.
I spent a generous amount of time with this daughter calmly asking questions and discussing solutions. We hugged a great deal, and then I told her it was time for me to go talk with her sister.
Sister unloaded her own woes upon me, and I took the same approach as I did before. I held her, discussed alternatives, and talked about what needed to change about her actions. “If you are at the point where you feel like hitting is necessary, you need to separate yourself from your sister. You could play by yourself, or you could come get mommy. I will not permit you to hit.”
The two sisters reunited. There were tears, quick apologies, and the next game was soon under way. In the end, both felt heard and loved. Both ended up making a wiser choice.
For those of you who like a formula, here is the basic process I followed when I stepped into my children’s conflict. I:
Took a deep breath
Invited the Holy Spirit into the situation with a quick prayer
Separated my children
Spent time with each girl by:
Speaking truth in love
Affirming through words and touch
Left them to take responsibilities for their choices
When I take this calm and patient approach of discussing options as I affirm, things tend to diffuse fairly rapidly. I am simply present to coach them through a situation. Even adults need someone to hear us out and encourage us to make the wise choice from time to time.
Okay, this story turned out with a pleasant ending where further consequences weren’t really necessary. But what about real life, Amanda?
Yes! These girls get consequences! The good news is that because we have remained consistent, the consequences are becoming less frequent over time. To give you an idea of what that looks like, here are a couple examples of how we use consequences:
When my youngest was a toddler, she did quite a bit of hitting. Her consequence was to spend about 2 minutes alone in her room. When I came back, she almost always immediately collapsed into my arms with sobs of regret, but there were times she would continue to hit, kick, or pull hair rather aggressively. In such situations I held her still while calmly stating, “We do not hit. We use our hands for gentle touches.” While our family is not opposed to appropriate spanking, I quickly learned that spanking merely exacerbated her hitting. For parents in this ridiculously hard stage, I can assure you that it does not last! Your job is to consistently model appropriate behavior and redirect poor behavior.
My oldest recently broke her glasses, so I required her to pay $10 toward a new pair. $10 is a lot of money for a 7 year old!
Sometimes a toy is the root of sibling conflict. When the girls are unable to come to a happy agreement on how to play with the toy, I set it aside for a day or two and then let them try again. Just yesterday, I mentioned this as an option and my youngest immediately relinquished the toy in question to her sister.
My girls are responsible for cleaning their room, but sometimes they choose not to do it when asked. My response? “No problem!” The state of the room isn’t a problem for me, but it will be a problem for them if they want to watch tv or head to the park. In such a case, they must finish their task first.
Whatever the situation may be, my goal is to treat my children how God treats me. Full of mercy, love, grace, and truth. And when I blow it? I take responsibility for my own actions and we all ask for forgiveness together.
Later, when my girls make bigger mistakes, they will have found that I am a safe place. They will expect consequences, but they will never wonder whether or not they are loved. As parents, we need to be willing to step into the hard things and help guide our children to see the bigger picture.
What advice would you offer in this scenario? Where do you agree or disagree with this approach?
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