I wrote a few months back on why we don’t want to spank anymore. I felt — feel — convicted to stop spanking. But, we experienced a time of stress and difficulty (having a newborn) and, at times, fell into old patterns. I certainly spanked less, but I still spanked. It was, honestly, my default reaction when I lacked any creativity or careful thought. (And what does that really say about the discipline method, at least in my house?)
My problem was mostly threatening to spank. I’d get frustrated by what the kids were doing, threaten, then stop and remember I needed another way. I’d come up with another way and implement it, but the problem then became that I had made a threat and hadn’t followed through. I shouldn’t have made the threat at all.
Recently I’ve become convicted that I must not even mention spanking in my home anymore. I originally felt good if I “said” it, but stopped myself before doing it — progress, right? But it’s time to take it a step further and completely banish it from our home. I’m sharing this because I’m not perfect, I’m being honest in our struggles to move towards positive discipline, and maybe there are others out there struggling, too.
Why Positive Discipline?
When things go south here sometimes, it becomes a real power struggle. I hate to let it get to that point, but sometimes it just does. When it gets to that point, and we come walking towards them, they flinch…they are afraid we will spank. I can’t stand the idea of my children living in fear of being hit in any way. I think I would cry all the time if I thought someone would hit me for doing something wrong.
If they do get spanked, no matter how it goes down (even if we are 100% calm and loving and there’s lots of conversation surrounding it, which we strive for), they don’t seem to retain any message from it. They’re angry, they’re hurt. They yell “Don’t hit me!” and they fight us. It does not matter if we are completely calm and say, “You broke the rules, please come over for a spanking,” and gently lay them down — they will not submit. They fight, they cry, their emotions are a mess.
Why would I keep doing that to my children?
Some might argue that I ought to do it more, to “break” them of their attitudes. What does that really teach? Am I raising animals, or people? I really think that we treat children like we are raising animals, like we completely forget they will be grown adults, and expected to be functional and responsible members of society someday. We want them to be prim, proper, and in their place as children. Why?
(I read a comment this week from someone who is “blanket training” her 18-month-old. The concept is to place a blanket on the floor and put the child on it, and repeatedly put the child back on it every time they escape, continuing this for so many minutes at a time. They may or may not be given any form of entertainment to entice them to stay on the blanket. Time is increased until they will stay on the blanket for several minutes at a time. Then, you can take the blanket with you if you go anywhere and the child is supposed to be “trained” so they will quietly sit on that blanket anywhere without getting up or causing a problem.
I can see why some people think this is a good idea — it’s certainly easier in a doctor’s office or other public location if your child can sit quietly and still — but in my heart, this just feels wrong. Kids go through normal developmental phases and at certain ages, they don’t sit still. It’s not convenient, but, welcome to parenting. I think in a lot of cases having expectations that don’t match up with developmental capabilities really sets up frustration between the parent and child. Of course, I’ve also long thought that many modern parenting ideals are 1) adversarial, treating the child like your ‘enemy’ in certain ways, and 2) not at all in line with biological norms and needs. I could go forever about these two points but those are two other posts.)
Now, contrast this with a scenario that played out in my kitchen yesterday. The baby was asleep in the playroom, which is only 20 feet away. No doors. My oldest was in the kitchen, banging her spoon and being very loud with it. I asked her to stop, because the baby was sleeping and I didn’t want him to wake. She ignored me. I walked over and looked her in the eyes and asked her to hand me the spoon — intending to take it for a moment to get her attention and ask her again to use it nicely — and she refused, hiding it behind her back. I told her if she gave it to me so I could talk to her she could have it back, but if she continued to fight she would not get it back. She moved away from me and tried to keep the spoon from me. I took it and would not give it back to her. She was upset, but she continued to talk about this for hours (on and off) and explain that she should not have banged it. She did not bang it again when she had spoons for other meals. Clearly, something about this stuck with her.
I often think about what I want my children to remember. Now, as a child, I was spanked a few times. Very few. And those times it was done very calmly and reasonably and I was never afraid of getting hit when I did wrong. I don’t recall spankings as a fearful or negative thing. What I do recall is that my dad (specifically) had very few rules that were hard-and-fast, and those were generally safety rules. When we broke the rules, he meted out discipline quietly and immediately. I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike without a helmet, and the one time I did, he caught me and took my bike away. I remember it being very fair and this is in my head as an example to reach towards.
Ben, on the other hand, was not very close to his father growing up, who, at the time, was under a lot of stress — starting a business, working 80 hours a week, and raising two small children. His parents are a bit the old-fashioned side anyway, believing strongly in Christian child training. As a result he did not always think they were very fair, and he has a few negative memories.
I think very carefully about what I want my children to remember.
I want them to remember that I disciplined them and that it didn’t always make them happy — at least, not at the time. I don’t want them to think that I was unfair, though (at least not most of the time — I’ll never be perfect!). I don’t want them to think I was mean. I definitely don’t want them to feel detached from me and like they don’t trust my counsel and guidance when they are teens and need it most!
As they age, I want them to feel they can trust me, that we have a solid relationship, that I have been as fair to them as an imperfect person can be, and I want them to believe my advice and counsel when they are truly beyond the point where I can bend them to my will — though I’m honestly not sure I truly can now, not through force anyway (tricking them still works sometimes…lol). I have to prepare them for that now.
My daughter asked me the other day while I was cooking — “Mommy, will you train me how to make Strawberry Yum Yum Yum?” (Ignoring that she added the extra ‘yum,’ which was adorable…) She asked me to ‘train’ her to do something. She wants my training. I did not use the word in reference to this activity at all, she came up with the phrasing on her own. She enjoys, expects, anticipates training. And it’s crucial that I do train her.
True training takes patience and love and care. “Training” is not the same as “punishment,” which is what spanking is.
When my daughter snatched a pen out of my son’s hand, I stepped in to referee. I asked her to give the pen back to him immediately and to ask him for it nicely. She complied, although grabbed it from him again as she was asking for it. We walked through the steps again, having her allow him to take a turn with the pen and then ask for it nicely. That is training.
Training the Parents
Children aren’t born with manuals. I’m pretty sure now that there are no parenting experts out there at all. There are interesting ideas and pearls of wisdom to be had, and there’s much to be gleaned from listening to those who have been parenting longer than you have (and I frequently listen to some of the women I serve with at church tell me their experiences with their slightly older children for this reason), but every parent-child pair is different and every single child-rearing is a new experience, and there is no possible way to tell someone the exact ‘right’ way to raise a child.
(Of course I also think that the world around us in general is completely and entirely subjective at its very core, and that we are really rather stupid in constantly striving for objectivity.)
So, it’s time for some training for us.
We need to change our own habits and reactions. We need to remember that our children are not trying to drive us crazy. That they require constant reminders and will always forget things (hey…so do we!). That they are imperfect beings. That they require grace. That they go through normal developmental phases. They they love us and depend on us.
We have a plan:
- Look up ‘normal developmental stages’ and make sure we know “what’s normal” for any given age or stage, so that we know that behavior that may frustrate is completely typical, and we are not the only ones dealing with it. It’s easier if we know it is a ‘phase’ rather than something particular to that child that is ‘abnormal.’ We’ll post these reminders to our fridge, if we need to.
- Brainstorm appropriate, natural consequences or referee-ideas for common situations that occur in our home, and post that to the fridge. Then, if we’re feeling overly frustrated we can take a time-out to look at this sheet for ideas on how to handle the situation before we say anything we shouldn’t. This could possibly take the form of a “discipline chart” for the children to read when they are older, if that ends up being an idea that works for our home — I don’t know yet.
- Remind each other to remain patient, taking over discipline from the other when necessary. Another time, Daniel was repeatedly refusing to listen to instructions, even screaming “NO WAY!” at us sometimes, and Ben was getting very frustrated (about to take Daniel up to his bedroom). I stepped in, picked him up, spoke to him quietly for a few minutes, and he complied with our request (which happened to be to sit down and eat). Sometimes I’m frustrated and Ben takes them. There’s a reason it takes two parents!
That is where we are now. I’m hoping for a more positive, family-centered home than ever, where we all strive to make each other happy, and where the children are all constantly learning new and better ways to treat each other and people outside the family, through the example we provide. I want love and happiness to flow through us as much as possible. Although I am not, and never will be someone who thinks children should never be sad. Sometimes the answer is no, and a child will cry. Hug them, accept their disappointment, don’t give in, move on.
(Final side note: Jacob is a really easy baby but I have a feeling he’ll be my hardest teenager. Ask me in 15 years! But the older two are generally flexible and energetic and very social, and were somewhat frustrated and clingy as babies — especially Daniel — but have gotten so much easier with age, now that they can do stuff for themselves and they can both talk to us. Jacob is not very flexible, does not like surprises or a lot of noise/chaos, and somewhat reserved. I could see that being very difficult when he is older, the inflexibility and reserved parts, mainly! Just depends on if he changes and how we do in parenting him. It really remains to be seen because honestly he and Bekah are more alike than either is like Daniel, so maybe he’ll turn out like she is — chatty, friendly, just requiring his own terms.)
Those are my parenting thoughts for today!