When I was growing up, I remember feeling like I had no choice but to do what my mother said when she used that certain authoritarian tone and shot laser beams through my skull with her stare. She was making me do what she wanted. My life was over. I might as well give in. I was no match for the stink-eye.
Wow, my mom was good.
I don’t think I’m ever going to be that good. So I’ve adopted a different approach.
Before I give you the details, I’ve got to make a disclaimer. There are probably as many successful parenting methods as there are children to raise. This method works for our house with our girls, but my sister, Mustang Sally, just groaned when she read this the first time, knowing it would never work in her house. She has a toddler that is motivated to behave through very different methods. I’m sharing our discipline technique to give you one more option to try in your house. Who knows, it might be just the trick you needed!
The Choice Belongs to Your Child
When my now-husband and I were engaged, we got some really good advice for child-rearing from a pastor friend. He said to teach children to “make good choices” instead of telling them to be “good”. The whole idea revolves around the fact that, from birth, these sweet, darling, little sugar-plums have free will. Granted, it takes a while for them to be able to discern right from wrong and purposely choose a course of action based on their conscience. But once your child hits that age (and you’ll know when it is), you’ve got to find a way to guide them into making those right choices.
I try to do this by emphasizing the choice part. I follow it up by talking about consequences. Here’s how it typically goes in our house: Let’s say our dear, sweet, Earth Angel isn’t eating all her supper (don’t ask me how it was so easy to come up with this example).
And then I let her decide. At this point in her 3-year-old-ness, it’s a 50/50 chance on which one she is going to choose. But if she makes a bad choice, she gets exactly the punishment we laid out. And the next time, you can bet she’ll have an easier time making a good choice. A note here: be sure to make the punishment something that isn’t just “worth it” for them to serve and be done with!
But what might be just as important to this example is what did not happen. There was no power struggle. You see, another option of handling this situation would have been to pull out the old staple, “You’ll eat what’s on your plate if you have to sit here all night to do it.” We’ve tried that. And HOURS later, she’s still got a mouth full of cauliflower, we’ve all missed bedtime, and nerves are very, very thin. While we might have gone into it hoping to teach our daughter that “Mom and Dad mean what they say,” sometimes I wonder if what she learned was, “Mom and Dad are mean.” And if I’m putting in that much effort and misery on my part, I sure don’t want her getting the lesson wrong.
Disciplining by emphasizing a child’s choice takes the power struggle away.
God himself doesn’t make us obey him. He gives us free will to do as we choose. And because He loves us so much, He sets up consequences for us so we can see the results of our actions. Making good choices equals good consequences; making bad ones … you get the picture.
So my challenge to you is, give your children the choice to obey or disobey (they’ve really got it anyway). Make sure you, and they, are clear there are consequences either way. And then sit back and see if it works. Hey, a chance at a peaceful dinner and well-fed child is worth the try, right?
Tell me, does letting your child know what punishment is coming if they misbehave work in your home? If not, what methods do you use to encourage good behavior?