Sunday, January 31, 2010

Final Thoughts on Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline

I'll be the first to admit that Becky Bailey's Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline was not the easiest book I could have started with on my quest to read and write about a parenting book each month. However, I chose this as the first book of the year because I believe that the principles of parenting and the discipline skills discussed in it are foundational. This is also why I chose to do a chapter-by-chapter review of this particular book; it is important to understand these skills and the motivations behind them. In the future, I will probably not write about each individual chapter, but for this one, it was fitting. Thank you for your patience, and I hope you found the information helpful.

I understand that this book can be a difficult read. For many people, it is a complete paradigm shift away from punitive, fear-based parenting. The author focuses a lot on the psychological motivations, implications, and outcomes of both punitive parenting and the more positive methods she recommends. The book also focuses heavily on how to develop self-control and self-discipline in your own life so you can model appropriate behaviors for your children. I cannot emphasize enough how vital this is! If Becky Bailey's writing isn't quite your style, that's okay. There are many other excellent books out there that discuss a lot of the same ideas.

While I've read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline four or five times now, the next book I will be reading and writing about is one that I'm reading for the first time. It is called Dealing With Disappointment, and I've chosen it because I hope it will help me with some specific challenges I face with my oldest child. I do not plan to review each chapter of the book; instead, I will read it throughout the month and write a post or two about it at the end of February. In the meantime, I will be writing about other things that are on my mind. I hope you'll join me!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Understanding Child Development

Throughout childhood, children go through developmental stages that contribute to some of the behaviors that parents often freak out about. When parents assume that misbehavior is coming from a place of disrespect, they have set themselves up to overreact to typical development issues. As a parent, an understanding of child development is invaluable; not only will it help you understand where your child's behavior may be coming from, it will also help you determine whether a behavior is normal at your child's age or whether something more is going on.

Often in response to typical developmental issues, many parents yell, spank, bribe, blame their own feelings on their children, try to make their kids feel bad, focus on what their children aren't doing right, and assume their kids have negative motives for their behavior. But how parents respond to a child's behavior will teach him lessons that will impact him for the rest of his life, and the lessons that will be taught by the preceding responses are most assuredly not the lessons I want my child to internalize and take with him throughout his life. The skills discussed in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline-- composure, assertiveness, choices, encouragement, positive intent, empathy, and consequences-- teach integrity, respect, responsibility, self-control, cooperation, and compassion. These are absolutely the lessons I want my children to learn!

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to research and understand child development. I would also encourage parents to commit wholeheartedly to disciplining children in a loving, understanding, positive way. Yes, there are moments where it seems easier to punish. That's because it is easier to punish, to yell, to criticize, to spank, to lose control of yourself. Discipline is really about teaching, though, and that takes time, patience, and commitment. No, discipline is not easy, but we set ourselves and our children up for a lot of frustration if we convince ourselves that parenting is easy. I definitely do not want my children to be the products of the easy way out.

The final chapters of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline discuss developmental stages and some common discipline problems. I will not review all this information here, but I encourage you to read it on your own if you are interested. I will wrap up my review of this book in my next post with a few final thoughts as we close out January.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Discipline and Punishment Are Not the Same Thing

Why is it that so many people equate punishment with discipline? There are those who think that nothing has been learned until a child has been punished, but this doesn't make sense. If children don't learn without being punished, then how do they learn to sit up, crawl, walk, speak, identify colors and letters, read, do math, and so on? Children learn to do thousands of things without being punished, so why do we think that they must be punished in order to learn how to behave appropriately?

Discipline is about teaching, but punishments do absolutely nothing to teach children the actual skills they need to behave better in the future. How can you hold a person accountable for skills they have not been taught? Furthermore, if parents take care to actively, purposely teach their children the correct skills and behaviors, adding a punishment onto it is unnecessary, illogical, and can actually hinder the child from learning what is being taught.

Besides that, the "make 'em pay" attitude doesn't jive at all with Christian beliefs about Jesus and grace, so why are Christians often the first ones to defend the practice of punishment when it comes to their children? Yes, God allows us to experience the consequences of our actions, but this is not at all the same as punishment. We have received the gift of grace, yet we insist upon punishing the children with whom we have been entrusted by God.

Children, too, must be allowed to feel the actual consequences of their choices if they are to learn to be responsible for their actions. This can be hard for parents, because in the process, their children will experience painful emotions like anger, disappointment, and embarrassment. Notice that it is not the adult's responsibility to "make" the child feel those things! True discipline is painful, but not because the adult makes it painful; it is because learning from one's own mistakes is naturally not an easy, painless experience. You know this from your own life experiences, I'm sure.

Consequences definitely have a place within discipline, if the consequences are appropriate and are given with the intent to teach skills rather than to make the child feel bad. And no, "I'm gonna teach that kid a lesson!" is not the same thing as teaching helpful, real-life skills that will be useful to them in the future. ;-) Of course, there are natural consequences for certain things; these are consequences that just happen on their own. If you don't wear a jacket on a cold day, you get cold. If you choose not to eat your dinner, you get hungry later. That sort of thing. There are also logical consequences that can be imposed by adults. A logical consequence for coloring on the wall, for example, would be to have the child help clean the crayon markings off the wall and to put the crayons up or not allow them to be used unsupervised. A punishment, on the other hand, would be to spank them or send them to time out. I've heard people say that you have to spank kids to teach them that there are consequences for their actions, but that's just not true. Natural and/or logical consequences teach them that. When I mess up, no one spanks me to show me that there are consequences for my actions. I just experience the actual consequences and I learn from my mistake. That is what we need to help our children do.

There is a lot more information about how to use consequences effectively and how to teach kids problem-solving skills in chapter 9 of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. To me, it seems that the most important thing to understand is what I have basically written about here: punishment and discipline are not the same, and punishment and consequences have entirely different goals.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Throwing A Fit- Everyone Does It

'Fess up, adults. You know you throw fits sometimes. We all do it. We whine, we complain, we criticize, we judge, we call names. Some adults even hurt other people physically. The truth is, it is important for children and adults alike to learn how to handle frustration and disappointment. When children whine, scream, stomp, or otherwise throw a fit, parents have a valuable opportunity to teach them how to cope with disappointment. Think about it: when your child is upset, how do you tend to respond? Do you ignore their feelings? Make them deal with it on their own? Punish them? Or do you respond with empathy? How would you want someone to respond to you if you were upset?

What Is Empathy?

First of all, empathy is not permissiveness or a passive acceptance of misbehavior. Empathy is understanding what another person is feeling. When you empathize with your children, you are showing them that you care about their feelings and thoughts. Empathy also teaches children to recognize and label emotions and to understand how their feelings can influence their behavior. Additionally, when you reflect a child's emotions by putting words to what they're feeling, you actually help them move from using the more emotional level of their brain to using the thinking and problem-solving area. This is a great thing!

Responding With Empathy

The amount of empathy with which you respond is determined by a couple of factors. Calm parents are more likely to be empathetic, while upset parents are less likely. Also, if you equate your child's misbehavior with disrespect, you are less likely to respond with empathy. However, when you recognize that your child is having trouble handling disappointment or frustration, you are much more likely to be empathetic.

It is important to reflect your child's feelings and to make him aware of them. It is also important to reflect what you see, feel, and hear.
- Reflecting What You See: Focus on the child's body, facial expressions and posture. Describe what you are seeing- but do not do it sarcastically! "You are stomping your feet and your face is scrunched up." You will help him learn to regain control of himself if you will take a moment to help him become aware of how his feelings are driving his actions.
- Reflecting What You Feel: Do you feel frustrated? Then there's a good chance your child does too. To reflect what your child might be feeling, focus on his body language. Then say something like, "You seem angry," or, "You sound sad."
- Reflecting What You Hear: Listen to what your child is saying, then summarize it in your own words. This shows him that you're listening and that you understand what he's feeling.

Be aware of your intent when you use the skill of empathy. Sometimes parents may use empathy to "make" a child stop feeling or acting a certain way. But this is not true empathy. Also remember that empathy is not a tool to eliminate children's feelings; empathizing with them does not mean their anger or sadness will magically disappear. Feelings are a part of life, neither good nor bad, and we need to help children recognize and understand their feelings rather than insisting that they be happy all the time.

Anger and Tantrums

Parents often have a harder time being empathetic about anger than they do about sadness or happiness. But empathy is actually one of the best skills you can use to help your child gain control over his angry emotions and the behaviors that follow. When anger is ignored by parents, children learn to ignore their own anger and it ends up surfacing eventually in the form of nagging, criticism, and depression. When parents respond to anger by bribing, threatening, or spanking, a child is more likely to act out in violent ways when he is an adult himself.

All children have tantrums. This is normal. For that matter, even adults have tantrums sometimes! Most parents respond to temper tantrums by caving in, isolating the child, shaming, or spanking. Think about how you would feel if you were very angry or upset, and someone responded to you this way! Not surprisingly, responses like these do not help diffuse the situation or calm the child, and they can actually increase the frequency of tantrums. Instead of focusing on stopping tantrums, focus on helping your child move through them. Stay calm, empathize with your child, and reflect his feelings. Having you there to calmly help him through his feelings will help him feel safer emotionally and physically, and it will guide him toward self-control.

Empathy is Important!

Empathy is used along with the other basic discipline skills discussed in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. When empathizing with your child, remember that the situation is what it is, then help him through it. Empathy teaches children so many necessary life lessons, and it is truly an indispensable skill.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Positive Intent

This chapter of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline called my attention to one of the areas where I often fail to live out what I believe about parenting. I'll come right out and admit it: despite the fact that I know better, I often automatically assume that my child has negative intentions when he behaves inappropriately. In other situations, I am the person who usually speculates about the perfectly reasonable motivations that could underlie people's negative actions- but as soon as my seven year old misbehaves, I am assuming that he has all kinds of negative motivations for his behavior. Why?

Why is it so hard for me to remember that while his behavior or words may be inappropriate, his underlying motivation is probably not negative? A negative behavior does not mean there is a negative intent. I rarely take the time to look beneath the surface; I just want to squelch the inappropriate behavior now. As a result, I assign negative intent (he is just being selfish, or he just wants to get his way, or he is trying to make me angry), then I try to make him feel guilty. In the end, we both feel badly about ourselves and nothing positive has been accomplished. This is not my job as a parent.

Yes, children need to know when their behavior is inappropriate, but my job is to communicate this to my child without attacking him, and to teach him a better way. I am all too familiar with what takes place when a parent attributes negative intentions to their child's behavior. The parent makes the negative assumption ("He is just selfish!") and starts feeling angry. Then the parent uses words, actions, or tone of voice to punish and make the child feel guilty. Predictably, the situation escalates: the child becomes defensive rather than cooperative, and the parent becomes more punitive. On the other hand, if the parent attributes positive intentions ("He is frustrated and is trying to express that"), the parent stays calm and turns the situation into a teaching moment.

A lot of the time, children actually have positive intentions, but they simply do not have the skills to consistently communicate this in a more appropriate way. When my seven year old yells at his one year old brother for turning off the TV while he's playing a video game, his intention is not to be mean; he just needs to learn a better way to communicate that he doesn't want his brother to turn off the TV. If I recognize this intention, I can say something like, "You were frustrated that your brother interrupted you while you were doing something you enjoy, so you yelled. You may not yell at your brother. Instead, say, 'Isaac, keep the TV on,' or you can come to me for help. Try that now." This approach states the positive motive behind his behavior as well as the negative way he tried to achieve his goal. A limit is set and it is made clear that the behavior was inappropriate. Then a more appropriate way is taught. This is true discipline.

I need to focus on intent- not just my child's actual intent, but mine as well. Do I intend to teach or to make my child feel bad? Do I intend to move a situation toward cooperation or defensiveness? Do I intend to discipline or do I intend to punish?

Underneath it all, my real intention as a parent is to raise children who are patient, kind, understanding, and so on. Just like our children, parents often have positive motivations but choose negative behaviors to try to attain our goals. Positive intent doesn't justify negative behavior, though; I am responsible for learning a better way. I realize that this is an area where I struggle, and I am working on it by asking myself a few questions in moments like these: What is my goal in this situation? What is motivating my child's behavior? What do I want him to do instead? And how can I teach him a better way?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


After reading the chapter on encouragement in Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, I noticed that I almost immediately began discouraging myself. I tend to pay more attention to my weaknesses and what I am doing wrong than my strengths and what I do well. So when I read this chapter, I immediately saw the things I am doing wrong and I became discouraged. But then I remembered what I read in the beginning of the chapter: "The way you treat yourself is the way you will treat your children... If you routinely discourage yourself, you will unconsciously discourage your children." While it is not helpful to dwell on what I am doing wrong, it is necessary to be aware of what is discouraging to children in order to learn to be truly encouraging.

Some Types of Praise Can Be Discouraging

General praise like "You are always so sweet" can pressure children to live up to unrealistic standards; they may spend their lives striving to live up to an image of perfection, or they may act out in hopes that their parents will see them for who they really are. Praise that relies on value judgments ("good boy" or "great job") can create children who grow up and are constantly looking for feedback about whether they are good enough. Praise that focuses on what you think or feel about the child's behavior teaches them to seek approval. It can imply that you like them when they please you. Many people strive to win others' love by pleasing them; this is something I still struggle with myself. Giving praise only when a job is well-done teaches that accomplishments are what matter, when in reality, the process is just as important. Lastly, avoid praise that compares the child to others, such as siblings or peers.

Rewards Can Also Be Damaging

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers often use rewards such as money, candy, toys, or special privileges. Over time, though, such rewards either lose their meaning to the child or they teach the child to value things more than relationships. Rewards (and the other side of the coin, punishments) train children to please others- but do we actually want our children to grow up to become people-pleasers? I know I don't! Rewards also do not build internal motivation; they lead to children who do things because of what they'll get out of it (or because of the fear of punishment) rather than because it's the right thing to do. A few years ago, I read the book Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It is an excellent book about the dangers of rewards and punishments, and I highly recommend it.

Offering Healthy Encouragement

The first step to offering encouragement is to truly notice your child. Simply giving a child your attention is encouraging in itself. Then describe what you see, rather than judging. Be your child's mirror. Instead of saying "Good job," say something like, "You tied your own shoes!" When you describe what you see without assigning a value judgment to it, the child can then make his own evaluation of the situation. Additionally, when you help your child become conscious of his actions and let him make his own judgments, you are actually strengthening the frontal lobes of his brain. The frontal lobe can regulate the emotional part of the brain, so a person with a well-developed frontal lobe will be better at managing his emotions and calming himself. Obviously, this is an outcome most parents would desire!

Here are some guidelines for noticing children rather than judging:
- Start with the child's name or "you." Other good starting phrases are, "You did it!" or "Look at you!" Judging statements, on the other hand, generally start with general terms like "good" or "great."
- Describe exactly what you see, and be specific. Say something like, "You put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher. That was helpful," rather than "Thank you for being so helpful."
- End with a tag like, "That was helpful/thoughtful/kind/caring," or "Good for you."

Shine Your Light On What You Value
Giving praise is like turning on a flashlight in a dark room: The places you point your flashlight at indicate what you value. If you focus on your children being "good," you teach them to please others in order to feel worthy... If you accentuate your children's strengths, you teach them about their abilities. If you encourage their contributions, you teach them how important it is to share their gifts.
Here are some things you may want to shine your light on. Notice these things about your child and call attention to them using the guidelines above:
- His assets and strengths
- His efforts, progress, and accomplishments
- His contributions to others
- His willingness to cooperate when you set limits

As usual, there is so much helpful information in this chapter, and I simply cannot share it all here. If you are interested in learning more, please read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. It will be worth your time!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keeping It Real

I am awed, humbled, and occasionally overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising children. Parenting is hard work, and it is something that I do imperfectly on a regular basis. As I write about the books I am reading and my views on parenting, one of my biggest fears is that people will mistakenly believe that I have it all figured out, or that I'm judging other people. I'm not. The truth is, I fail regularly. I very strongly believe in certain things- like attachment parenting, gentle discipline, and applying my faith to how I treat my children- but I am nowhere close to perfect, and I mess up just like everyone else. Sometimes I am too harsh. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I am out of control. When I face my own imperfection, there is no room for pride in myself or judgment of others.

Although I realize I will never be perfect, I will continue to try to be the kind of parent I believe God wants me to be. My prayer is that the fruit of the Spirit will shine through in all areas of my life, including how I interact with, raise, and discipline my children. I will continue to move toward the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control spoken of in Scripture, and I will continue to speak out about parenting practices (especially Christian-endorsed parenting methods) that are not characterized by these things.

The reason I write about my views on parenting and the books I am reading is simple: I am trying to continually stay focused on the kind of parent I want to be. If I can encourage other parents along the way, that is wonderful. But my primary goal is to move closer and closer to being a parent who reflects the heart of God.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Giving Choices

Working With Free Will

How many times have you blamed other people for your feelings and actions? We have all heard parents say things like, "Don't make me tell you again," or "Look what you made me do!" Statements like these imply that the child has power over the adult. Of course, children are not really in control of how adults feel and act; we have free will. Parents, regain your self-control, take ownership of your own feelings, and stop blaming other people for what you do, say, or feel.

When you let go of the idea that other people can make you do or feel a certain way, you also need to let go of the idea that you can make other people do what you want. Our job as parents is not to force and manipulate our children; we need to teach them how to make good choices because this is a skill they will need. Children who have spent their lives being bossed around and threatened with punishment if they don't do what you say will grow up not knowing how to make appropriate choices for themselves; they will not know how to use their own free will. Some people actually advise parents to break their children's will. This is one of the most irresponsible and harmful things a parent can do to their child. Instead, teach your children to use their will appropriately. One way to do this is to give children choices.

False Choices and Positive Choices

Many parents give what Becky Bailey calls "false choices," where they give one preferred choice and one negative choice in order to coerce the child into doing what the parent wants. Positive choices, on the other hand, offer two options that are both equally acceptable to the parent. An example of a false choice would be, "Clean your room or you'll have no TV for a week." Clearly the parent wants the child to choose the first option, and will probably fly off the handle if the child chooses the "false" option of going without TV and not cleaning their room. In contrast, a parent giving a positive choice would focus on what they want to happen and then structure the choice to reflect that. "It's time to clean your room. You can start by picking up the toys or the clothes. Which do you choose?"

When giving positive choices, first you need to focus on what you want your child to do, then give your child a true choice by offering two options that are both acceptable. When the child makes their choice, comment on it in an encouraging voice. "You chose to pick up your dirty clothes first." This comment will make your child aware of his choice and will actually strengthen the frontal lobes of his brain. This is a good thing; the frontal lobes have the capacity to override emotional outbursts and are critical to self-control. Cool, huh? So much better than yelling or giving false choices!

When structuring choices, keep in mind the age and developmental capabilities of your child. For children under five, keep it simple by giving a choice between two things. Older kids can handle less structured choices. Some children do need more structure than others to stay on task, so always be aware of what your child is capable of handling at the time. Additionally, when children are overwhelmed or anxious, asking them to make a choice will only increase their anxiety. At this point, it is better to use assertive commands: "It's time to clean your room; start by putting the toys on the shelves."

Children Who Have Trouble Making Choices

Even as adults, sometimes we have trouble making choices. Children are no different. Those who have trouble making choices fall into three groups.

Those who refuse to make a choice: The child may be overwhelmed due to current circumstances, he may be the type who gets easily overwhelmed, or he may fear making a wrong choice. You can help by calling attention to the choices he does make, offer choices that involve being close to you, and modeling how to forgive yourself and move on when you've made a bad choice.

Those who resist the given structure: When given a choice between A and B, your child may choose C. All children do this occasionally, but those who habitually resist structure are doing so either for developmental reasons or because they have been taught this behavior. Young children go though a developmental stage called "individuation separation" where they learn that they have a separate identity from their parents. When children in this stage resist structured choices, it is because they are trying to figure out where they end and you begin. Other children may resist structured choices because they have learned it is an effective way to get their needs met. This can be the result of permissive parenting, failing to meet a child's needs as early as infancy, or serious family troubles. To learn more about why kids may resist structured choices and how you can help them, see chapter five of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.

Those who change their minds: This can be the result of stress, in which case they need assertive commands rather than choices. It can also be a learned behavior if the child receives more attention for changing his mind than he does for being cooperative.

In Review

Remember that children need to practice making age-appropriate choices; this is a skill that they will need for the rest of their lives. Your job as a parent is to give them positive, structured choices that will help them accomplish what needs to be accomplished, and to encourage them in their choice-making ability. You can do this if you remember to focus on what you want to happen and give choices that are truly acceptable. I encourage you to read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline for yourself; there is so much helpful information in the book, and I cannot possibly share it all here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Assertiveness: Saying No and Being Heard

Being assertive is often a struggle for me. Like many people, I tend to lean toward passiveness or aggression, depending on the situation and how I'm feeling in the moment. The ability to be assertive is important, though, and it is especially important as a parent. Assertive parents are able to set clear, firm limits respectfully- and they are able to teach their children to do the same. Passivity and aggression do not achieve this goal.


We've all heard passive parents interacting with their children. Most of us have probably been those passive parents at times. I know I have. In my experience, I often confuse being nice, gentle, and respectful with being passive- but these are not the same! When a person is passive, they are trying to please others and make everyone happy. In parenting, that often translates into being unclear, indirect, and powerless. Passivity in parenting looks like this:
- Asking a child to accomplish a vague task (rather than being specific). For example, "Be polite" or "Try to be nice."
- Asking questions about the child's behavior that do not communicate what you want the child to do. "Was that nice?" or "Is that what you are supposed to do?"
- Not following through on consequences. "If you do that one more time..." and then a few minutes later, "I'm warning you, if you do that again..."
- Giving power to the child. Asking questions like, "Are you ready for your bath?" instead of saying, "It's bathtime." Asking the child this question gives the child the power to say no.
- Blaming the child for your anger and actions. "Don't make me send you to time-out." "You are driving me crazy."
- Giving children choices when none exist. "Can you get in the car and put your seatbelt on?"
- Ignoring a conflict in hopes that it will magically resolve itself.

As you can probably imagine, communicating with children in a passive way is not very effective, results in a lot of frustration for both parent and child, and teaches children by example to be timid in setting boundaries and to let people walk all over them.


When people are aggressive, they are trying to win by making other people do what they want. Again, we have all seen plenty of examples of parents interacting with their children aggressively, and again, I have been guilty of this. Here are some of the characteristics of aggressive parenting:

- Making "you" statements that focus on the other person rather than the actual problem. "You are so rude."
- Speaking for others and wrongly describing their viewpoints. "You just want to get your way." "You're just making excuses."
- Using words like always and never. "You always make a mess." "You never listen."
- Viewing others as attacking you. "Don't you talk to me that way."
- Using empty, punitive threats. "Don't make me do something I'll regret."
- Imposing overly severe consequences. "No video games for a month."
- Physically responding out of anger by jerking or grabbing the child's arm, threatening to hit, or actually hitting/spanking.

Obviously, when parents model aggression in the face of conflict, they teach their children to respond to conflict aggressively as well. They also teach that it is appropriate to use physical force or disrespectful, shaming words to get others to do what you want.

The Passive-Aggressive Combination

Many parents, myself included, have been guilty of swinging from passivity to aggression. They start off saying things like, "Come on, honey, are you ready to go?" This is passive because they are not clearly stating that it is time to go and they make it sound as though the child has a choice. Then, when the child is not ready to leave and continues playing or says no in response to the question, the parent swings to aggression and says things like, "You get your jacket on right now or we won't come back to your friend's house to play again!" It would be so much easier to just be assertive, saying, "It is time to go home now. Say goodbye to your friend and put on your jacket."


Parents who are assertive are clear about what they want done, and they set firm boundaries. They do not passively give their power away, nor do they inappropriately use their power to strongarm their children. They are straightforward and focus on what they want to happen. Assertive parents do things like:
- State wants and needs clearly and simply. "Put your dishes in the sink."
- Match nonverbal communication to verbal communication. Children read our facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures. We need to nonverbally communicate assertiveness rather than passivity or aggression.
- Give children choices only when they really have choices. Rather than saying "Are you ready to go?" (which implies that the child has a choice in the matter), say "It is time to go, so put your shoes on."
- Give commands that contain usable, helpful information. Saying, "Was that nice?" doesn't tell a child much of anything that is actually useful. Be specific. "Hitting hurts. You may not hit. If someone pushes you, say, 'Stop! I don't like being pushed.'"
- Own and express feelings. "I feel angry when you interrupt me."
- Show respect for the child and enforce rules without teasing, embarrassing, or bullying. It is not assertive to say things like, "Why did you do that? Is that how we treat people?" Just be clear and respectful.

When parents consistently model assertiveness for their children, they will teach their children to be assertive with other people, rather than passive or aggressive. We all want our children to grow up with the ability and confidence to set firm boundaries and clearly interact with others. We do not want our children to grow up to be passive people-pleasers or aggressive bullies. At the end of the fourth chapter of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, Becky Bailey says:

Assertiveness is the main skill you will use to set limits for your children. Assertiveness is a very powerful skill that lets you set boundaries with others, and helps you teach your children to set boundaries. These boundaries model and teach the value of respect. In order to be assertive, you must use your Power of Attention, focusing first on what you want, and then expressing your desires in a forthright manner. In a family, in a community, in a democracy, each person must learn to be assertive and stand up for his or her own rights without trampling on the rights of others.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Discipline Skills in Action

Before we focus on each of the seven basic discipline skills individually, let's take a brief look at how these skills might come together during a discipline encounter. There are two types of discipline encounters: compliance situations in which you have a need, and teaching encounters in which your child has a need. Each of these situations will generally proceed through four stages and will require the use of the basic discipline skills. Remember, this is just the basic framework of a discipline encounter; I am not going to give a bunch of details and examples. These skills were discussed in the previous post and will also be discussed in-depth over the next couple of weeks. For a more complete explanation, please read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.

Compliance: A Parent's Need

1) You want your child to do something he isn't doing, or his behavior is inappropriate. Use the "powers for self-control" to regain composure if you are frustrated, then focus on what you want to happen and remind yourself that while you cannot "make" him behave, you can help him choose to cooperate. With that in mind, proceed calmly.

2) You set a limit and your child responds. Use assertiveness and/or choices to specify options that are and are not acceptable. Your child will then respond by either complying, resisting, or throwing a fit.

3) You react to your child's response. If he has complied, use encouragement. If he resists, assign positive intent. If he throws a fit, empathize.

4) Results. Encourage him if he complies, and utilize consequences if he is still resistant.

Teaching Conflict Resolution: Responding to Your Child's Need

1) He either wants something he doesn't have or wants others to act differently than they are. His frustration may show in behaviors like fighting, whining, complaining, or fussiness.

2) You turn the situation into a teaching moment. Use empathy and positive intent to transform his resistance and frustration into cooperation. Then it will be possible to move from his concrete demands to his actual needs. (Needs and wants are not the same, after all!) He will react in one of three ways:
- He may be willing to learn a new skill or problem-solving strategy
- He may resist your attempts to create a teaching moment
- He may pretend to cooperate to appease you, but he won't really follow through

3) You react to his response. Show him very specifically how he can get his needs met by using the skills of assertiveness and choices. Encourage him if he follows through. If he is resistant, provide a cooling-off period, then try again. If he is only pretending to cooperate, trust is lacking in the relationship and it is necessary to use the power of unity to strengthen it.

4) Your child's response. He responds to your teaching by learning and beginning to use a new skill, or he resists. Use consequences if he is unmotivated to use the new skill.

Getting Started on the Journey

I'll wrap this up with a quote from Becky Bailey:

The process of learning to discipline children with love is a journey. It involves letting go of old habits and being willing to risk a different world view. At the outset of this process, you must become aware of what you have been doing and honestly assess the effectiveness of your approach. Then you will need to diligently practice these new skills, forgive yourself when you fail, and celebrate your every success. This journey will greatly enhance your relationships and your life. The journey will take you from being controlled by others to self-control, and from shaming to teaching. It will take you from perfectionism to acceptance, and from resentment to forgiveness. Your personal journey from fear to love will change your life, and in the process, will change your children.

In the next post, we will discuss assertiveness. I hope you'll join me on the journey. :-)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Basic Discipline Skills

Being able to effectively discipline children requires certain basic skills. Most parents use tools like time out, removal or earning of privileges, and reasoning; some include spanking. On the surface, this looks like a variety of tools, but with the exception of reasoning, these all use the same technique: imposing consequences. While this teaches children to act a certain way to gain something or to avoid a loss, it does not teach them the specifics of what to do differently. Additionally, instead of using reasoning as a genuine problem-solving attempt, parents often use it to interrogate their child with the intention of making the child feel guilty.

It is necessary to develop discipline skills that will help you teach your children how to behave properly. Punitive, fear-based methods simply do not do that. This is where Becky Bailey's "Seven Basic Discipline Skills" come in. Each skill corresponds with one of the "Seven Powers for Self Control" (italicized in the following paragraphs) and teaches a particular value. I will summarize them very briefly here; each has its own chapter dedicated to it later on, so I will not linger too long on the particulars.

Composure: Parents need to live the values they want their children to develop. Therefore, it is vital that parents take responsibility for their own emotions and stay in control of their emotions. It goes back to perception; no one can make you angry without your permission. This makes it possible to stay composed and to be proactive, and it teaches the value of integrity. Because composure is actually a vital part of each of the other discipline skills, it does not get a chapter of its own.

Assertiveness: This relates to the Power of Attention; focus on what you want. Do not be passive (for example, pleading "Please stop jumping on the couch" over and over and never doing anything to actually stop it) or aggressive (yelling "Stop jumping or else!"). An assertive parent would say something like, "If you want to jump, go outside." If the child continued to jump on the couch, the parent would assist the child off the couch and point him out the door, showing him what she wants him to do. Unlike the passive and aggressive approaches, being assertive teaches respect; kids will learn how to respect limits, and from your example they will also learn how to set limits respectfully (without denigrating themselves or others).

Making Choices: Many parents use this as another way to manipulate, giving false "choices" like, "You can either clean your room or lose TV for a week." A true choice is structured to help your child learn to use free will and develop responsibility. For example, "It's time to clean your room. You can put the dirty clothes in the basket first, or you can put away your blocks first. Which do you choose?" You are structuring the choice so your child can make a true choice and the necessary work can get done. So much better than threatening, isn't it?

Encouragement: Rather than doling out empty, meaningless praise ("Good boy!") or rewards like money and privileges, give detailed praise that focuses on what has been accomplished and that calls attention to the child's contributions to the family. This corresponds to unity, and leads to children who will do things because they are helpful, contributing members of the family (instead of children who do things to gain approval or rewards). It also teaches the value of interdependence.

Attributing Positive Intent: Becky Bailey writes, "Your approach to your children's mistakes will shape how they approach mistakes for the rest of their lives. If you blame or accuse your child (by attributing negative motives to misbehavior), you teach him that his mistakes mean that he is bad. Alternatively, you can teach your child that mistakes are just that, mistakes. The skill of positive intent emerges from the Power of Love, which reminds us to see the best in one another. It also teaches that what you offer to others, you strengthen within yourself. Therefore, as you teach your children, 'To err is human, to forgive divine,' you will also learn to view your own mistakes more lovingly. As you attribute positive intent to others, you model for your children the value of cooperation. You are teaching them that negativity breeds resistance and optimism yields cooperation."

Empathy: It's important to combine empathy with the Power of Acceptance; "this moment is as it is." Empathy does not mean giving in to a child's disappointment over the reality of a situation (for example, having to stop what he's doing and go to bed). When you are truly empathizing, you listen to your child without attempting to change his feelings. This teaches compassion.

Consequences: It is important to remember that every conflict is an opportunity to teach, and consequences should be used for that specific purpose. This is related to intention. If consequences are used to instill fear, they punish. But if they are used in a spirit of love, they teach responsibility.

There is more to chapter three, but I think this is quite enough for now. I'll finish chapter three in the next post, where we'll talk about how to bring all these skills together in a discipline encounter, then we will revisit these basic discipline skills one at a time and really flesh them out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I know some people would read chapter 2 of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline and misconstrue its advice as impractical or permissive. If understood and applied as intended, though, this chapter offers very practical, properly-boundaried ways of gaining self-control. It cannot possibly be permissive, because permissiveness involves ignoring issues, and this chapter is about being in control of yourself so you can appropriately and lovingly respond to issues. Think about it; if you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, you are capable of being in control of yourself and being self-disciplined. Then you can effectively discipline children, because you will be teaching what you know. As we discussed in chapter one, you cannot teach what you do not know. Self-control is very important, not just in our relationships with our children, but in our relationships with other people. In this chapter, Becky Bailey discusses what she calls "The Seven Powers for Self-Control." I will give a brief summary of each of them here.

Attention: What You Focus On, You Get More Of

So many of us (myself included) are guilty of focusing on what we do not want in a given situation rather than focusing on what we do want. This shift in focus can make all the difference in a situation. While adults are able to make a connection between a spoken "Don't do this" and the unspoken "Do this instead," young children (under about the age of five or six) are not cognitively capable of this yet. Many of us say things like "You've made a huge mess, just look at your bedroom!" or"Don't hit your brother!" In those examples, we are focused on the problem, not on finding a solution. Instead, it's best to focus on the specific action you want your child to take. For example, "It's time to clean up your room. Start by putting the blocks away," or "Use words to get your brother's attention. Say, 'I want to play with you.'" If you're upset, chances are your focus is on what you don't want, and it is helpful to take a moment to shift your focus to what you do want.

Love: See the Best in One Another

In any given situation, you can choose to assume positive or negative intentions on the part of others. Unfortunately, in situations with children, it is common for parents to assume negative intentions. "She's trying to manipulate me," or "He's out to embarrass me." Once we've decided what we think another person's intentions are, we respond based on that. So if we assign a negative intention, we are more likely to respond with frustration, impatience, or anger, whereas choosing to attribute positive intentions will help us respond more lovingly and patiently. I will quote Becky Bailey here because I think she says it very well: "You assume your tantruming child is trying to make your day difficult or is just mean. You see intentional acts of meanness instead of innocent mistakes. Alternatively, you could assume your child is hurting inside, needs some love, or is misbehaving because she lacks better skills for getting what she wants. The choice is yours. If you choose to attribute positive intentions, you will feel peaceful inside and can use that inner stability to form your response. If you choose to attribute negative intentions, you will feel inadequate yourself and bring less patience to your handling of the conflict."

Acceptance: This Moment Is As It Is

Many times in life, we waste our time and energy resisting the way things are because we are overly focused on how we think things "should" be. It makes more sense to accept the moment and respond from there. Please understand that acceptance doesn't mean you approve of or ignore what is happening; it means that you are shifting your perspective and responding to the moment in a practical, effective way rather than freaking out because it isn't as it "should" be. It's not helpful to go berserk because there are crayon markings on the wall, for example. The moment is what it is: there are crayon markings on the wall. Okay- now what are we going to do about it?

Accepting the moment as it is has helped me in so many areas in my life. No one ever has everything go exactly the way they want it to or the way they think it should. I've noticed that when things aren't going the way I'd like, I can either waste my time fuming about it and resisting it and feeling angry and upset, OR I can say, "Okay, this is what it is- now what am I going to do within this reality?" Accepting that my reality is, in fact, my current reality has brought a lot of peace to my life.

Perception: No One Can Make You Angry Without Your Permission

How often do you say things like, "You are making me angry" or "That really made me upset"? The fact is, while another person or action may have triggered your emotion, you alone are in charge of your own emotions. You have become angry; don't blame your emotions on someone or something else. Own your own feelings and take responsibility for them. If you let someone else have control over your feelings, you have given them a measure of control over you, and you are no longer in control of yourself.

Intention: Conflict Is An Opportunity To Teach

Rather than viewing conflict as an inherently bad thing that must be avoided, view it as an opportunity to teach and to learn. If you see conflict as a negative thing, you are more likely to resort to blaming and punishing. Instead, look for a way to use the moment to teach important life lessons and skills. In a conflict situation, ask yourself what your intention is. Are you trying to make your child feel bad, or are you trying to help him or her learn and be more successful in the future?

Free Will: The Only Person You Can Make Change Is Yourself

I've already mentioned that other people can't "make" you act or feel a certain way because you are ultimately in control of your own self. Likewise, you cannot make other people act or feel a certain way. We all have free will. A parent's job is not to force a child to behave; attempts to do so will teach them that it is acceptable to try to force others to do things your way. We certainly must not abdicate our responsibility to guide and teach (in other words, to discipline), but we would do well as parents to let go of the notion that we can "make" children obey.

Unity: Focus on Connecting Instead of Trying to Be Special

When people are unified, they connect with each other and are more caring and compassionate. In a conflict situation, unity can be found if we are willing to connect rather than insisting upon being right. Ask yourself, "Do I want to be right or do I want to connect?"

I have plenty more I could say about these, but this post is already longer than I'd like it to be. ;) If anyone would like to start a conversation in the comments, feel free. I'd love to talk over these ideas.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Are You Teaching?

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline is first and foremost a book about developing self-discipline and changing your own perceptions, which will then change your responses. If your underlying perception of parents and children is one of war (these kids are out to disobey me and I must break their will because I'm the boss), this book will be a huge paradigm shift for you. (It was for me the first time I read it.) This book challenges parents to shift their perception to one of parents and children developing a cooperative, respectful relationship that is based on love and not fear. Chapter 1, From Willful to Willing, focuses on a few main points: discipline as teaching, fear-based discipline versus love-based discipline, and the role of misbehavior. I'll cover these topics and give you some of the thoughts I had while reading, but I encourage you to read the book for yourself. While there is some other information in this chapter, it is covered in-depth in the next couple of chapters, and really, in the rest of the book, so I will save it for now.

What Are You Teaching?

One question any parent does well to consider is, "What am I teaching?" In chapter one, the author reminds us that kids do not just learn from our instructions; they learn even more by watching how we treat or talk to them and others. Do we treat them with respect, kindness, and patience? It is unreasonable to expect children to do what we ourselves do not model for them. Becky Bailey writes, "You cannot teach what you do not know." The first step, then, is to discipline ourselves.

In fact, true discipline is about teaching; the root of the word is "disciple." You do not disciple someone by punishing or threatening; you disciple by teaching. Discipline is not just about changing an immediate behavior. The discipline methods we use will teach our children about interpersonal skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, self-discipline, and respect for people of all ages. Therefore, we must be aware of how very, very important our words and actions are. How we respond to children's mistakes, misbehavior, and conflicts will teach them valuable lessons that go far deeper than the surface behavior.

Fear Versus Love

For a long time, much of what is touted as child discipline has been rooted in fear. The foundation of fear-based discipline is the belief that we can "make" children obey. Bailey reminds us that many of the methods commonly employed by parents are nothing but control strategies that rely on manipulation, force, or fear.

In Christian circles especially, so many people think that the concept of original sin means that children are born as sinful beings who are out to control and manipulate us, and that we must swiftly and decisively enforce our authority and break their will. What a heartbreaking view of the parent-child relationship (and an uneducated view of child development)! It is hard for me to believe that God intends for parents to use fear-based discipline with their children, because God himself does not use fear-based discipline with us; he does not force, coerce, or manipulate. God loves us, and because of his love, we respect him and desire to obey him. Fear may "make" a person change their behavior, but love changes a person's heart. In the end, children have a choice to obey or disobey. As parents, then, our question should not be, "How can I make my child _____?" It should be, "How can I help them be more likely to make the right choice?" The first question is a controlling one that focuses on outward behavior; the second focuses on the heart.

Perception of Misbehavior

Now a quick word on misbehavior. Often, we are too quick to label things as misbehavior and then punish. In fact, misbehavior provides valuable opportunities for children to learn necessary life lessons. The way we perceive and then respond to children's behavior will teach them things like responsibility, communication, safety, the ability to have a meaningful "yes" and "no," and the awareness of needs and feelings (both their own and those of others). Let us not be so quick to punish in order to squelch a behavior; instead, let's realize that true discipline is not a quick fix. The discipling of another human being requires an investment of time, love, patience, and self-control, but it is worth it. In the end, I think most parents would agree that they do not want to simply control their child's outward behavior; they want to teach their kids how to be caring, responsible, and self-disciplined individuals. The behaviors we model ourselves and our responses to our children's misbehavior can help us accomplish this goal.

Questions To Consider:

What am I teaching my children?
What is my role as a parent?
How do I define discipline?
How do I perceive conflict and misbehavior?
Do I rely on fear-based or love-based discipline?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Before We Get Started

The first time I tried to read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, about three and a half years ago, I didn't make it past the first chapter. I wasn't ready for what it had to say. Because I was still steeped in the ideas that parents and kids were locked in a battle of wills from which the parents must emerge victorious at all costs (thanks a bunch, Dr. Dobson), I read this chapter with those lenses on and I truly did not get it at all. Thankfully, as God began to change my heart regarding parents, children, and the purpose of discipline, this chapter made so much more sense to me and I went on to read the entire book. And I'm glad I did; it is now one of my favorite parenting books.

I won't lie; I still struggle a bit with the first chapter, partially because of some of the terminology used. The Seven Powers for Self-Control, the Seven Basic Discipline Skills, the Seven Values for Living. Sorry, but that bit is a little too cheesy for my tastes. However, if we can look past those titles and see what is actually being said, we will get a lot out of it.

I thought it would also be a good idea to give a little information about the author, Becky Bailey. She has a PhD in early childhood education and developmental psychology, is the founder of Loving Guidance, Inc., and developed the Conscious Discipline program. Through her books and programs, she has worked to help parents make internal changes in order to more effectively parent their children.

My next post will cover the first chapter of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. Because this is a book study/review and I want to keep my posts brief enough to be easily readable, I will focus on the main points and will throw in my own commentary. By all means, check the book out and read it for yourself if you'd like to go more in-depth. ;-)

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline

Because I am so interested in families and parenting, this year I have decided to read one parenting book each month and review it on this blog. I think this will be a good way to keep me focused as well as share information that will hopefully be helpful or encouraging to others. This month I will be reading and writing about Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. It is an excellent foundational book for parenting and discipline (both self-discipline and the discipling of children). I hope you will read along on the blog and enjoy!