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.

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