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?

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