Thursday, February 10, 2011

Herrington Toddler Discipline Philosophy [Part 1]

1. (noun) discipline
a system of rules of conduct or method of practice

2. (noun) discipline

the trait of being well behaved

3. (noun) discipline

training to improve strength or self-control

4. (verb) discipline, correction

the act of punishing

5. (verb) discipline, train, check, condition

develop (children's) behavior by instruction and practice; especially to teach self-control

I had a pretty extensive conversation with my friends on our trip to Missouri and it challenged me to really think about where I stand on the issue of discipline and also to further discuss it with Peyton. I thought I'd share what we think at this point, for our reference later and also just in case anyone is interested.

First of all, I think that I came into mothering with an educator's view of discipline. I don't think that's good or bad; it is what it is. What I mean by that is that I feel like "discipline" encompasses a LOT more than just punishment. I think I see it differently from some parents in that to me it encompasses at least two additional things:

1. I think discipline has a strong teaching aspect to it. I don't feel like discipline begins at the point of punishment, but at the point of teaching the child right from wrong. Therefore, in my opinion, when we gently correct Ann Peyton or when we discuss with her the reasons why we have a rule (I hate "because I said so", but I know it's necessary at times; my mom was REALLY good at not using it), we are engaging in discipline. At my Christian university, we learned in our education classes that "discipline" and "disciple" both come from the same word that means "to teach". I think that is fascinating.

2. I also think of discipline in the sense that a great runner must have a strong discipline. He is putting himself through training and has to have a sense of self-control to do so. We are putting our children through training, too and while it's a lesson in self control for them, it is for us as well. In this sense, I think about how much the way we run our household is a part of our discipline philosophy. We try to run it in an organized, efficient way and in much the same way as the athlete I mentioned, we have set goals we want to accomplish. I don't want there to be arbitrary rules and a lot of us saying "no" without having a reason. So often, it may be easier to just say no, but there is a better way. For example the other day Ann Peyton was looking out the window and did not want to come eat lunch. Instead of forcing her into her highchair, Peyton just turned it around to another window and let her look out while she ate. It took some creativity, but it worked. Of course we are not going to pander to our child and there will be MANY instances when we HAVE to tell her "no". That is precisely why I think it's important to not do it arbitrarily and choose our battles.

I know that to a lot of people this discussion on the word is mere semantics, but to me it is important and it helps guide and shape my ideology.

Another thing that we do in our house is try to use natural and logical consequences as much as possible. For example, if you bump into a hard piece of furniture after you've been told not to run in the house that is a powerful teaching tool. [Obviously, we would never intentionally allow her to run into furniture, but if it happens it happens.] Or if you pull the kitty's tail, you may get scratched. And if you tear up your books, you won't be able to enjoy them as much. Clearly, we don't try to manipulate these situations and force them to happen (wouldn't that defeat the purpose entirely?), but we do try to allow them and also to draw attention to them as much as possible. I'm sure it goes without saying that there are some (many) situations wherein the consequences of an action are simply too severe and thus we have to choose another form of discipline (e.g. playing in the street).

Sometimes, the consequences are not natural, but they are logical. For instance, the other day she brought Peyton a book and started whining. He told her to say please and she said "No." and shook her head. We could tell she knew what she was saying and what she needed to say, so Peyton laid the book on the table and totally ignored her. She immediately said "peas!". Would it have worked to scold and spank her for her disobedience? Probably, yes. But I believe a logical consequence makes more sense. We don't punish her in the traditional sense if she throws a fit, but we do ignore it, because to us that is the logical consequence of seeking attention in a negative way. And honestly, I think it's more effective than scolding or spanking her.

Finally, one thing I TRY to do is to also use positive reinforcement and praise her when she does the right thing. That is another thing we learned in my education classes- being constantly negative and nagging can wear kids (and yourself!) down really quickly. Obviously, this can be taken WAY too far and some people don't think you should ever correct your children. When I worked at the Lab School (a little preschool that was on campus, primarily for the purpose of our field experience) we were instructed never to tell the children "no". We were not allowed to say "Don't run"; we simply had to say "Walk, please.". It was an interesting exercise and I think there is something to be gained from attempting to phrase things in a more positive way, but it's just not practical (or really beneficial) to do that all the time.

There is a lot more that I want to say, but I feel like this post would go on forever, so I'm going to split it up into a two part series. The second part will be less theoretical, but I wanted to start by sharing my foundation because that's where I started.


Cassie, Alex & Dresden said...

This is an EXCELLENT post Sarah Denley! We parent our son Dresden Grey much the same way (though he's a bit of a wild child, so there may be a little more outright "no!"s taking place, lol). I really enjoyed it; can't wait for part 2.

B said...

I'm really glad you wrote this. My perspective is exactly like yours -- great example from my mom, plus trained as a teacher -- and I've come to many of the same conclusions as you. Of course I don't have kids yet, so it's all theoretical. :)

I was fascinated by the book "Conscious Discipline" by Becky Bailey. It's classroom-oriented and secular, but I really like the approach of working on yourself before trying to help children learn how to behave. Even if you don't agree with everything, it's definitely worth a read!

Anonymous said...

SD, the more I read, the more I like you. :)

I agree wholeheartedly with this post!!

Carrie said...

I do agree that discipline involves more than just punishment. I feel like when we had the conversation that night, as great as it was and as much as I enjoyed it, we were all thinking on the fly and might not have articulated things the best possible way. This is a great post, and I think you are a great mom! :)

Amy said...

i agree with all the other commenters! this is a GREAT post!! so well thought out and articulated!!
i really, really enjoyed reading this and took away a lot to think about (and discuss with jeffrey). my biggest thing right now is being as prepared as possible. obviously, you can't predict how your child is going to behave, but you can be prepared for how you will handle certain situations if/when they arise. i don't want to just "parent on the fly" and discipline in the spur of the moment....i want to be purposeful and intentional in how and why we discipline. i can't wait to read part 2.