On Discipline


I’ve had some time this week to reflect on discipline.  Not because we’re at a stage where this little cutie

needs to be disciplined, but because I’ve been working on my La Leche League leader application and one of the things I have to do is write about my understanding of the 10 concepts that make up LLL philosophy, the 10th of which is:

From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

I really love this concept.  While in New York, I spent quite a bit of time talking to one of my friends, who has a toddler, about discipline strategies.  One of the things I took away from our conversations was the importance of first asking yourself if the child in engaging in age-appropriate behavior, then deciding on your response.  (As in, is it normal for a ten month old to throw or drop food on the floor at a restuarant?  Yes.  How about for an eight year old? No.)  Different age-based abilities require different responses to the action, and it definitely does not make sense to expect a child to act like a miniature adult.  Babies, children, and even teens are not mentally capable of acting like adults in most situations.  As Nora grows into her toddler-hood, this is something that I really want to keep in mind – so that when she throws her first temper-tantrum in the middle of Stop & Shop I can calmly respond (to something that happens to every parent of a toddler), instead of freaking out and acting out of embarrassment or frustration.

The second part of the concept is very important to me as well, but may present more of a challenge, especially with a younger child who is less able to verbally communicate.  How to you make sure a three-year-old knows you understand her feelings when you are putting her in a time-out?

Just as I was thinking about how I might apply that principle to my parenting (and how to write about it), I saw a really interesting article on NPR.com about parent-teen relationships and managing teen “drama”.  At one point, the article talks about how to stay cool and discipline a teen who went out and wreaked havoc on the neighborhood with friends.  Psychologist Laura Kastner says

the first line of defense for parents is to stay calm. Tell the teen to just go to bed and that you will deal with consequences tomorrow. Ask them to write a note of self-reflection — about their regrets, why they went off track, what they would do differently if given another chance, and what skills they might need to avoid the situation in the first place.

Kastner suggests even writing a letter of apology to the host family, the family that got shaving-creamed, and maybe even the police officer who wasted his time responding to the incident. Based on the quality of this self-critique, Kastner says, parents can then determine discipline or consequences.

“It will be small, medium or large, based on the quality” of the self-critique and how much the parents believe their children learned from the mistake, she says. Parents might even have the teenager suggest their own discipline.

That is the kind of parent I want to be.

Chris and I have had a lot of conversations about parenting strategies and techniques.  We are in the unique situation of having siblings much younger than us (13 years), so we’ve been able to observe our parents not just as the subject of their parenting, but also from a third person perspective.  And, to be honest, there are a lot of things we would do differently – sorry, moms and dads.  (Of course, since we were both first children, I’d imagine there are a lot of things our parents would do differently now, too.)   I don’t want to be freaking out about things that baby or toddler Nora can’t control and I don’t want to end up having screaming matches with my teenager.  I want her to understand why things are (or aren’t) happening and I want to engage my child in her own growth and development.  I never want to dictate blind commands from high because “I’m the parent and you’re the child.”

I’m not sure yet what all that means on a day-to-day basis, but luckily, we still have plenty of time to figure out how to get there.  For now, we’re going one day at a time, and absorbing as much knowledge as possible from people who have gone down this road before us. And anyway, right now, it’s hard to imagine she could do anything wrong or “bad” at all.

Unless coveting Mr. V’s truck counts.

Though shalt not covet thy neighbor’s toy, Nora.

Or playing with Pip’s food and water bowl counts.

She loves to put the food in the water (when there’s food there), dump over the water bowl, and, yes, I’ve even pulled dog food out of her mouth.

Or harassing the dog counts.

Luckily he loves this.

It’s a good thing she’s so gosh darn cute.  I mean, how hard is it to be sensitive to  someone’s feelings when she looks like this?

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6 responses

  1. Ironically, there is an ad for Once-Daily ADHD Medicine at the bottom of this blog entry right now.

    1. Oh, ugg! You know, I forget about the ads because I can’t see them. Eventually I want to get a domain so I won’t have that problem.

  2. Amber, Mim forwarded this to me and I’m so glad she did. Your reflections are so thoughtful and well-intentioned. Nora is fortunate to have such a mature set of parents. Keep up the good work!
    The pictures of Nora are cute, cute, cute!
    Your Auntie, Leslie

  3. It’s so fascinating to me how my peers parent … so many of my friends are parents or are soon-to-be and it honestly freaks me out but at the same time, I love learning from you guys! I love this blog! 🙂

  4. aria’s new thing is trying to stick her hand in the VCR, hitting us in the face, and saying “no”….. it’s kinda crazy. but when we tell her no, we try to explain why. I know she won’t always understand it, but it’s a good habit to get in to for us, so we won’t be the “i’m the parent you’re the child” people : )

    1. Oh my gosh, Nora just started doing that too – she puts her hand out and and says “Nah!” when you’re trying to give her food she doesn’t want or sometimes for kisses. It’s kind of funny.

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