Discipline can be a tough subject to discuss. Our parents and elders often think there is one way to discipline and one way alone. This one way usually involves spanking which I am occasionally guilty of myself. “I was spanked and I turned out fine.” This is what I hear from a lot of people that are pro-spanking and it doesn’t really make much sense. Just because someone turned into a productive member of society, doesn’t mean that there are no harmful affects from spanking. It also doesn’t mean it should be acceptable to show violence or aggression to a young child as a means of discipline.
I was spanked as a child, so when I had kids, I really didn’t know any better. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about gentle discipline for a while, so I created some habits in myself that I don’t really like. Isn’t it silly to spank your child for hitting another? That doesn’t teach them to not hit, that ACTUALLY teaches your child that we hit when we are not happy with someone else’s actions. Just because you have used spanking as a form of discipline does NOT mean it is too late to try gentle discipline. It is never too late to try something new! When we know better, we do better, right?
What exactly is gentle discipline? Gentle discipline is all about having empathy, respect and compassion for your child. Children are tiny little people with feelings and emotions that should be recognized and nurtured. It is important for us to help our little people grow into amazing BIG people and we can use these tools to help us get them there.
- Focus on the importance of safety and trust: We want our children to know that we are always there for them. If they fear us or fear a punishment that they may receive, we may miss out on important things that happen to them. They could feel afraid or ashamed if we are not always open, gentle and kind in our reactions to their mistakes.
- Be a team: No two children are the same, nor will they require the same type of gentle discipline. Know each child’s needs and feelings to discover what works best for them. Let them know that you are in this together to help solve the problem. Don’t assume what will work for child A will work for child B.
- Find new ways to say NO: “No” is really overused and this causes its meaning to lose importance. We want “No!” to be a word that will stop your child in their tracks when they are about to do something that is dangerous like run out into the street or touch a hot stove top. Try saying, “Let’s go do XYZ.” or “Why don’t we ABC instead?” This will redirect your child rather than startle them.
- Talk about YOUR feelings: If your child is throwing a tantrum or hitting, tell them how their action is making you feel. Instead of saying, “You are being a bad boy.” try saying, “When you throw a fit in the store it makes me sad because we will have to leave and not get all of our groceries.” Your child is not a bad child, they are just displaying less than desirable actions. If a child thinks that they are “bad”, they will continue to do “bad” things if they believe you have low expectations for them.
- Show empathy: It’s easy to get frustrated with a child who is whining or misbehaving, especially if you are in public. Most of the time, the child is probably hungry, tired, or just plain over-stimulated. Get down on their level and let them know you understand. “Mommy knows that you are hungry. I am ready to eat, too. Let’s grab these last few items then we can head home and make dinner.” will get you a lot further than “Stop whining or you’re going to stand in the corner when we get home.”
- Give options: There’s more than one way to solve a problem. The best way to use gentle discipline is to turn a lose-lose situation into a win-win situation. You are trying to get dishes done, but your two oldest sons are fighting over a video game. It’s a lose-lose situation if you have to keep stopping what you are doing to break up the fight which in the end just means taking the game away. Give your children options and let them figure out how they want to solve the problem on their own. Do they want to play rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first? Do they want to race and see who can dry and put away dishes the fastest for the first 15 minutes of play time? Make it fun to get rid of the fight. In the end, you have help with dishes or can get them done peacefully and they both take turn without a fuss.
Gentle Discipline is STILL discipline. It’s not about letting your child walk all over you, but it’s about respecting them as a person. It’s not about ignoring bad behavior but understanding why it is happening while working with your child to correct it. It’s meant to show them that while you are a person of authority, you are not a dictator. You will not yell, bark orders or use physical means of punishment. You will not humiliate them. You will give respect and expect the same type of respect that one would give to a teacher or police officer. Gentle discipline is not always easy but you will find that your children will become more respectful and full of the empathy and compassion you are instilling in them without having to use potentially harmful methods of discipline and punishment.