Thursday, July 14, 2016

Discipline: Draw Your Line in the Sand

Many of us were spanked growing up.  My mom had a wooden spoon in her car.  My dad broke a few on us kids.  We were taught “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Now we are told spanking is not effective, does more harm than good, and teaches them to use violence.  So what is the “right” way?  There is no right way, but I will share my opinion.  Beware; a lot of trial and error went into this process. 

I have four children and their age span from start to finish is four and half years.  When my fourth child was born, the others were 4, 3, and 18 months.  That summer was the toughest in my life. There will be rough years ahead, but that time will go down in history as my personal marathon.

With regard to discipline, the best place to start is with the goal one has in mind:  to extinguish the offending behavior.  I started putting my oldest in time-out at 18 months.  It usually involved placing him in the corner, turning around, and counting to 5 or 10.  He understood the concept, though some take longer to learn it.  I was so proud of my skills (remember how pride goes before the fall?) 

Then there were two; 18 months apart.  They got along from their first moments together.  I praised the oldest when he was gentle with the baby and gave him extra snuggles when he hugged or kissed his little brother.  I would sit down and read to my oldest when nursing the baby.  I totally had it together! 

Then there were three; chaos began.  Three children in three years sounded like such a great idea, that is -- until it wasn’t.  Every time I nursed my daughter, the boys would fight, throw things, and make mischief.  They figured it out so fast.  “Quick! She is feeding the baby, now is our chance.”  I gave up figuring out who did what.  Instead, they both went in time out.  Right after one of them, my second child pushed an entire ream of paper off a ledge scattering hundreds of blank pages onto the staircase below.  That is when things needed to change for this “rock star” mom (hopefully you are not missing my obvious sarcasm.) 

“Evolve or Die” came next, known as natural consequences.  I spent an hour forcing him to pick up each and every page off the stairs.  If they spilled it, they wiped it up.  If they wrote on it, they cleaned it off.  If they broke it, they fixed it.  If they forgot their coat, they went without it.  (My children have magic internal heaters; they wear shorts year round and NEVER need coats, it must be a superpower.)  If they forgot to pack “cars with eyes” and their brother remembered to do such an important thing, then that child had to live with the consequences of his incomplete packing job even though his tantrum on the ferry was witnessed by hundreds of people (most at least had words of encouragement, but there were definitely some glares.) 

Back then, the happiest moment of my day was the brief two-minute silence I experienced after strapping them all in their cars seats while the car was in the garage before heading out for an errand.   I would go back in the house, take a deep breath, finish one chore, and remember what my life used to be like, back when I was sane. 

Pregnancy number four was a complete and total surprise.   (Consequences from your husband being home during the two minutes they are strapped in their car seats in the garage.)  I was in way over my head at this point.  Along came discipline methods combined with desperation:  anything to make it to stop and yes, even occasional spanking.  Time-outs expanded; my children would occasionally fall asleep in time-out, because I would forget they were there.  If anyone fought, they sat in the corner until one task was completed by me i.e. dinner was made, dishes loaded, or laundry folded. 

As for spanking, here are my personal guidelines:  One, single spank with a wooden spoon, only on the rear end, and never in anger.  Sadly, there have been no more babies for me, but I am still coming up with new discipline methods every day, the latest being the “warning” spank.  The warning spank is employed after one method of punishment fails (i.e. time-out), but before I reach spending-the-rest-of-the-day-in-your-room level.  It is effective without the ‘corporal punishment’ feel of regular spanking.

In summary, time-out, natural consequences, removal of privileges or toys, extra chores, and even an occasional spank all work.  Continually brainstorming and coming up with new ways to stay one step ahead of them remains part of the equation.  Anyone who bites another human or hits mommy goes straight to bed for the night.  When one says they “hate me” at bedtime, I refuse to snuggle them that particular night.  I say, “I love you, but I love myself too and will not snuggle anyone who hates me.  It is my body, my decision.”  I basically make it up as I go along. 

As for my journey, my best advice is to draw your own ‘lines in the sand’ as a parent.   No  one single discipline method is perfect for every child.  Reasons for misbehavior vary.  Do not judge other mothers; it is harder than it looks.  We are all “doing the best we can.” 

Discipline is a little like making meringue, always add some sugar (love) but being firm is still important too.  Parting thoughts to leave you with are about my grandmother, who had 8 children and her hands even more full than mine.  Her truth: “Make them more miserable than they are making you.”  Words I live by.  

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