If you've been waiting for this post, I apologize. It's just such a broad topic, and I have so much to say about it that it's taken weeks of notes, organizing, and drafting to come to some type of sense. Thanks for your patience.
This has become too big for a single post, so I've broken it into to general areas of discipline problems: Prevention (A proactive approach to discipline) and Intervention (What to do if you need help undoing some mistakes you've made.) I'm not an expert, but I do have the following credentials:
*Mom of two healthy, well-adjusted, respectful teens
*BS Degree in Human Development
*Masters Degree in Special Education
*More than 15 years experience working with students with emotional/behavioral disabilities
*10 years experience teaching special ed
*Married to a man with ADD (just kidding; he's never been diagnosed, though I have my suspicions)
To me, there are many proactive things you can do to raise happy, healthy, disciplined children. This post is focused on that. I've narrowed my focus on the topic of preventing discipline problems to six themes, followed by the dates that I will post them here on this page (with links from Half-Past Kissin' Time) :
Planning and Structure (1/19/09)
After that: Discipline Intervention (Problem-solving. Email me with any questions, and I'll work them in!)
Discipline means teaching. When it comes to discipline and parenting, I believe strongly that most of us need some guidance before embarking on parenthood. Even most grade schoolers are smart enough to know when adults are not confident/competent parents. If you are not competent, it's your responsibility to gain competence. My own background in Human Development helped me tremendously in my later parenting. Learning, for example, that an infant is not willful gave me a perspective that kept me from shaking my son when he was a colicky baby (and I thought about it sometimes, believe me; I gained a new-found respect for single parents and teen parents during that time!) Knowing about and understanding each stage in the development of children will give you confidence and tools for being the best parent you can be.
I'm not saying you have to go to school to be a parent; there are many resources available (including grandparents, other family, books, etc.) If you had poor role models for parenting, don't just decide to do the opposite; get educated. Get therapy if it's relevant. I believe strongly that parenting situations that bring out the extreme emotions in us (anger, sadness) come from a place of unresolved issues of our own. Addressing those issues through education and/or therapy are a gift to your children.
Mr.4444 and I took our parenting roles very seriously when we embarked on this "trip." The "bible" that I read cover to cover back when Kyle was a baby was Kids Are Worth It, by Barbara Coloraso. We even met Dr. Coloraso at a speaking engagement. Even though some of her ideas were focused on older kids, we put her overall philosophy into practice from the start and continue to use it today. I feel so strongly about the value in Barbara Coloraso's book, that I wrote to her recently and asked if she would like to participate in a giveaway to celebrate my 444th post, and Guess what?! She said yes! (more on that in another post soon!)
So, to sum that up; ignorance is not a good excuse, and parenting is serious business. Getting educated about it is key to being the best parent you can be.
We've all seen other people's children who have no respect for anyone or any thing. Children need guidance, and in the absence of guidance, they feel afraid. Because they are human beings, they will cope with that fear by behaving badly. Kids want to know that someone competent and strong is in charge. Imagine the fear that consumes a young child who knows that his/her parents aren't in charge, so he is. A screaming child is a frightened child, begging for some adult to take control. Be the adult; set limits on their behaviors.
As much as children test boundaries, they do so to find out the limits. Knowing there are limits provides them security. Secure kids are happy, well-behaved kids. Don't be afraid to say no or to be unpopular with your children. Do not act like your child deserves an explanation for every denial of their desires. Sometimes, "Because I said so" is the right thing to say. Soften it with, "Because I am the adult and you are the child," if you must, but do not cave to your child's demands for an explanation, unless you want to argue. I promise you, setting boundaries for your child in your home will help them when it comes time to appreciate boundaries in the real world.
What kind of boundaries? Boundaries between what belongs to adults and what belongs to kids, for example. Personal boundaries, like leaving you alone when you're in the restroom. One example is knocking on closed bedroom doors before entering. We always do this for our kids, and they do the same for us. My kids have never dug through my purse or used something of mine without asking. Boundaries regarding what is on the television for adults, and what is for kids is yet another example of teaching kids that they are not little adults and that our job is to teach them respect for all kinds of boundaries. Even making your child sit in a carseat or wear a seatbelt is a lesson about boundaries. They are never too young to learn this.
Laughing at your child's behavior is also somewhat related to teaching boundaries and limits. I know some of you are going to see yourselves in this, and I'm sorry about that, but it has to be said. If your kid drops a bad word and you laugh, you are causing yourself problems, as well as your kids. You are reinforcing poor behavior. If you don't mind having bratty kids, by all means, keep laughing. And that is not to say that Mr.4444 and I have never laughed at naughty behavior on the part of our kids, but when it happens, you have to turn away or go into another room. I know, it's hilarious on one level, but you can't teach your kids that obnoxious behavior is charming. Laughing together about misbehavior does create a kind of family bond, but it is an unstable foundation. Find other ways to bond as a family.
In addition, teaching that poor social skills outside the home are funny is a parenting mistake, in my opinion. If you think being a redneck idiot/farting/burping/attention-getting person is cute, consider if you ever want your kids to have friends other than you. [Disclaimer: Just so you know, other than the redneck thing, we are pretty uncivilized at my house on a daily basis. There's a lot of noises going on in my house quite regularly, but my kids know that there is a time and place for belching the alphabet.]
I also believe that parents need to have boundaries. Mommy and Daddy are going to have Adult time after 7pm. My kids were in bed by 7pm when they were small. I needed that for my sanity, and they obviously needed it, too, since they were asleep by eight and slept til 6 or so. Even when they were old enough to complain about their friends outside playing til 9pm, they still went to sleep. You are the adults. It is your house. You set the rules. Don't let your kids decide the rules.
Obviously, I can't solve the world's problems in one blog post, but I hope I have offered some insights that are helpful to parents. My own kids are almost 14 and 17, so I'm certainly not out of the woods yet, but I feel like my philosophy has served me well so far. If you have a specific question related to raising kids, I would be happy to answer it to the best of my ability. Leave it in your comment, and I will build it into a future post.
P.S. I'm sorry if you are dealing with child-rearing problems related to divorce; I understand that you, as a parent, might not have control over the behavior of your spouse with your children. That one is out of my realm of experience, and my heart goes out to you.
I'm really excited about putting these ideas out there, as they have served me very well. If you'd like to read my thoughts on Respect and Family Identity click on those subjects. And if you have other thoughts on the preventative discipline topics of Education or Limit Setting/Boundaries, feel free to share.
Next topic: Attention