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Our son Matthew, at age two was a very focused child. He would become so engrossed in a play activity that it was difficult for him to let go when it was time to leave. one day when he was playing and it was time for us to depart (we were late for an appointment), Martha scooped Matthew up and carried him to the door. Matthew protested with a typical two-year-old tantrum. At first she had the usual "Hey, I'm in charge here" feelings and felt that she was justified in expecting Matthew to obey quickly and be willing to leave his toys. But as Martha was carrying the flailing child out the door, she realized that her discipline gauge was out of balance and she was not handling things in the best way. Her actions were a result of her need to leave, but they didn't take into account Matthew's need for advance warning and a more gradual transition. She realized it wasn't in Matthew's nature to switch gears quickly, even if we did have a deadline. He was not defying her. He was just being true to himself. He needed more time to let go of his activities. So she calmly took him back to the play setting, sat down with him and together they said "Bye-bye toys, bye-bye trucks, bye-bye cars," until he could comfortably release himself from his activities. It only took a couple of minutes, time that would otherwise have been wasted struggling with Matthew in the car. This was not a "technique" or "method"; this disciplinary action evolved naturally from the mutual respect between parent and child and the knowledge that Martha had about Matthew. At the end of this exercise Martha felt right because it had accomplished what she wanted - getting Matthew out of the house with the least amount of hassle. She taught him a method of releasing himself from an activity without resorting to a tantrum. That's what discipline is all about.
Realizing how much better discipline worked when we considered our children's needs in our decisions was a major turning point for us. Initially, we had to work through the fear that we were letting our children manipulate us, because we had read, heard from others, and grown up with the idea that good parents are always in control. We found, however, that considering our child's point of view actually helped us take charge of them. Knowing our children became the key to knowing how to discipline them. They knew we were in charge because we were able to help them obey. That left no doubt in their minds or ours that Mom and Dad knew best.
How do you get your children to respect you? An authority figure needs to be both warm and wise. First, get connected to your child. Start as a nurturer, a baby comforter. In so doing, you get to know your baby and your baby trusts you. Respect for authority is based on trust. once your child trusts you to meet her needs, she will trust you to set her limits. one day I asked a mother why she felt so confident as an authority figure. She said, "A lot of my security comes from knowing my children." Because she understood her children, she was able to guide them wisely and know they would follow. Many parents confuse being in charge with being in control. Instead of directly controlling children, wise authority figures control the situation in order to make it easier for children to learn to control themselves. Children respond with genuine trust and respect rather than fear and rebellion.
In the early years children don't know what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable until you tell them. one evening at a kid-friendly restaurant, we observed two families handling the same discipline situation in two different ways. The two-and-a-half-year-old in one family was incessantly climbing over the back of the booth, and she kept this climbing behavior up until it became disruptive to nearby patrons. Wimpy "don'ts" from the parents did not deter the persistent climber. It was clear this child had no idea that climbing was unacceptable behavior. She got the message, "We prefer that you not climb, but we're not going to do anything about it."
Another two-and-a-half-year-old got a different message and showed different behavior. The parent sat the child next to him, frequently acknowledged the child, and kept him involved in the family conversation. As soon as the toddler began to climb, the father immediately redirected him and politely planted the climber back in his seat. With a combination of creative distraction and respectful restraint, the parent conveyed to the child that he was expected to refrain from climbing because climbing would disturb the people in the next booth. The child got the message that any effort to climb the seat would not be okay. The child filed this experience into his memory bank, to be retrieved the next time they went to a restaurant when, presumably, he made fewer attempts to climb over the seat.
Was the parent in the second family exhibiting controlling behavior? Yes, but in the right sense of the term. Abusive control is when you forcibly impose your will upon your child, expecting him to obey, but to the detriment of your relationship. When you insist on obedience and help the child to get control of himself, you are using your power over the child in a good way that helps him develop inner controls. Remember, children want limits so that they don't feel out of control, and they want parents to stand by those limits. They keep testing the limits to see if you will uphold them. When you don't, the child feels anxious that no one is strong enough to contain him. To a child, that is scary.
"But I can't be perfect." of course not. No parent is perfect. While writing this book, Martha and I would often say, "We know all this stuff and we still keep making mistakes." In fact, it's unhealthy to model perfection—a goal that neither parent nor child can meet (though many are crippled by trying). It's the overall impression that your child receives that counts, not the occasional blunders or outbursts. If a parent is habitually angry, anger becomes part of the child's self. The child learns that this is the way people deal with life. If a parent models happiness and trust, with an occasional angry tirade, the child sees a healthier model: People are happy most of the time, but sometimes difficulties make you angry. You handle the situation and go back to being happy.
Parents, you are the first people your child knows. You are the first caregivers, authority figures, playmates, male and female. You set the standard for your child's attitude toward authority, her ability to play with peers, and her sexual identity. Part of yourself becomes part of your child. Yes, much of a child's behavior is genetic. More than one parent has been known to remark, "He came wired that way," but much is also influenced by the child's behavioral models.
Not so the child with poor self-image. The child who doesn't feel right doesn't act right. His parents don't trust him, so he can't trust himself. No one expects him to behave well, so he doesn't. The bad behavior cycle begins: the more misbehavior, the more punishment, which intensifies the child's anger and lowers the child's self-esteem, producing more bad behavior. This is why our approach to discipline focuses primarily on promoting inner well-being in the child from the beginning. Throughout life your child will be exposed to people and events that contribute to his self-worth and to others that chip away at it. We call these builders and breakers. We will help you to set the conditions that expose your child to many more builders than breakers, and, of course, to be a builder yourself.
Children are born with some behavioral traits that either flourish or are weeded out, depending on how the children are nurtured. other traits are planted and vigorously encouraged to grow. Taken altogether, these traits make up the child's eventual personality. Your gardening tools as a parent are techniques we call shapers, time-tested ways to improve your child's behavior in everyday situations. These shapers help you weed out those behaviors that slow your child down and nurture those qualities that help him mature.
Most shaping of a child's behavior is a when-then reaction. (When Billy's room is a mess, Mom says "No more playing outside until it's cleaned up.") Eventually, the child internalizes these shapers, developing his own inner systems of when-then, and in so doing learns to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. ("When my room is a mess, it's no fun to play there, so I better clean it up.") He learns to shape his own behavior.
At each stage of development, your shaping tools change, depending on the needs of your little garden. In the discipline section of this site, we give you gardening tips to help you confidently shape your child's behavior and make his personality work to his advantage, so he will be a more likable person who contributes to the garden of life.
Besides teaching children responsible behavior toward others and toward things, also teach them to take responsibility for themselves. one of the most valuable tools for life you can give your child is the ability to make wise choices. You want to plant a security system within your child that constantly reminds him: think through what you're about to do. By learning to take responsibility for their actions in small things children prepare to make right choices when the consequences are more serious. our wish for you is to help you raise kids who care.
Besides learning how to talk to a child, it is equally important to learn how to listen. Nothing wins over a child (or adult) more than conveying that you value her viewpoint. Being in charge of your child doesn't mean putting her down.
Each of these discipline points depends on the others. It's hard to be an authority figure, a good model, a behavior shaper and obedience teacher if you and your child aren't connected and you don't know your child. You may know the psychological principles of behavioral shaping, but shapers won't work if you can't communicate with your child. And even a connected relationship doesn't guarantee disciplined children if you fail to convey your expectation that your child obey you. These ten interdependent building blocks form the foundation of the approach to discipline on our site. Put them all together, and you have a blueprint for raising children who are a joy to be with now and who will make you proud in the future.