When my husband and I were googley-eyed newlyweds, we began discussing our plans for the future one night: Save money, have kids, live on a cul-de-sac, white picket fence (my plan, clearly). While my husband was super stoked about the saving money part, I, of course, was ecstatic about the promise of becoming a mommy one day. So, naturally, I prodded with lots of questions about his perspectives on parenting, how many kids he wanted, and the approach he preferred when it came to discipline. This is where my wandering mind came to a halt, and I held on to Every. Word. He. Said. While it made so much sense, I had NO idea how to go about it. I always thought discipline was simple: “The parents are more powerful, so we ‘force’ our children to obey.” An intimidation match, if you will! However, this new idea was simple too:
Love first, then discipline . . . in love.
My husband went on to explain how much he HATED the looming discussion with his parents about why he chose to do wrong. He said he would have preferred a spanking over this technique any day because knowing he disappointed his parents is what hurt him the most. Say Whaaa?!? You cared about disappointing your parents? I mean, I loved my parents and all, but when it came time to discipline, it was every man for himself!
This was such a huge revelation to me that we could discipline our children in a way that showed them LOVE and was not a power struggle of ‘which team wins,’ a way that addressed the heart and not just certain behaviors.”
Fast forward five years, and this is still the approach we hold to and are consistent with. We love first, then discipline in love. Through this, we have found that if our children truly know that we love them, even when they mess up, they will not want to let us down. While our discipline methods vary per behavior, the process always looks the same after our child gets in trouble.
Set the tone. Whether we realize it or not, our children look to us to set the tone. Usually, my son knows he messed up. He looks at me or my husband knowingly, and we tell him to “come here.” We don’t freak out or yell. We keep a calm tone of voice. (Disclaimer: Obviously, we don’t always do this perfectly, but we do strive for it. When we become angry or raise our voice, we do apologize and ask our son for forgiveness.) If he is being super crazy (having a meltdown, screaming, etc.), we give him a minute or two to calm down before approaching the situation.
Give an explanation. We usually first ask him what he did wrong, and often, he can tell us. When he can’t or chooses not to, we will calmly explain what he did wrong, why he is being punished, and what we expect of him. We will also ask if there was a reason why, so we can understand where his mind and heart are.
Follow through with discipline. Once we are all on the same page and he understands why, we discipline. We use multiple avenues of discipline (time outs, take toys away, spankings, not going outside) depending on the behavior.
Love. Once the discipline is over (whew), we will ask him to apologize if he hasn’t already. (Usually, he apologizes as soon as he starts talking about what he did and why.) We ALWAYS conclude with a hug, an “I love you,” and often, tickle attacks.
While this technique is quite effective, it isn’t justified if the only time you see your children is to discipline them. You can’t just love them through discipline. You have to love them in every part of their lives, and that means being intentional about spending time with them to show that you love them. This could be as simple as playing cars on the floor, playing baseball in the yard, allowing them to “cook” with you, coloring a picture, or pushing them on a swing at the park. It is in those moments of intentionally loving our little ones that they realize just how much we love them, and they truly grow to love and cherish us as well. This intentional love carries over into discipline as our children see discipline as just a small part of their relationship with us, and not as a way for us to dominate their actions.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I DO NOT have this discipline thing figured out. On more than one occasion, I have yelled and slammed doors in frustration (face palm). But, I will say, when I hold to consistently disciplining my kids in love, it maintains my toddler’s attention. It helps him realize what he did and why it was not acceptable. For us, this approach seems to be the most effective for better behavior in the long run. My hope and prayer is that when our children do become teenagers and our “parental power” is no longer effective, our loving influence over them will help them make better decisions in life.