In a sad, teary voice, my two-year-old daughter looked up at me and said, “Mommy, don’t use the loud voice. Loud voice is mean.” And she was 100 percent right. And my heart broke. At that moment, I wasn’t disciplining properly. I was just being mean.
This instance caused me to stress less about which method of discipline to use and instead choose to focus on what my heart looked like while I was disciplining. And, in turn, whether or not that was being properly conveyed to my child.
In my own life, I have found that following seven simple steps helps me provide more grace and guidance for my children, letting them experience what discipline really should be.
1. Know why you are disciplining your child. Before you can show your child the heart of discipline, you have to know why you are doing it. This takes some soul searching! Think of it as your personal mission statement for parenting. For me, it helped to write it down. Knowing what you do and don’t believe about discipline will not only help you convey that to your child, but it will also help keep you accountable.
2. Be intentional. It can be really easy to keep recycling one form of discipline. I mean, I’m not even sure I can count how many times I’ve asked my toddler if she “wants to go to time out.” But, I’ve found that when I really contemplate what each method of discipline teaches her in a given situation, I am able to better provide her with guidance.
3. Get to know your child. People (and I’m raising my hand here) always joke that children should come with some sort of manual. But, mine didn’t, and I’m pretty certain no one else received a copy either. Here’s the thing. No one else has ever had a child quite like yours. He or she is superbly unique, and the only way to figure out what works for your child is to get to know your child.
4. Break the “I’m in a hurry” cycle. I have concluded that we, collectively as mothers, measure our success based on how busy we are and how hurried we feel. There is no judgment here. I am a constant offender. But, I’ve found that constantly being in a hurry makes discipline fall short for two reasons: 1) It causes undue stress, and 2) proper discipline takes patience and time.
Sometimes, though, you are in an actual hurry. Like, you have the 7-month-old in the bathtub and your toddler just shows up in the doorway donning your $50-a-jar lotion from head to toe (hypothetically speaking, of course). For those instances, you need a plan.
5. When disaster strikes, survey the scene. If you’ve ever taken a CPR or other rescue course, you’ve probably heard the phrase “survey the scene.” But, I’ve found that it is also helpful in the constant mini-disasters that parenthood brings.
A few months back, my daughter got into trouble for not cleaning up the giant pile of macaroni she had spread all over the floor. And, she was devastated about getting into trouble. There weren’t just tears; this meltdown included streams of water coming out of puffy eyes, running down past a nose providing enough snot to cover both her face and hair, and into a mouth that couldn’t quite catch its breath. The macaroni was still on the floor.
I was faced with a few options: Continue to send her back to time out OR calm her down and try again. On this specific occasion, I chose the latter, and I am so glad I did. I picked her up, cuddled with her, dried the tears, cleaned her face, and tried again. And, eventually, the macaroni did get cleaned up, piece by tiny piece.
This experience taught me how important it is to take a step back and figure out what approach is really going to work in a given situation. There was no way that my daughter could succeed in this situation unless I taught her to calm herself down.
6. Explain, explain again, explain better. More than college and law school combined, parenthood has taught me how important a clear and concise explanation can be. My toddler can tear apart almost any explanation. And, while sometimes I think she is doing it just to wear me out, other times I truly think that she is just trying to understand.
However, I do still strongly believe that, in certain situations, it is both appropriate and enough to use the age-old adage, “Because I’m the mom, and I said so.”
7. Give yourself a break. I mean this in two ways. First, shake off that mom guilt, and show yourself some grace. You, too, are learning here. Second, take time for yourself. Whether it’s a long shower alone, a night out, or breaking a sweat, make time to let yourself recharge. You’ve not only earned it, you also need it.
There are so many different schools of thought concerning how and when discipline should take place. And, as parents, it is our job to choose the best disciplining approach for our children. But, of this I am certain: Whatever form of discipline I choose, when not coupled with love and guidance, fails my child.
As I get to know my child more, and as her little personality and character is becoming more defined, I find myself learning new ways to show her grace and guidance through discipline. And, although I am certain I will fail at it on at least a semi-regular basis, I hope that I can keep my eyes, ears, and heart open enough to learn how to better show my child the heart of discipline.