Discipline can be a sticky subject. And before I say anything, I want to reiterate that I am no expert. One of my friends emailed with a question about discipline. Her question was this, "What do you do when your child is completely defiant and doesn't care what the punishment is?" I think even if your child is on the complacent side, you've probably encountered this problem at least once or twice. Some mothers have to deal with it constantly. The little stubborn monster has come to live inside their child. What should this mom do?
I honestly don't have an extensive amount of experience with the stubborn monster. Both of my girls are on the complacent side. Though I have seen the monster and have felt the exasperation that it can bring to a situation. I will say this, having taught 7th and 8th graders, I've dealt with the monster there too, more than once. In teaching, I learned that if there was a problem with how the students were acting in my classroom, I needed to examine myself and see what I might be doing wrong. It is not much different in parenting. It is hard to do and we are usually quick to blame the kids for just being bad, but the difference can be made if we truly evaluate our discipline strategy or lack of.
Let me share with you something that I am working on right now with the way I look at discipline. It may help, it may not but it is worth a try. Recently I was at a Courageous Parenting Seminar at our church. Our Children's Ministry Coordinator spoke about being a thermostat instead of a thermometer in your house. The difference is that a thermometer just reflects the temperature of the family, it has no power to change the temp and merely reacts to what is going on. If every one's happy, a thermometer parent is happy, if there is stress in the house, the thermometer parent is stressed. A thermostat has the power to change the temperature. It is constant, the temp does not go above or below what the thermostat allows, it is in control. The thermostat parent is consistent and unemotional with discipline.
If you think about it, it could be that a child doesn't care what the punishment is because they get the payoff of seeing mom or dad lose control. They win, they have gotten to you and have affected you so much that you feel you have lost control and that you have failed as a parent. If you take away the emotion and the ability of your child to get you beyond angry, then you take away that payoff. Why does a child seek this sort of payoff? Some would say that it is because they are simply looking for some kind of attention from the parent. Good or bad, it doesn't matter, they want it. And in the early years, they are going to seek that attention from you. As they reach adolescence, they will seek it from their peers. So when your children are young, you have the best chance of forming how they seek attention, good or bad. And if you miss this opportunity, it could be big trouble in the future.
So this is what we are trying to do in our household. When a behavior that we want to see go away occurs, such as whining or throwing a fit, we physically turn our backs to the child and wait to hear a change in their action. From whining, to talking or screaming to quiet. And as soon as we hear a good behavior, we complement it. Not with just a "good job," but with a more specific description of the good behavior. "Thank you for asking in your nice voice." When talking to the child we use a happy voice and try to convey true thankfulness (no terse or sarcastic voices). I have to say, for me, the hardest thing is taking the Angry voice out and talking calmly and unemotionally, especially if the child is not displaying the desired behavior. The key is having something to repeat to yourself in these moments to try to calm yourself down. Use a verse or a song or some sort of self encouragement that helps you not give in to the desire to scream and yell. Be aware of what sets you off and prepare yourself with something to concentrate on so that you don't lose it.
I think with any strategy, it takes consistent and honest trial and error to make it work. You can't just try something for a week or a month and because you have failed or the child has not responded right away say that it doesn't work. Discipline is a habit. Anyone who has tried to stop a poor habit and replace it with a good one knows that it is not easy. Don't give up! Anytime I hear someone say "I tried that and it didn't work," I think to myself that they probably didn't try hard enough. Be positive and don't go it alone! Seek partnership from your husband, do it together.
I hope this helps, I know it's a lot but we could probably write a book on this subject. Speaking of books. Try James Dobson's Dare to Discipline. It's a good book to read and re-read several times in your parenting journey.
If anyone has some discipline tips they would like to share, please comment or email me and I will post it for you.