As parents we are at a place in our journey of raising little person that we have to begin to look at discipline. I am a firm believer that there is no one size fits all when it comes to discipline. There are a lot of factors, 2 main ones being personal convictions and child’s personality. I believe that we as parents may discipline our children different than our neighbors. Neither way will be right or wrong, but will be in line with what we as parents feel comfortable doing.
Recently I saw a friend post on Facebook an incident she had with her toddler, in the post she spoke of giving her daughter a spanking. One of her friends freaked out the mention of spanking. She began to plead with my friend about how terrible and shaming it is, referring to her experiences of being spanked as a child. My friend very healthily and clearly explained her conviction behind spanking and how she feels that time outs are shaming. I was really proud of my friend for how she handled the situation; I can’t say I would have done it with such grace.
Discipline is a loaded topic to bring up, everyone has an opinion and thinks that their opinion is the only possible thing that will work. Personally I’m not a big fan of talking about it, especially with Christians. So many Christians relate every little thing their child does to “the fall” and their “sin nature”. To be honest sometimes when I hear a parent talk about their child’s “sin nature” I want to scream.
As I have thought over this topic of discipline, I have read parts of a couple different books, talked to quite a few people; people who believe in discipline styles I know I want to shy away from and those that perhaps I want to try. Daniel and I have shared with one another the things we have done when Imogen does something that needs a discipline follow-up of some sort. Overall, I have really tried to think about where my own convictions lay on the topic. What am I comfortable doing with Imogen in response to her choosing not to listen.
First I felt like I have had to ask myself a question. What is the difference between Imogen’s “sin nature” (or choosing to disobey) and what is experiential learning? Here’s an example: If I tell Imogen to sit and the table and eat her apple and she’s continually gets up and trys to walk around, what will be my action that will give the best long term results? Do I put her in time-out or spank her for not listening? My intuition tells me that this will serve to solve the not listening in that moment. Do I continually redirect her back to the table, each time reminding her that I asked her eat at the table? This requires a lot more patience and time on my part, and let’s faces it, as parents it’s not uncommon to lack both. And yet, my gut tells me that this is the latter option that will teach Imogen more in the long run.
If I caulk up her continually getting up from the table as her “sin nature” run wild, am I robbing her of the chance to learn a new concept?
Recently we moved some furniture and exposed a socket that has some string lights plugged into it. Imogen immediately went over went to play with the lights and I continually went over to tell her “No, Danger” and redirect her attention elsewhere. This went on for quite some time. At one point I thought to myself, this is where a parent may flick their child’s hand, spank them or put them in time out, but I just didn’t feel that doing any of those would be effective. Eventually she started doing other things, success! And then there she was, back over at the lights and before I could get to her, zap!! 110 volts to her finger and she was sobbing. Daniel and I felt terrible. We scooped her up and held her close while she cried. As we talked through the situation, we asked ourselves if we chose the wrong option, but honestly, I don’t think we did. I don’t’ believe that any amount of discipline was going to convince Imogen that those string lights were not the best toy ever. But you can bet she didn’t go near them again; experiential learning.
Now believe me, I do not wish Imogen to learn all from experience in her life. When I tell her that running out in the street is dangerous I want her to believe me. In her short life she has heard us refer to many things as “danger”, but we always shielded her from the danger, she likely had no concept of what danger really meant. Now hopefully she can connect the “danger” to that 110 volt shock and see that “danger” means she can get hurt. Time will tell. And just for the record, we have fixed the string lights so this would not happen again.
Part of what has made me thinking so much about this, is reading the book of Matthew. Daniel and I started reading Matthew together. As we read through the birth of Christ and him as a little boy, we got to talking about how Christ “Committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” 1 Peter 2:22. When people talk about Christ not sinning they often refer to the toddler Jesus; saying that it means he never got out of bed after his parents told him to go to bed, never threw his food on the ground or got upset because he wanted to run around naked. But what if he did do these things as a toddler? Does that mean they are not sin? Ultimately, we have no way of knowing.
As a parent watching my toddler learning how to navigate life, I find it hard to believe that toddler Jesus wouldn’t have done those things. So often I watch Imogen do things that many people would call “throwing a fit” and I just don’t see it that way. I watch her getting upset about something and I can see; it’s not out blatant disobedience, but out of her lack of ability to communicate her needs or her lack of understanding of what to do with her emotions. What’s my job in that moment? To address the behavior or help her understand what’s causing the behavior?
I want to be the kind of parent that teaches my children about emotions. That they are normal, not to be feared and that it is our responsibility to act on our emotions appropriately. If Imogen is angry and she hits or throws something, how is spanking her teaching her that it’s ok to be angry, but that we need to find another way to express it.
A friend recently told me about something that happened when her daughter started kindergarten. She would come home each day and begin to lose it; struggling to appropriately interact with her siblings. They got exhausted “dealing” with her behavior after school. Until they realized something about her; She is an introvert, she wasn’t “acting out” she was exhausted from having to be around people all day. They immediately instituted “quiet time” for her when she came home from school. It solved the issue instantly. Ultimately she wasn’t being disobedient, she wasn’t purposely hurting her siblings, she just needed to learn what was happening with her emotions. Now a few years later, she’s an incredible kid. She understands herself and that when she starts struggling with interacting with people, it likely means that she needs to spend some time alone. At 8 yrs old, she understands emotion regulation.
I’m not so naive to think that addressing Imogen’s behavior will always be as cut and dry as that example. Nor that what works on an 18month old will work on a 3 yr old will work on a 13 yr old. But as Daniel and I unpackage what discipline will look like in our house I always want us to first look at what is happening inside Imogen that could be causing the behavior. Is there something that we have not taught her about who she is that she needs to learn, instead of going straight to pointing out her “bad” behavior.
Like all parents we don’t know what we’re doing, and in this process of learning for ourselves we may chose the wrong option; thus causing a minor electrocution.