When I first found out I was going to be a mumme, the thought of disciplining my child was totally off my radar…it was the least of my worries at the time. There was so much bombarding me already during the pregnancy that I gave it little thought and felt like it would all just unfold organically and I would respond naturally to what felt best for us.
Looking back now I think my mind was wrapped in a bubble of love (aka the love drug… Oxytocin) and I so lovingly thought that my little man & I would work it all out as we go. Little did I know the feelings that would emerge when my son said ‘NO’, OR when he tossed his dinner plate at me after I had spent hours making him a wholesome meal OR when he would not sleep at nap time when I had to get online to work …OR when he got a bit older and said ‘I hate you!’. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotions I would feel in this department!
When my son was about a year old I quickly realised I had little control over him. It became evident that he thought he was in charge! He had a mind of his own and a strong will which challenged me. It was then, when the power struggles arrived that I started to question how we were going to discipline him. I realised the important role I had to guide him, help him cope with his big emotions/outbursts/frustrations, yet I felt a real lack of power and control in this area myself and was unsure as to how I was to deal with it. Underlying it I feared I would stuff it all up and that years down the track he’d end up in therapy due to his childhood!
I began to get a little curious about my reactions to him and my conditioned responses to challenge/struggle and how I was showing up when I was feeling a lack of power. By observing myself I was able to gain insights and peel down the layers to get to the core of what was going on for me. It became clear that I had unrealistic expectations of how he ‘should’ act and behave in a certain way and that he ‘should’ not push or challenge me. He ‘should’ follow the rules I had in place. Funny to think about it now I was really setting myself up to fail in this department. I mean what 1 year old wants to follow the rules of my dictatorship?
I realised (and did a lot of letting go in the process of how he ‘should’ be behaving) that I may not be able to control my child but I certainly had the power to influence him and manage and direct his behaviors in a healthy way in order to build resilience and his emotional IQ (to help my son manage and communicate his emotions in a positive way and to empathise with others).
I also had the power to control my reactions to him as well as where I chose to put my focus. So in the end it all came down to ME…if I wanted my son to change I had to BE the change. How was I going to be in the moment of challenge, to calm his big emotions down and show him that I was not afraid of them, that I could deal with them (hold that space for him) and that I would love and support him no matter what.
I wanted a road map, a guide to help me find the best way to help my little man move through the tough times. I felt really torn as to what was the best way and struggled with finding the balance of holding on tight and letting go of the reigns. It felt like there were so many conflicting ways to discipline…and it was confusing. From Time Out/Naughty Chair, to 1 2 3 Magic to Punishment and Consequences.
After a while, it felt like I had tried it all and nothing seemed to work. It just exacerbated the situation and tendered to result in meltdowns on both sides! So I went in search of finding some kind of middle ground where he felt like he had some sense of control in his life to push and test the boundaries and where I felt like I was teaching him, supporting him, setting clear boundaries, understanding his emotions & connecting with him when conflict would arise.
In my childhood I grew up in a world where punishment and consequences were the norm. My sister and I knew we were in BIG trouble when my mother would grab the wooden spoon and we would both bolt down the hallway with my mum screaming and running after us. This certainly did the job and I abided by most rules due to the fear of the possible punishment or consequence however it did not always resolve or give light to WHY I had behaved like that in the first place. As a result growing up I sometimes felt my punishments were unfair and I didn’t feel heard.
So, as I started to dive straight into the deep end myself with my son, I quickly realized my conditioning and tendency was to use punishment and consequences as a way of getting my son to do as I wished. It was my default position. My automatic response when he challenged me. Most of the time when I pulled out the ‘punishment card’, my son ended up in tears and it left me feeling horrible and guilty…so something had to change. Naturally it was me! It might have worked in the short term but it wasn’t going to last. My son quickly learnt the technique (to outsmart me) and began to use it against me. He would say ‘I will only stop A if you give me B’…I knew this wasn’t going to work with him. It was going to take a massive amount of awareness, focus and strength to choose a different way that did not involve punishment or consequences.
I began to ask, ‘what am I trying to teach my child?’ How can I discipline my child, stay connected and help him learn how to process his emotions in a healthy way? I needed a complete strategy shift. It was then that I reached out for some help (an SOS) from Dr. Justin Coulson, a parenting expert, as I needed to find a new approach to help me respond to my son.
During our sessions I learnt a lot about myself. I changed my technique from punishment to discipline and focused on acknowledging my sons feelings (so he felt understood) and really sitting with him in the messiness of his emotional outbursts. I changed my strategy and did my best to steer away from consequences and steer towards educating my son on how to move through some of his big emotions…like waves at the beach, they would roll up, then roll into the shore then crash down on the sand.
Even if he pushed me away at times and said he hated me, I reminded him that I loved him (he was worthy of my love) and that when he was ready for a cuddle I was waiting for him. Sometimes I also was able to catch him before it escalated into a full-blown tantrum. I even surprised myself sometimes when the episode was cut short! This giving me such a sense of relief and accomplishment.
To this day I continue to try my best (most of the time) to not revert back to my old responses. To be AWARE in the challenging times with my son, and ask myself ‘what NEED is my son wanting me to meet right now?’ I may not get it right all the time or pause and think things through before I respond BUT I have found the more I practice these skills/strategies with my children the more natural and automatic they become. Previously when I would get angry and upset with him and try and control him when he was not doing what I wanted or behaving the way I wanted, (equals mumme STRESS) I found the more I tried to control him (and change him) and the event the more out of control I felt. It seemed to spiral out of control, slip through my fingers and I would get more frustrated/angry and my son would too.
Another thing I do sometimes when my son is challenging me or doing something naughty to gain my attention is, I chase him and tickle him or I do something silly to break the bad energy and defuse the situation. This also breaks his pattern and most of the time he forgets about what he was wanting or going on about. It really works a treat and my kids love a good tickle! Most of the time my son is just trying to get my attention and he will try any way he can. Bad attention is still attention!
Here are some Discipline Tips/Strategies…from my own experience/learning as well as some from my parenting sessions.
- TRY NOT TO REACT and go on autopilot…when you are charged with emotion take one deep mindful belly breath. The emotion will pass if you breathe through it and do not attach to it. This will relax and ground you so that you can respond in a CALM and cool manner with love and compassion.
- ASK YOURSELF… (when you are ready to respond) Is it nourishing & nurturing? What lesson am I trying to TEACH my child in this moment? (Discipline is about teaching) Are we expecting too much from him/her? What developmental stage is my child at? Meet your child at the emotional stage they are at…educate yourself and find out what is realistic for your child at their emotional and developmental stage. (Don’t expect behaviors beyond their developmental capacity) Is you child hungry? Tired? When your child is tired and hungry it can send their emotions into chaos and it feels like a tornado has entered your home. Don’t have high expectations when your child is tired/hungry etc.
- FOCUS ON THE EMOTION…NOT THE BEHAVIORS What is the emotion behind the behavior? What need is your child trying to meet? Focus on the emotion and acknowledge it…Do they need Attention? Connection? A cuddle? Etc. Don’t try and rationalise and make sense of it all when your child’s emotions are heightened. Lessons and self reflection can happen later.
- SHOW UNDERSTANDING FIRST…I can see you are upset etc. then Instruct what you want them to do or stop doing. Also try to put yourself into your child’s shoes.
- SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES of what is acceptable and what is not…if your child is not complying then explain that we do not e.g., hit anyone. Remove your child from the incident and explain that when they are ready to behave they are welcome to come back and play. Offer them a cuddle, if they refuse frequently offer a cuddle and remind them they are welcome to come back and play when they are going to follow the rule (of no hitting). This is not a time out strategy, as you are not isolating your child. You are offering support and just moving them a small distance away so they do not hit again. You are also frequently engaging and checking in with them. Clarity is power (as Tony Robbins says) – be clear with your child / set clear consistent expectations.
- CONNECT (emotionally) AND REDIRECT your child to another alternative/option etc. before emotions escalate. This can equal fewer behaviors and create a better connection with you and your child.
- GIVE IN SOMETIMES…and let them have their way…pick your battles! I had to learn to let go early on as my strong willed child always wanted it his way and sometimes for us to just get out the door in the morning I had to just let him have it. Yes he’d wear swimming gear, t-shirts and shorts in winter and once he became obsessed with a party hat that he wore it non stop for more than 2 weeks…it even went into the bath with him! He was happy and healthy (maybe a little cold some days) and that’s what mattered.
- HELP YOUR CHILD TO SELF REFLECT…(age appropriately) After you have disciplined your child…once they have cooled down. Enquire as to why they may have acted in a certain way and ask them what they could do next time eg. asking to play with another child and their toys rather than snatching a toy away from them (a different strategy to meet their needs). Depending on the age you could also ask how the other person may have felt (self reflection/empathy) when they behaved that way (e.g., other child involved or sibling or parent).
- LEARN TO DETACH yourself/your emotions/reactions from what is really going on…see it for what it is…also look within as to why you were triggered? Own your stuff and the part you are playing in the dynamic. What are you resisting? Whatever it may be…take a closer look at it, as this will give you some valuable insights. Trace it back and look inward. What is really going on for you? The gift of insight is invaluable.
- PLAN ONE on ONE TIME…try to find opportunities for one on one time with your child. This can be so challenging, especially if you have more than one child vying for your attention! Look for small pockets of time, windows of opportunity where you can give them a massive dose of your attention. Most times your child simply wants and craves more of YOU!
Being a parent I can feel extremely vulnerable at times. Some days it feels like I have no answers or solutions to the challenges that I am struggling with. Like I have to roll around in the mud for a while and go through some uncomfortable feelings within myself and alongside my kids (and what they feel so deeply). I have learnt that I don’t need to try and fix the problem all the time or make it better (which I automatically want to do) or try and keep everyone happy all the time. Sometimes we need to just feel our way through it and come out the other end with more understanding and resilience, that not only can I handle my child’s big emotions but that they can also feel free to express themselves and feel loved and supported. My aim as a parent is to help build my children’s own internal compass which they can rely on. To learn the connection between their feelings and their behaviors to empower them to make good decisions and be able to self regulate their emotions when I am not around.
So to wrap it all up I will share a small part of how Brene Brown defines vulnerability…’it is showing up and being seen when you don’t know what the outcome is, or you can’t control the outcome’. For me this sums up parenting. Allowing my children to really see me, and for me to really see them too. Seeing my challenges, seeing my struggles, my fears, my tears but also seeing me pull through (come out the other end), being brave, vulnerable, following my heart and then rising above it all. Sometimes parenting is just about being courageous, trying something new, and taking a stab in the dark without being certain of the outcome. There’s no one fits all kind of parenting approach rather a process to find out what approach works and what FEELS right for you and your family. “There is no right way or wrong way to be a mum, just your way and my way” (Haydn.com).
I have come to realise that control as a parent and in life is a mere illusion. The goal post is always moving further away and out of my control. I feel that life is more like a dance. A dance between my fears and my inner wisdom. Allowing the path of courage and trust (uncertainty) to take form, to win over fear and control (certainty) any day. I believe this is where the true magic of parenting occurs. Letting go (of how you think it is meant to look like) and living fully present in the moment, alive to all the possibilities that unfold.
Please share your strategies/tips/thoughts/struggles/wins/insights below on punishment & discipline so we can learn from each other!
THE SECRET TO LIVING IS GIVING…
love n life