Friday, February 5, 2016

The Messages Behind Discipline

With every correction, I am giving my child a message about who he is.

Because children see themselves through the eyes of their parents, because what they see reflected in our eyes shapes who they become, because the truths they hold about themselves start as the truths we hold about them, there is perhaps no greater work than minding how we view our children and what messages we give them about who they are and what they’re worth.

The messages they get from us, particularly during correction, during the times we are not happy with their behavior or choices, influence their identities.

I was recently offered a course to review which has sharpened my awareness to this fact. Module 1 of the course invites parents to think of the messages we send during discipline, and as I’ve been working through this myself, I realized that this is something worth sharing. Most times, our intentions as parents are very good.

We want our children to make good choices. We want them to be responsible, considerate, kind, thoughtful, diligent, and so on. In an effort to instill such qualities in them, we correct them when they go off course, as we should.

Yet, the way in which parents choose to correct often sends a message which is the opposite of what we are going for.

In an effort to get a child to be responsible, we send the clear message of “you are irresponsible.” To make a child be more kind, we give the message “you are not kind.” Then, we stand in awe as they continue to exhibit irresponsible and unkind behavior, not understanding that we planted the very seeds we didn’t want to see spring up.

Let’s say 9-year-old James knows that he is supposed to sweep the patio before he can ride his bike. His father, Ben, comes outside to find the patio filthy and James biking. He motions to James to come over, and tells him, “Why didn’t you sweep the patio like you were told? I’m tired of having to tell you to do something several times before it gets done. You never take responsibility.”

What Ben wants is to teach James responsibility. The message James gets is “you are irresponsible.” Clearly, the intent doesn’t match the message. To more effectively instill these values, our messages need to be consistent with our intent, and this all starts within our own minds.

If we view our children as selfish, aggressive, irresponsible, lazy, etc., we will often speak forth the negative thoughts we allow to swirl. As always, change begins within. As I’ve been going through the Connected Families Spring Course, I’ve been taking notes of some of the negative thoughts I’ve allowed to fester in my mind. Thoughts which have made their way out of my mouth at times. “You never shut the door behind you!” “Why can’t you ever sit still for 5 minutes?”

What’s the message behind these words? Do they build a positive identity or negative? “Please shut the door.” “Please try to sit still.” These are requests without the baggage, yet how easy it was to spew the negative message with my requests!

How could Ben have handled the situation with his son in a way that gave a positive message to James, or at least didn’t give a negative message?

“I asked you to sweep this off before you got on your bike. I’d like you do that now please.” He hands him the broom. “Thank you for doing that. I like seeing you be so responsible.”

Here are a few more examples:

Negative message: Don’t hurt your brother like that! That was naughty of you.

Positive message: Uh-oh, you lost your temper and hit your brother. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. Come sit with me and I’ll help you get control.

Negative message: You need to stop crying and toughen up. It’s not a big deal. There are worse things in life!

Positive message: I can see you’re upset. How can I help?

Negative message: Whine, whine, whine. That’s all I ever hear from you! One more time, and you’ve lost television for the rest of the day!

Positive message: You’re a big girl now with a big girl voice. Let me hear your big girl voice so I can understand you better.

Negative message: Why can’t you be more like your sister? She works hard and passed all her classes.

Positive message: It looks like you’ve been struggling in this class. What can we do to help you succeed?

A subtle shift in our words makes a large impact on how our children view themselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking harsh words somehow motivate children to do better. Gracious words that encourage and build up, even during – especially during – times of correction will have a far more positive impact on who our children grow to be.

*This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the author of 3 books. Her newest book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, will be released on June 7, 2016 and is available for pre-order now. The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and a co-authored book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early Childhood are both best-sellers in their categories on Amazon. She is the grateful mother to 2 boys. 

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Story of Home: Creating Family Culture

Home is the place where we first receive and practice love. It’s our first view of relationships. It’s the place where we (hopefully) experience acceptance, compassion, affirmation, and solace. Home is where we are shaped by the words and actions of those around us and by the atmosphere, the traditions, the routines, and the day-to-day experiences that we are provided.

All stories begin at home, and for us parents, we have an incredible opportunity because each and every day, we are writing the beginning of our children’s stories.

The question is, then, what story are we telling?
This is a broad topic which I cover in depth in my forthcoming book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide. Here, I will outline the 7 pillars of family culture mentioned in the book. Intentional, positive parents must create a plan and set themselves to the mission of crafting a beautiful beginning.

Without putting thought into the family culture we want to create, we will fall into a default culture created haphazardly over time.

7 Pillars of Family Culture:

Pillar #1: Values
Deciding what values you want to pass on to your children is a great starting point for creating your family culture because those values will determine your own behavior and the expectations you hold for yourself as well as the children. Values are predominantly learned through the example you provide.

In my book, I say this: “It’s counterproductive to say respect is a family value if disrespect is often shown in the home. These values should be upheld so that they become simply a way of being and relating.”

Pillar #2: Dispositions
Disposition is defined as the quality of your mind and character. Your disposition must be brought under control to reflect your values and to create a positive home atmosphere. Allowing yourself to be very moody, easily shaken or angered, critical, or negative will have a poor effect on your family culture.

Bringing the quality of your mind and character in line with the culture you want to establish is easier said than done, but it is key. And while striving for excellence is good, we will never be perfect people living in a perfect family. Therefore, it’s important to learn to respect each other’s differences and quirks so that we can live in harmony.

Pillar #3: Expectations
Norman Vincent Peale said, “We tend to get what we expect.” I’ve found this to be quite true. If I expect to have a difficult, rushed day, I will have one. If I expect my children to get on my nerves, they will. Expectations are important because they color the way we view people, things, and situations. What you expect from your partner sets an example for what your children should expect of theirs one day. What you expect of yourself (whether too much or too little) is also being catalogued in your children’s minds.

Going further, what you expect from society, politicians, servers, police, etc. is being learned. What you expect in regard to lack or abundance, hardship or blessing, good luck or bad is being passed right down to your children, as are your partner’s. It’s easy to see how all these expectations play a part in shaping the family culture.

Pillar #4: Habits
Like our values and expectations, children pick up our habits, whether good or bad. Therefore, it is wise to drop any habit you don’t want your child to pick up. We must drop the “do as I say, not as I do” nonsense and realize that it is our example that speaks the loudest. Also, of course, some habits are just detrimental to the family and must be confronted before they cause lasting harm.

Pillar #5: Communication
Positive communication skills build positive bonds. I’ve written about communicating positively with children here. To summarize, this includes active listening (listening for the purpose of understanding, not just waiting your turn to get your point across), using respectful language and tone, empathizing with the speaker, being direct and assertive, and avoiding criticism and harsh words.

Pillar #6: Conflict Resolution
Even in the most connected families, conflict sometimes arises. Though this is really part of positive communication, it is so vital that it deserves its own discussion. This involves emotional intelligence and peaceful ways to talk the issue through and reach an agreement. This is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to master and should be modeled in the home by the adults as well.

Pillar #7: Traditions
Traditions and rituals help every member of the family feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They solidify the family unit. I’ve written about the benefits of family traditions in this post.

Research has shown that family culture may play a more important role in shaping children than parenting style, and the type of culture a family creates strongly predicts happiness. This is the story of your home. Write it with vision.

**This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine. See more of my Creative Child articles here.

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Beyond Behavior: Looking at the Heart of a Child

All three faces on his behavior chart were flipped to the sad face side. Again. That meant he had to go to time-out. Again. It didn’t take much to get a card flipped on the chart, which I thought was a simple and brilliant concept. From a sheet of construction paper labeled 'Behavior Chart' hung 3 cards, each with a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other.

My children started each day with 3 happy faces. Everything I deemed a misbehavior, from fighting with brother to not obeying my rules and commands, meant a card got flipped over. Three sad faces resulted in a time-out – three minutes to sit in a little chair in the hallway alone to “think about what he’d done.” At the time, it felt like a fair system of discipline, which I was assured needed to be completely consistent lest my children should get the idea that I could be manipulated.

Yet, every day was the same thing. Faces got flipped regularly as my immature children failed to spontaneously grow their brains upon my command. Time-out was enforced consistently, but no improvement in behavior resulted. I only saw more defiance. Frustrated and disconnected from my sweet little ones, I decided this story had to change.

It took a lot of research and heart searching to change my views on behavior, but what I finally came to believe was that discipline wasn’t about flipping sad faces on cards but about flipping sad faces on people. Discipline is reaching and teaching the heart.

Behavior is an outward reflection of the inner state and so poor behavior is a signal to me that my child is in need of help to restore his inner state to peace (or he needs to be taught specific skills). Defiance, though, is a heart issue and can only be resolved by restoring heart-to-heart connection.

The way our society views children doesn’t make this shift easy. For a couple of years, I bought into the wild accusations that my child would try to walk all over me, run my home, and become a nightmare if I didn’t put my iron fist down right away. I believed that discipline must be calculated, swift, and consistent. Although I considered myself “positive” because I didn’t use physical discipline, the goal was still to control behavior, albeit as nicely as I could.

Making the shift from control to reaching and teaching the heart meant I had to let go of my predetermined system and look at each child and each situation uniquely. Although there is no formula, I have found the following gifts of understanding to be helpful when looking beyond behavior to what my child’s heart is saying.

1. Understand brain development.
I wrote an article about the brain science that changed my parenting here. Knowing some basic information about which parts of my child’s brain were developed at birth and which parts would take years to develop helped me understand his behavior. When I realized that the area of his brain responsible for logic and reasoning wasn’t well developed at age 3, I finally understood why it was so difficult for him to foresee the consequences of his actions.

This didn’t mean that I waved off his behavior as something he couldn’t control but rather shifted my focus to helping him access his logic and reason more (which he couldn’t do when he felt threatened in time-out).

2. Understand the power of connection.
The more connected we are – the more our children feel safe, valued, and loved – the more influence we have. Shaming, isolating, and punishing only cause disconnection, making it much more difficult to have influence. Connecting even when (especially when) correcting gave me more influence to reach his heart. 

...continue reading at Creative Child Magazine

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